My Best Advice on Using Half-Square Triangles in Borders

I could call this a rule, but that would be silly, wouldn’t it? đź™‚

Here’s the advice: when using half-square triangles as your border blocks, try them multiple ways before choosing.

Why? Because setting them with different line and value orientation changes the appearance significantly. It’s worth taking the few minutes to audition variations.Â This simple illustration gives 4 different ways to arrange them.

Here are some examples from a little quilt I made in 2014. They aren’t sewn together yet, hence the wonky look on some of the pictures.

There are still other ways to try these, too. Other than the first one, they all have the dark value close to the center. Try them with the light side against the center for a different look. Also, they aren’t shown with changing orientation, similar to the right side of the illustration at the top of the page. In other words, there are at least eight ways to use them, and that assumes that you pattern them the same on all four sides.

Here are some examples from my quilts. First, Marquetry. Note that two of the borders use HST, but with different arrangement.

Another one is Bird On Point. Closest to the center, the HST run around in one direction. In the middle blue-and-blue border, they’re positioned differently to create movement in the other direction.

And one more, Black Sheep Manor. This also has HST in two borders. In the one around the center block, the triangles “spray” outward symmetrically. In the middle border, they have changing orientation for value and line.

I could go on, but I’ll bet you get the point. đź™‚

An Ode to Half Square Triangles

It’s time to dust off an old post (January 23, 2015) and replay it for those who missed it.

An Ode to Half Square Triangles

How do I make thee? Let me count the ways.
I cut thee to the depth and breadth and height
Seven-eighths of an inch greater than finished
And then cut across the diagonal.
I make thee to the level of the HST ruler
Available from Fons & Porter and others.
I make thee with Thangles, stitching through the paper.
I make thee in sets of eight, filling me with praise.
I use thee with the passion putting you to use
In my old UFOs, and with my next childrenâ€™s quilts.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost senses. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if fates choose,
I shall but love thee better after quilting.

And the inspiration:

How Do I Love Thee (Sonnet 43)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every dayâ€™s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhoodâ€™s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Spinning Star

Some projects turn out roughly the way one expects, and others? Not so much. My Spinning Star is one of those.

Earlier this year I was invited to facilitate a three-day workshop at an art center. I was honored! And excited! And I started planning a quilt project that could convey many lessons of medallion quilts, while allowing the students to create designs unique to their own tastes.

When I teach my Medallion Improv! class, I offer a common blueprint so the students can focus on some design principles and elements, but not all of them. With given sizes for the center block and border widths, for example, they don’t need to worry much about proportion.

For theÂ three-day workshop, I planned to use a 16″ center block. Each student would bring their own to the first class day, to set the foundation for their own design. The first order of business in class would be to demonstrate setting that block on point. The on-point setting expands the center block both physically and visually. The 16″ space, with exactly sized setting corners, suddenly becomes 22 5/8″. It’s an efficient and dramatic way to increase the size of the project. (To see how to set a block on point, check this out.)

In order to provide an example for promotional materials, I got to work and made a 16″ block of my own. The setting triangles are slightly oversized to take the new center to 23″. Using oversized corners helps with two aspects. One, it doesn’t require perfection in placing those corners, making it an easier task. Two, it allows the quilter to trim the center to a size that is simpler to use. Using 23″ finished means I can add 2.5″ (finished) borders on each side, taking the top to 28″. That is an easy size to use.

You can see more information about how I started this in my post Medallion Process — A New Center Block for Class.

And then … the invitation was rescinded because the art center decided they needed a bigger name. (Yes, I am a bit disappointed by how that all went, but you don’t need to worry or comment on that. There are challenges and opportunities in how we deal with disappointments, too.) Immediately it was apparent that this project would not go roughly as I imagined.

At about the same time, I was working on the slide show for my guild’s quilt festival. You can find the video of A Quilt Is More Than A Blanket in this post. Though I was deep in the midst of making my red and white quilts, I realized that to show the process of making a quilt, I needed to take pix of a quilt in process! For various reasons, I didn’t think the red and white ones were good candidates for that. So onward and upward! The spinning star became a priority again.

