Tag Archives: Tutorial

Turning a Block On Point Twice

Friday Jim and I drove down the Mississippi River from La Crosse, WI. We were returning from a two week trip to see our son, who lives in Washington state. With 2,000 miles behind us on the train, it felt great to switch to our own car.

In Prairie Du Chien, WI, we stopped for lunch. On one wall of the diner hung a quilt with a patriotic theme. It was a medallion quilt, centered by a stylized American flag. The flag block was turned on point twice, emphasizing its importance and creating a nice, large center.

I liked the setting, and especially liked that a non-square rectangle was turned that way. It’s a setting I haven’t used myself.

I’ve written plenty about turning large blocks on point to center a quilt. In one post I described the types of blocks suited for an on-point setting, if it is only turned once. In another I showed how to do that, with the math needed to cut your setting triangles large enough. I’ve also written about turning small blocks twice, creating an “economy block.”

But I’ve never written about turning a larger rectangular block twice. Here are some cool things I learned about it.


The Part I Already Knew
If you turn a square block twice, you’ll double its dimensions. Consider an example of a 15” block. Turn it twice with an exact (not over-large) setting, and you will create a block that is 30” wide. Using the math for diagonals,
15” x 1.414 = 21.21”.

Now turn it again:
21.21” x 1.414 = 30”.

This block setting is often called an “economy block.” It’s an especially effective way of highlighting a small centerpiece, such as a special or fussy-cut piece of fabric.

Economy block setting – a square turned on point twice.

The Part I Didn’t Think About Much, But Probably Knew, Too
As it turns out, you can do this with non-square rectangles, too.

Non-square rectangle, squared first with unequal triangles, and again with equally-sized ones.

The Part I Didn’t Know, And Figured Out Last Night
The size relationship for both types of blocks can be generalized, and is far easier than multiplying by 1.414. If the length of the inside shape is A, and the width of the inside shape is B, the distance across the diagonal of the interior square is A+B. That means the length of the exterior square is A+B.

In the economy block example above, the interior square is 15”.
The resulting block is 30” square, or 15” + 15”.

In the second example, if the interior blue rectangle is 12” x 18”,
the resulting block is 30” square, or 12” + 18”.

The next time you want to frame a rectangle with setting triangles, remember how easy it is to determine the finished size. Length plus width of the interior rectangle (square or not!) is the width of the resulting square.

Ain’t math fun? 🙂


Giving Credit and Avoiding Copyright Violations

There’s a new skirmish in the quilting community. Apparently the admin for a Facebook group used tutorials and patterns created by other people, without attribution. When challenged on it, she kicked the complainers out of the group and made the group private.

Stealing is wrong, and though I don’t know the details of this story, it sounds like the admin did the wrong thing.

A couple of bloggers/quilters I respect have written about the incident and how to avoid copyright infringement. (See Sam Hunter’s post and Lori Kennedy’s post.) I’ve written about it, too, with some different links and thoughts. Since the last time I posted about it was a couple of years ago, I’ve updated that information below to provide it again.

Do you remember Robert Fulghum’s famous essay? “All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten” begins like this:

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.20.28 PM

The essay was published in Robert Fulghum’s book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I am using this excerpt based on “fair use” rules for copyright.

Honestly, we don’t share everything, but I know bloggers and crafters are incredibly generous. Mostly we don’t hit. And as to messes, what happens in your studio should stay in your studio!

But there are three things here I think we should take seriously. One is playing fair, and one is not taking things that aren’t yours. And when we do mess up, we should apologize.

I see two separate areas of trouble when it comes to playing fair and giving deserved credit. One is for bloggers, and the other is for quilters and crafters. Obviously the two groups overlap.

Sometimes, in enthusiasm to share cool stuff and brilliant thoughts, bloggers use work that is not their own. Using information from other people might include photos, words, charts, tables, logos, or illustrations. The easiest violation is with photos. I wrote some about this earlier this year.

