Two Ways To Make Flying Geese

One of the reasons I love flying geese blocks is they can be made almost any size. Blocks that are on grid are less adaptable for sizes. For example, regular 9-patches are on a 3-grid (3 rows by 3 columns) and are most easily made in sizes that multiply easily by 3, such as 6″ finish with 2″ patches, or 7.5″ finish with 2.5″ patches. For a harder one, bear’s paws are on a 7-grid, so are most easily made in sizes like 7″, 10.5″, or 14″. But geese are ungridded. (Half-square triangles and hourglass blocks also can be made any size.)

There are a variety of ways to make geese, but I only use two of them. One is the stitch-and-flip method. With this, the base (goose) is cut the size of the finished block, plus 1/2″ each direction for seam allowances. For example, if you want a block that finishes at 3″ x 6″, cut the base as 3.5″ x 6.5″. The background (sky) is cut as two squares, both half the length of the finished block, plus seam allowances. Using the same size block, cut two pieces that are 3.5″ square. Pat Sloan shows how to put these together to make a perfectly sized flying geese unit.

The method works great. However, you do have waste triangles of fabric cut off. Some people make good use of them and convert them into half-square triangles for other purposes. I do not. For small flying geese, throwing away the waste doesn’t bother me much. For larger ones, it does.

The other method I use is the four-at-a-time method. Why choose this one? The process allows more efficient use of fabric, because there are no waste triangles. For me, the disadvantage is I have to be more careful of my seam allowance. To adjust for that, I check sizing on the first set I make. If I need to trim slightly, that means I need to use a slightly bigger seam allowance, perhaps only a thread width bigger. (See the tip below for trimming your flying geese units.) Even so, it’s a great way to make a lot of geese quickly and with no waste.

Here is a video that clearly explains the process, as well as a link to another set of instructions from Connecting Threads.

For each FOUR geese units, use 1 large square and 4 small squares.
Large square = finished length of unit + 1.25″
Small square = finished width of unit + .875″ (that is 7/8″)

Example: for four flying geese units finishing at 3″ x 6″, cut 1 large square (the geese) at 7 1/4″, or 7.25″. Cut 4 small squares (the sky) at 3 7/8″, or 3.875″.

Draw a diagonal line across the wrong side of each small square, corner to corner. Arrange two of them right sides together in diagonally opposite corners of the large square, with the drawn lines meeting in the middle. The small squares will overlap a little. Pin them in place. The photo below is a little murky. The small squares are of dark blue, with wrong side up.

FG 1
Stitch from corner to corner, a scant 1/4″ away from the drawn line. Then turn around and stitch the other direction on the other side of the drawn line.

Cut on the drawn line between the two stitching lines. The video shows using the rotary cutter and ruler, but scissors work fine.

FG 3
Press toward the sky squares. You end up with two pieces shaped sort of like a heart.

FG 4

On each of those pieces, pin another of the small squares with the drawn line running from the corner through the “cleavage” of the heart. Sew 1/4″ from both sides of the drawn line, as you did before. Cut apart on the drawn line, and press toward the sky triangles.

FG 5

What is the difference in fabric used for the two methods? I’ll use this example, with flying geese units with finished measure 3″ x 6″. To make FOUR units this size:
Stitch-and-flip requires 4 (units) x 3.5″ x 6.5″ = 91 square inches of the base fabric, and
4 (units) x 2 (per unit) x 3.5″ x 3.5″ = 98 square inches of the sky fabric.

Four-at-a-time requires 7.25″ x 7.25″ = 52.5625 square inches of the base fabric, and
4 x 3.875″ x 3.875″ = 60.0625 square inches of the sky fabric.

For this size example, stitch-and-flip requires substantially more of each fabric, compared to the four-at-a-time method. While that might not seem like much, if you need a lot of geese, it adds up quickly. I don’t always have that much more fabric available. Note that different sizes of flying geese will have different outcomes on this calculation, because of the proportion of the seam allowance compared to the rest of the unit.

One more alternative is to create the effect of flying geese using half-square triangles. Instead of 32 flying geese, I could have used 64 half-square triangles. I chose not to do this because I wanted the toile of the base fabric unseamed.

A trimming tip: if your geese are slightly too big and need to be trimmed, make sure you leave the point, or “beak,” intact. Trimming at the bottom, along the “wings,” will be less noticeable.

Do you use flying geese in your quilts? Do you have a favorite way of making them? Questions or comments?


29 thoughts on “Two Ways To Make Flying Geese

  1. Paula Hedges

    Flying geese made four at a time gets the job done if you are wanting 4 of the same fabric. If not, then one at a time stitch ‘n flip is the alternative and not my favorite. I do have a die for the Accuquilt cutter to make flying geese which limits the size. Have yet to use it, so not sure if I will be fond of it or not.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, you’re right. That is a limitation. On the other hand, if you want them scrappy, you can make the corners (small squares) different fabrics. It doesn’t go the whole way, but it moves in that direction. 🙂 Thanks!