Spinning Star. 50″ x 50″. Finished June 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The center block is made with paper piecing. The first framing border (not setting triangles) is unpieced strips. The fabric of the border repeats the dark blue, red, and black that came earlier. It also adds some lighter chalky blue for value contrast and relief. The print is supposedly an Australian Aboriginal design.Â The border takes the center (everything in the center so far, including the border once added,) to 28″.

This really is an easy size to use, if one is making a pieced border of square blocks. You can divide 28″ a lot of different ways, including into 7 blocks at 4″, 8 blocks at 3.5″, 14 blocks at 2″, and so on.

My original plan for the workshop blueprint was to use 3.5″ half-square triangles. There are a lot of lessons to learn with HST, and there are fun ways to demonstrate them. (Here are a few ways to look at HST.) But once plans changed, and I wanted to increase the size more quickly in order to finish more quickly, I decided to use a wider border.

I looked for inspiration in a number of places and ultimately saw a round robin quilt in Instagram I liked. It had a middle border of light bars and darker bars, arranged in a staggered way. I think the proportions of the bars were different from mine, but the idea is the same. One advantage to this design is I could make it as wide as I wanted. (“Wide” means the dimension perpendicular to the edge of the center. The two lines in this symbol âŠĄ are perpendicular to each other. “Length” is the dimension along the edge.) The width is 6″, taking the top to 40″.

Running the blue bars through the middle creates a stable line, and makes the V-pattern of the staggered darks a little more subtle.

I also knew I wanted the corner blocks to echo the center shapes. Using the same blue and red fabrics from the very center, as well as one of the orange fabrics, gives a direct repeat. And using the economy block gives a less direct repeat of the center with setting triangles. (For directions on making the economy block, see my most-viewed post ever.)

With the center then at 40″, I had another easy length to divide into square blocks. I chose a 5″ wide border, this time of the HST I didn’t use before. Well, sort of. My plan was to use HST, simply made from a solid orange and the same blue Aboriginal print from before. I made 8 of the 36 required blocks (8 on each side and 4 in the corners,) and they were awful. The orange was much too much, too orange, too much orange. (NOT articulate, huh? I wish I’d taken pictures to let you see exactly what I mean.)

I still liked the idea of using the HST to make Vs around the edge, but the orange wouldn’t work. I tried other ideas and other fabrics. I flipped the orange underneath to reveal less of it, and put that against another blue. Ah. Much better. However, the solid orange still didn’t work for me. Instead I cut strips of the squiggly orange stripe from the center setting triangles, and added pieces of the blue that looks like it has finger-painting smears on it. One benefit of this is I could still use all the blue Aboriginal print I’d already cut!

The completed top is 50″ square. I quilted it very simply with a large double meander in a marigold-colored thread. (The double meander is done with one very large stipple or meander across the surface of the quilt, followed by another pass back, winding and ribboning through the first pass. It’s simple and fast and looks great on a lot of quilts.)

The binding is made from the African fabric used for the red and black stripes of the setting triangles. Though the red and black were fussy cut from it, the design also includes dark blue, so it was suitable across its pattern.

This quilt did not go roughly how I expected. It didn’t go much as planned at all. But I was pleased to use it for the video, and I like how it turned out. I think it will have a special owner some day, but right now I don’t know who that will be.

An Ode to Half Square Triangles

How do I make thee? Let me count the ways.
I cut thee to the depth and breadth and height
Seven-eighths of an inch greater than finished
And then cut across the diagonal.
I make thee to the level of the HST ruler
Available from Fons & Porter and others.
I make thee with Thangles, stitching through the paper.
I make thee in sets of eight, filling me with praise.
I use thee with the passion putting you to use
In my old UFOs, and with my next childrenâ€™s quilts.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost senses. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if fates choose,
I shall but love thee better after quilting.

How Do I Love Thee (Sonnet 43)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every dayâ€™s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhoodâ€™s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.