Are you sharing photos of someone else’s work? (This happens a lot after quilt shows.) Did you give them credit? There are both ethical and legal concerns on this. Legally there are copyright rights to the photo itself, and also to the creative work being photographed, such as a quilt. I am not the best person to speak about the legal issues, but I know enough to be very careful about sharing photos of anyone else’s quilts. In fact, unless I am linking directly to a picture someone else posted, I pretty much don’t do it anymore. (Some photos are in the public domain, meaning there is no copyright protection. Those can be shared freely. Still, information about the creator and the owner of the work should be included.)

Ethically, using someone else’s work without crediting is taking something that’s not yours, and it’s not playing fair. Ask yourself how you would feel if a photo of your quilt appeared in various blogs, but the bloggers didn’t have the courtesy to credit it with your name, or a link back to where they found your glorious quilt. Or even to ask permission to use the picture.

If you’d like more information on posting other people’s content appropriately, see a really helpful post from HubSpot Blogs. It is on citing sources and not stealing other people’s work on the internet.

When it comes to creating tangible (rather than digital) work, there are other ways to take things that aren’t yours. Here again, there are obvious (I hope!) examples of wrong-doing, as well as others that might seem more grey.

First, a lot of people see no harm in copying a pattern that someone else purchased. If your friend buys a pattern and you want to make the same thing, you can just make a photocopy or scan of hers. In fact, your whole bee or swap or small group can have copies, too, right? But there is harm, as it deprives the creator of pay for their work. Imagine working — many hours of effort — to create a product for sale. Imagine someone taking it without paying for it. That is stealing, plain and simple.

Sam Hunter wrote about this better than I can. When a friend-of-a-friend stole one of Sam’s patterns rather than paying for it, it created a sticky situation, to say the least.

And remember, this isn’t true just of patterns that you buy one at a time. It also counts when you didn’t buy your own book or magazine patterns, but photocopied someone else’s instead.

Now comes the harder part, the grey area. Now also comes the caveat. I am NOT an attorney and am not providing legal advice. Most of the information provided below is based on two posts by Jen Bernstein. [Links below.] She is an attorney, but she also is not providing you legal advice. If this is an area of concern for you, please retain your own attorney. 

The design (what a quilt or project looks like) and the pattern (instructions of how to make it) are separately copyrighted. So let’s say you see a quilt and don’t want to buy the pattern. Instead you spend time figuring out how the block is made, how many of them there are, and how big they likely are based on the size of the original. You draw it all out in EQ7 to get your layout and fabric requirements. Ta-DAH! It’s all good, huh? Well, maybe not.

Depending on how closely “your” design matches the original, you may have infringed on a copyright. For more information, see Jen Bernstein’s guest post “Can You Copyright a Sewing Pattern?” on Abby Glassenberg’s While She Naps blog.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours. That’s the legal part of this. Now I’ll return to the ethical part: play fair. To me that includes acknowledging others for their inspiration and contribution.

That might mean literal acknowledgment in blog posts and Instagram and pins, or on labels. Some people say when you label your quilts, you should include the pattern and designer’s name, or the source of inspiration. I’m not likely to put that stuff on labels (I design my own quilts), but I agree with the intention.

Or it might just mean having an attitude of gratitude when we create. None of us is the first ever to make a quilt. That happened thousands of years ago. Regardless of how original we think we are, how fresh our designs, we were inspired by something.

Even if we are “self-taught,” likely that means learning from online sources or books, which someone else wrote and made available to us. We should be proud of ourselves and our work — we do amazing things! But we can be humble enough to feel gratitude for those who came before us, and for those who work by our sides.

Accurate Piecing — That 1/4″ Seam

Intricate piecing can be beautiful, but every extra patch means an extra seam, and every extra seam means another opportunity for errors in sizing.

Consider the border I’m working on now. It’s just 24 half-square triangles that finish at 2″. The length of border should finish at 48″. Each of the 24 HST has only one seam. And there are 23 seams attaching the HST to each other to create the border. That’s 47 seams in total. Now, only consider the vertical seams attaching them to create the border length. If each seam allowance is off by 1/16″, that’s not much, right? But 1/16″ x 23 seams is 1 7/16″, or almost 1.5″. That doesn’t even include the error potential when making the HST.

