Tag Archives: Solving problems

A New Plan for an Old UFO, Part 2

Where I left you last time was having solved the problem of setting the star points into background fabric without using Y-seams. I also showed you an idea for a quilt design using log cabin blocks. It’s pretty, but I really have no interest in making it.

This is where it is so far. At this point it finishes at 54″ square. 

The question is, what to do next? Often I begin a quilt with a center and two or three borders, designed in my mind and with scratch paper, and made directly. When it’s time to add more borders, I often switch to EQ7 for design help. It gives the advantage of trying out ideas without making them. With unlimited iterations possible at virtually no cost, there is not much downside. I did the same for this one.

Here are a couple of options, drawn in EQ7.

Original design in EQ7, 82″ square.

Original design in EQ7, 93″ square.

I like them both, but I have a pretty good idea which direction I’ll go with it.

One Weird Trick to Close Ugly Pores

It looks like a spammy ad, but you read that right. You trust me, right? So give me a minute…

On the last quilt I finished, the longarm tension fell apart, leaving a whole quilting pass with looping and nastiness on the back. I picked it all out, about two hours of work for about 10 minutes of quilting. Not a good trade-off.

But even once the thread is gone, all the evidence is not. When the needle punches through the backing fabric to grab the bobbin thread, it pushes the fabric yarns outward and apart. The remaining evidence is a line of tiny mountains, volcanoes, really, with an open crater at the peak. This is made worse by pulling threads back out as they are unstitched. The craters primarily show up on the backing fabric, but they can also on the top. Depending on the fabric pattern, they might not show, but the texture is not smooth, as unpunched fabric would be.

To fix this, or at least improve it significantly, there is a simple solution. Once the quilt is otherwise done, spray the area lightly with water (I have a mister) and then pop the quilt in the dryer for a few minutes on cool. When it comes out, the ugly pores will be mostly closed.

Some people wash their quilts before giving, which would also take care of the problem, I expect. I do not wash, as I like to give a quilt that looks new. This method preserves the new look.

And because above I said “the thread is gone,” and it made me think of “the thrill is gone,” I’ll leave you with a little B.B. King.



Yes, awesome, inspiring feelings of awe; magnificent, amazing, stunning. Math rocks!

I truly enjoyed creating Untied, with its free-form, no math construction. Though I used a ruler for parts of it, it wasn’t because the outcome depended on the measurement. Instead, at those instances I was only interested in straight, and sometimes parallel, lines.

20160401_182836However, I love the challenge of a technically difficult quilt, too. For a change of pace, I began a brand new project. The inspiration for it is a piece of fabric I bought several years ago. It’s a fussy historical print that I’ve always loved. However, it’s fussy and historical, and the colors are just off, all of which have made it hard to use. If it is cut into small patches, the impact of the print disappears, but large pieces would require designing just for it. So I am.

I started by pulling from stash, which is how almost all my quilts begin. I pulled all the blues that could work with that print, which meant they had to have a tinge of green and a little grey. It’s the color I learned as French blue. As it turns out, I don’t have a lot of blue with that, and all of it is in scraps or small pieces, other than the inspiration print. We’ll see how far I get before needing to buy something.

Burgundy reds, creams, browns, and cheddar oranges also came out of stash, including from my scrap drawer. I’m trying to commit to using my scraps more effectively. They come in handy, as I’ll explain later.

My center block is 18″ finished. I knew I wanted to turn it on point twice. The method is exactly the same as used for the economy block setting. This is also called “square in a square.”


And this is where the first round of harder quilt math comes in. (It’s not very hard, just a thing to learn, or store so you can look it up.) As noted in the linked post, when setting a square on point twice, the finished size of the resulting block is twice the dimensions of the initial finished square. For my 18″ block, I would end up with a 36″ center, once trimmed and finished. (See below for the calculation and reason why.) 

What a great way to quickly increase the size of a quilt!


After trimming, I added a 1″ border all the way around, taking it to 38″ square. That’s an odd size.

Options for a 36″ Edge
Most quilt blocks are square, or are rectangular with length twice the width, like flying geese blocks. I typically divide a border length into a number of equal increments to find how many blocks could fit along the edge. For example, if I put a block border directly along the 36″ center, I would divide 36 in various ways to get possibilities. Let’s start with whole inches.
36/18 = 2. I could have 18 blocks measuring 2″.
36/12 = 3. I could have 12 blocks measuring 3″.
36/9 = 4. I could have 9 blocks measuring 4″.
36/6 = 6. I could have 6 blocks measuring 6″.
But remember we could also go to half-inches, such as
36/8 = 4.5. I could have 8 blocks measuring 4.5″.
36/24 = 1.5. I could have 24 blocks measuring 1.5″.

You can see there are actually infinite variations, though I like to stick to the ones that are easy to construct.