  2. snarkyquilter

    I recall having a ruler that did the math for the 4-at-a-time method. Since I won it, I had no problem re-gifting it. I first learned the scrappy way so it’s what I usually use. Of course, I often sew the extra seam to get a small HST as well. I just sewed a bunch of those together to make 9 patch blocks, and was amazed at how small the end product was. More recently, I’ve used paper piecing as my geese have curved or twisted, and each bit of fabric was a different size and shape. I even learned how to draw my own paper piecing pattern to fit my design. That said, it’s not my favorite block to make.

  3. KerryCan

    I’ve used the flip method only and it does bother me that so much fabric is wasted. I’ll try the 4-at-a-time method someday–your directions make it seem very doable!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Honestly I don’t love doing them that way, either. I really agree with Tierney — I wish they would make themselves. 🙂 But it isn’t hard, and it’s less wasteful. Give it a try.

  4. Stacey Holley

    Thank you so much for this post on flying geese. I have tried a few different methods to make these, but they still never come out quite right. Your directions are so good, I think I see where I’m making mistakes. Now, I’ve just got to find a quilt pattern to practice on. Watch out, geese! Here I come! 😀

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Try something small like a table runner or even placemats. Make it all about the geese, and then as long as the sizing is pretty consistent, it won’t matter if you’re off by a bit. Good way to get your feet wet. Thanks for taking a look. I hope it helps.

  5. Chela's Colchas y Mas

    This post provides a great tutorial. Thank you.
    I attempted to make flying geese on my third attempt to make a quilt…big mistake.
    I was trying to do it on my own, with no experience or guidance. At that time, I did not even think of researching it online. I ended up throwing the fabric in a bin. This fabric was used later on different quilts.
    I finally did some studying, and I was able to make some flying geese on the tribute quilt to my mom. I ended up buying a geese ruler to help me get the precise finish.
    Recently, I made a free form flying geese…no rulers or template.
    I cut with scissors instead of a rotary.
    These were included in some house blocks that I was creating.
    Thank you for sharing how to make more than one at a time.
    I will try this out.

  6. Nann Hilyard

    Flying Geese are such a versatile unit! They can be the block or they can be parts of the block–pointed outward (variable star) or pointed inward (king’s crown). Older quilt instructions call for cutting quarter-square triangles (geese) and adding the HSTs (wings). I use folded corners sometimes and four-at-a-time other times. Deb Tucker’s Wing Clipper ruler helps trim them to size.

  7. tierneycreates

    Yes I use flying geese and I have tried several ways including the no waste method. I would prefer another way – where flying geese just make themselves, ha! For some reason I’ve never enjoyed making flying geese but I would love to do an all flying geese quilt someday!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I’m with you. I could make hourglass blocks all day long, but I really don’t like making geese. So if you come up with the method for getting them to make themselves, let me know. 🙂

  8. BJ

    My favorite method is four at a time, but, for me, that usually works best with yardage because of the large square you start with. My scrap saver system is chock full of 3.5″ strips and squares, so it’s easy to make tons of scrappy 3″ x 6″ stitch and flip geese – my favorite size. Thanks for the demo and doing the math ☺.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      You’re welcome. Yes, one of the reasons I might choose one over the other is which one my fabric supports. Yardage is better for the 4-at-a-time, as you say. But if you want them all different, then that points to the other method.

  9. Kerry

    I have a Creative Grids triangle ruler that can be flipped up and down to cut quarter and half square triangles from strips. That is quite precise and I quite like it. I also don’t mind doing the flip the corners (I seem to have enough to make a smaller triangle so I sew along the line twice. I’ve made some cute little pin wheels and such from the waste! When I have done the 4 at a time, I’ve noticed that there is quite often a bigger lump where the seams meet, and I’ve pulled that extra bit out with tweezers (and much tutting, huffing and puffing), so the cutting chart I’ve followed is adding a little extra for error. As a result I made the squares slightly smaller, but not much room for error.
    I’m getting to enjoy them more now – just practice – they aren’t all perfect, but then neither am I! LOL!

  10. Tamara Hutchinson

    Well Thank You Melanie! I will try to get over my fear of FG. I have shied away from some patterns because of FG, or used HSTs instead of the geese called for. HSTs adds extra seams, and can hide the design on the fabric that was so carefully chosen-like your toile. I hadn’t thought much about the fabric wasted with the one at a time method, but it would really add up on a large quilt with many geese.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Best way to get over the fear is just to make some. Choose a small project that doesn’t need tremendous accuracy, like a table runner full of geese. If they’re all basically the same size, they’ll sew up together fine. You’ll see that both methods are pretty easy, and both are a little fiddly in their own ways. Then it becomes a preference for how you like to work, how your fabric supports either method, and whether or not you mind the waste of the stitch-and-flip method. But you won’t be afraid of them anymore!

  11. katechiconi

    The only time I’ve ever made flying geese, I used paper piecing. One was geese flying in a circle and the other was the Marley block, where there’s one large goose and ‘three little birds’ following behind it. I do like the idea of the four at a time block, as I already have plenty of scraps to be going on with! One of these days, I’ll do a quilt with a flying goose border. One day…


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