So much for potential error. Here is the real thing. Here are two halves of one border strip. They really do have the same number of HST.


Each part is supposed to measure 24.5″, unfinished. The first one I made (top) is slightly short, so I adjusted the seam allowances so the bottom strip would be slightly longer. Oooops! It’s more than a half inch longer. Now I need to fix it by making a few seams wider, to take up the extra fabric.

Everyone faces the question sometimes of how to make a block or border fit. When I was a beginning quilter, I usually made block quilts. My seam allowances were usually too big, which meant my blocks were too small. I learned a lot of ways to improve my seam allowance, and a lot of ways to fake it or fix it. Here are a few.

It starts when you prep your fabric. Some people prefer to use washed fabric and some don’t. I strongly prefer washed, for multiple reasons. Either way, soon you will cut fabric, and before cutting, you need to press it. (Yes, you really do need to press it.) 

I press carefully with a hot steam iron, because cutting is more accurate on flat fabric. Many people recommend starching fabric to stiffen it. I do now and then, especially if I’m working with a cotton that’s flimsier than usual, but it isn’t part of my standard practice.

When’s the last time you changed your rotary cutter blade? If your cutter blade is dull, it will drag the fabric rather than slice through it. You may need to cut through parts multiple times, risking moving your ruler slightly. A sharp blade will give you better cuts with less force. A bonus is that sharp blades are less dangerous, too!

My cutting surface is a comfortable height for me to use while standing. It’s a plastic-topped, folding “buffet” table, the type that can be found at most discount stores. It is much too low by itself, but I have it raised with PVC pipes slipped over the legs. The pipes are cut to raise the table about 5 inches. Other people find that bed risers work well to raise their table. The extra height helps with comfort, but it also helps with precision, because I’m not bent so far over my work.

I stand with my shoulder directly lined up with the line of cutting, so my arm moves straight forward, not at an angle. This helps keep the blade moving in the right direction, so I don’t accidentally push the ruler offline.

Lighting is another element. Enough light, in front and above you, makes your work easier and more precise. Besides the overhead light, I have LED utility light strips on either side of the room where I cut.

As I was learning to quilt, two cutting strategies led to big improvements in my piecing. First, cutting along the selvage provides more accurate strips as compared to cutting across the width of fabric (WOF.) The grain is more stable and doesn’t shift as much when piecing. Besides that, you won’t need to worry about whether the fabric was cut from the bolt on grain. (It rarely is, which requires adjustment if cutting WOF. In addition, you may lose significant yardage when squaring up for cutting WOF.) If the selvage is gone, you can tell which direction is “with” the grain by which one has less stretch when you tug it.

Cutting along the selvage is especially important when cutting border strips. You’re much less likely to have waves and flares when attaching the border. (Of course, this also requires measuring the border length accurately, and pinning the strip in place before stitching.)

Second, don’t try to cut through more than four layers of fabric at a time. More layers are harder to cut through, requiring more force from you and increasing the opportunity to shift your ruler with the movement of the blade.

Finally, measure twice, cut once. Make sure the ruler lines are parallel to the lines on the mat (if using them) or lined up exactly with the edge of the fabric. Too often I’ve cut on a line crossing from 1/8″ to 1/4″, or that type of thing.

When you take precisely cut pieces to the sewing machine, how can you get good seam allowances? Again, ergonomics, or your comfort, plays into it. If you can, use a desk chair with adjustable height. You need to be able to see and reach your workspace easily to have good control.

Pins: sure, they take time. Time to put them in, time to take them out… they seem like a hassle. I rarely pin small units. But when I assemble bigger blocks I usually use them. And when I sew long lines, such as rows of blocks or borders, I pin a lot, every couple of inches. (Twice as many pins do not take twice as long to set or pull.) Thin pins are best, as they don’t distort the fabric and are easier for your machine to cross if you don’t pull them first. Pins also allow you to ease in the fabric without making little darts when the two pieces don’t match up exactly right.

I use a 1/4″ foot to make my seam allowances better. It has a little “fence” to guide my fabric edge. Still I need to know whether to nudge my fabric against the fence or leave a thread width away from it. Some machines have adjustable needle positions, but not all 1/4″ feet can accommodate a change in position. If not, you still need to be in charge.