Options for a 38″ Edge
But I didn’t want to put a block border directly against the large center. I wanted the hard line of a narrow border before anything else, to contain the pale toile. That gave me 38″, which is harder to divide nicely than 36″.
38/19 = 2. I could have 19 blocks measuring 2″, but this was too narrow to work well with the proportions of the center. And 19 is a prime number, so I couldn’t subdivide it into whole numbers.
I could shift to fractionals, such as
38/8 = 4.75. Sure… This actually would work fine with something like HST or hourglasses.

My go-to blocks are half-square triangles and hourglasses. I don’t want this quilt to look like others I’ve made, so it’s good to try something different.

Then I had a thought, a math thought! What if I divide 38 by 1.414? (That actually was the first thought. Then I thought…) If I turn blocks on point rather than set them straight, I would need to know the number of blocks using the math for the diagonal.

Here’s the concept. The picture below shows a triangle that is 1″ on the vertical and horizontal sides. The diagonal measures 1.414″, which is the square root of 2″. (Check with your calculator if you don’t believe me.)

Sq_rt_of_2 Pythagorean Theorem
For a right triangle, the square of the length of the diagonal (hypotenuse) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. We often see this expressed as a² + b² = c². To find c, take the square root of c².

In the case to the left, a = 1; b = 1; c is the square root of 2, or 1.414.

In fact, the diagonal of every square is 1.414 times the length of the side. So
length x 1.414 = diagonal
1″ x 1.414 = 1.414″
2″ x 1.414 = 2.828″ or close to 2 7/8″
3″ x 1.414 = 4.242″ or close to 4 1/4″
4″ x 1.414 = 5.656″ or close to 5 5/8″
and so on.

That also means that if I know the diagonal of a square, I can find the length using
diagonal/1.414 = length. For example
6″/1.414 = 4.243″, or very close to 4 1/4″.
38″/1.414 = 26.875″. Hooray!!

Huh? Why is that good? 26.875 is very close to 27, which is a very easy number to use. For instance,
27/9 = 3.

I could use 9 blocks measuring 3″, turned on point. (There were other options, too, such as 6 blocks at 4.5″.)

3 x 1.414 = 4.242, the diagonal of a 3″ square, and the width of a 3″ block when turned on point.
4.242 x 9 = 38.178, or very close to 38″.

So if I use 9 3″ blocks turned on point, I’ll have the length needed for a 38″ border.

(And to review the concept in another way, let’s go back to the 18″ block. When I turn it on point twice, I’m doing this:
18″ x 1.414 = 25.452″
25.452″ x 1.414 = 36″.
This is the same as 18″ x 1.414² = 18″ x 2 = 36″.) 

I chose to use the historical print and other blue scraps as the 3″ finish squares. For the background fabric, a light background would give good value contrast for the blues so they stand out well. I picked a pink and tan print on pale cream. The pink works because the reds have a pink cast. Right now I’m still working completely from stash and scraps. I was able to cut most of the setting triangles from a couple of larger pieces, but for the last few I had to sew scraps together to cut patches.


Can you find the seams where the setting fabric scraps had to be sewn together?

With the on-point border added, my current center is 46.5″ finished, another weird number. I plan to add an unpieced strip next, but I haven’t decided its width. I could add a strip to take it to 48″, 49″, 50″… So the next design decision, really, is the border after that, which will determine the width of the strip.


I feel really fortunate to have the math skills as part of my craft toolbox. You can make beautiful quilts without knowing how to do any of this, but knowing increases the options open to me. Math is awesome!

How to Finish UFOs

UFO: Unfinished Object; an art or crafting project that was begun but not finished, with some extended delay in making progress toward completion. The creator still intends to complete it, differentiating it from an abandoned project. UFO is a common term in quilting and knitting, but can apply to other creative endeavors such as writing, scrapbooking, painting, etc.

Over the last year or so, I’ve seen a lot more emphasis in quilting blogs on UFOs. Last year was a movement toward “A Lovely Year of Finishes,” complete with a button, goal setting, and linky parties. This year’s version is “One Monthly Goal,” or OMG. I love that these encourage quilters to complete their projects, just as Stashbusters has been doing for years.

But the question often comes up of what to do with projects you DON’T WANT TO FINISH. It just isn’t going to turn out the way you’d imagined, or it’s boring beyond tears, or you hate the process, or it was intended for someone not in your life anymore. In truth, you want to abandon it, but you don’t want to be a quitter, or don’t want to waste the effort or materials already used. What then? How to FINISH those unfinished objects?

The first thing to remember is that quilting is supposed to be rewarding and positive, not stressful and upsetting. If you look at a project and a black cloud appears above it, it might be time to make another decision. It doesn’t matter what resources already went into it. It’s too late to change that. What matters is what resources you put into it now, including time, energy, and material.

You have choices. One choice is to make a quilt of a different design than originally planned. What you do might depend on how much you have done. Do you have some blocks made? Can those blocks be assembled into a top, maybe of a smaller size or with a different setting? With sashings if there weren’t any in the original design, without if there were? On point, or with unpieced alternate blocks?

If you imagine your setting as a big 9-patch, you only need 4 or 5 pieced blocks, alternated with something else, to create a small quilt. It could be a lap quilt or a baby quilt or a doll quilt, or a table mat. A narrow table runner might need even fewer blocks.

Maybe you were part of a swap and found the blocks you received vary substantially in size. You can frame all the blocks with one fabric and then trim them to a consistent size. Then use the same framing fabric for sashing. No one will ever see the differences in size. The BEST book for dealing with swap blocks and other setting problems is Setting Solutions by Sharyn Craig. (I do own the book now.)

Maybe you signed up for an appliqué block of the month, but found you hate appliqué. If you have at least one, lovely big block, say 12″ or larger, you could make a medallion quilt with the block as the center.

Other options for a small number of blocks include a tote bag, mug rug, or placemats. My guild members make placemats for Meals on Wheels every couple of years, and nursing homes often use small quilts as door decorations for residents.

Or you could give all the blocks to someone else. Or use them as practice pieces for your free motion quilting.

If you have part of the top already assembled and don’t like where it’s going, try something new. My friend Mary at Zippy Quilts shows some great saves on improv projects she’s done.

What if you proceed and make a quilt top, what then? You can finish it and keep it, repurposing the quilt for something else. Make pillow covers or a travel bag, like Carole at From My Carolina Home. Or give the quilt to a friend or relative who would like it, donate it, make a cat bed out of it… Or don’t quilt the top. Donations often are appreciated at your real-world guild. My guild finishes a lot of unquilted tops for donations to local organizations. And once a year or so, we hold a fund-raiser auction. My friend Karen bought a beautiful quilt top at the January auction. She’s already quilted and bound it. Now she’ll give it back to the guild for a community donation quilt.

If you don’t have blocks or parts made, but simply have a pattern and fabric pulled together, take it all apart. Restash the fabric if you want. Or if the fabric gives you bad memories or no longer meets your quality standards, give it away, too.

Finishing UFOs does not require making a quilt. Finishing can mean throwing them away or passing them on. You can put them in the burn bin, you can wash the car with rags made from them. Finishing means declaring you are DONE with that project. Then it is NOT a UFO, it is a FO, Finished Object. DONE.

The most important thing to remember with UFOs is there is NO ONE who gets to decide how they are finished or disposed of, except you. If you don’t want to finish it, don’t. Life is too short to spend it on stuff (like this) you don’t want to do. If you don’t make the quilt, no one will die and no one will go to jail. NO bad thing will happen.

Here is my one UFO. Yes, one. This one got stuck because I didn’t know how to set and border the 6-pointed star. Now as I look at it, I don’t love it, or the idea, as much as I did when I started it. I’m not ready to abandon it, but I probably won’t hurry to finish it, either.


Tell me about your UFOs. What stops you from finishing? 


Leftovers from the Fairy Quilt

Bunnies for Baby

Bunnies for Baby. 40″ x 50″. Finished June 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

In April and May I offered my Medallion Improv! class. To help demonstrate the range of challenges and opportunities medallions provide, I started two quilts. One was Marquetry and the other was the Fairy quilt.


Marquetry was easy for me, but I struggled with the Fairy. The “template” I provide for my students is a medallion with six borders. After finishing the third border, I tried two different possibilities for the fourth. First, I made 32 puss-in-the-corner blocks, with the intention of alternating the value placement all the way around. They were lovely little blocks, but they took focus away from the center block. [Note about sizing: the border length, not including corners, was 35″. Using 7 5″ blocks on each side covered the length. 4 x 7 = 28 blocks. Add 4 corners for 32.]

That left me with 32 lovely puss-in-the-corner blocks, which wouldn’t be used to frame the fairy. As you can see in the photo at the top, they became part of a baby quilt instead. To 32 pieced blocks, I added 31 alternate blocks. 32 + 31 = 63, which is perfect for a 7 x 9 block layout.

It was easy to decide what to use for the alternate blocks. Last year I bought some bunny fabric from the clearance shelf. The illustrations are from the book Guess How Much I Love You. The colors were perfect to go with the pieced blocks.

Bunny cloth

As mentioned above, I actually made two attempts at a fourth border. Besides the puss-in-the-corner blocks, I also made strips using halved variable stars. They were a lot of work! At the time, I didn’t have any idea how I would use the strips. However, they quickly found their place. When I began a round robin with my sister, I realized the strips would work well for the first border, once cut to length.

I don’t mind trying multiple options for my medallion borders. I’ve found the rejected attempts, such as the two borders shown above, have their own place. Knowing this makes it easier to stay positive rather than getting discouraged.

What do you do with rejected blocks or borders?