If you don’t have a 1/4″ foot, there are a lot of sources for tips (here and here, for example) in getting a better seam allowance.

A key strategy to avoid my problem above is to check sizing regularly. Because my HST finish at 2″, each pair of HST should finish at 4″. A set of four of them should finish at 8″. If I had checked my piecing before stitching all the units together, I could have adjusted my seam allowances before creating the whole strip.

And no, you’re not done yet! Pressing a stitched unit or block is the last part of the puzzle. As with fabric prep, when you press units, use an up and down motion, rather than dragging the iron across. Most sources recommend pressing toward the darker fabric. Sometimes this is practical and sometimes not. You can find more tips for pressing here and here.

As you can see, there are a lot of different elements that play into piecing accuracy, not just your time at the machine. Little changes can add up to a lot!

What choices do you have when your piecing isn’t as good as you’d like? It depends on your need for perfection. One option you can always choose is to add some if the border or block is too small, or cut some off if it is too large. This “wonky” or “liberated” style is historically traditional and works great for some styles of quilts.

I am no perfectionist, but I do like things to be “pretty good.” For me that means fixing some and fudging some.

Fixing generally requires re-doing at least some seams. For my strips above, I want to shorten the longer one about a quarter inch. I will re-stitch four or five seams with a little wider seam allowance. If my strip were too short, I’d take out a few seams and re-stitch with a narrower seam allowance.

Fudging is possible in a lot of cases. If you’re trying to attach a border and the length is off by 1/4″, or even 1/2″, go ahead and pin a lot to ease the extra fabric in. If my border is too long, I also might “adjust” at each end. I pin about 1/8″ of border beyond each side of the quilt center. This gives me another 1/4″ I don’t need to ease in, and the loss is barely visible. If my border is too short, I can adjust it the other way.

Similarly, you often can trim edges of blocks or borders, and no one will know but you. Some blocks are easier than others. If your flying geese are too large, make sure the “beak” side has a nice seam allowance to preserve the point. Trimming the other edges won’t be very noticeable.

Remember, once the project has been quilted, many of these small errors disappear into the dimpling of the surface.

And it’s always good to remember, you might be your own harshest critic. If you wouldn’t scold a friend for her piecing mistakes, why would you scold yourself? If it’s important to you, try a few ideas above to improve your accuracy. If it’s not, just keep having fun and enjoy the process!

Another New Christmas Stocking!

When I was a kid, the Christmas stocking was a feature of our family holiday celebration. My mom, an incredibly creative woman, made our stockings, decorating each differently. We all knew the stocking itself was a manifestation of her love for us. Besides that, the nuts, fruit, and candy in the stockings were a relatively large part of our presents. Last but not least, we were allowed to open our stockings immediately, because Santa filled them!

When our son was born, it was important to me that he have a stocking, too. I didn’t have the creative skills of my mom, so I bought one for him, which he still uses when at our home. On his first Christmas, Santa brought him one present, a small stuffed Curious George doll that fit just right into the top of that stocking. I’ll never forget the look of wonder on my son’s face when he locked eyes with the little monkey.

Last winter I made our son a new Christmas stocking, since he was far away. This year I made one for his girlfriend.

I wanted to keep with traditional colors, with fabric from my stash. However, I don’t stash Christmas fabrics, so I chose a mottled wine red for the stocking, and plaid for the cuff. The backing is a plain white muslin. Cotton batting makes it soft and pliable.

First I quilted the fabric with my long-arm. Because the fabric is plain, I wanted to make the quilting a little fancier. After looking at a couple of my books for inspiration, I decided to draw flowers and leaves with the thread.


Here is the finished stocking.


The other photos and instructions below are for Son’s stocking from last year. The pattern and process I used are all the same.

After quilting, I traced around my pattern. The pattern was drawn using the stocking he got as a baby, and it has a seam allowance included of approximately 1/2″.

I drew and cut out two. Remember you need two sides to the stocking, and the foot needs to face both ways.

To keep the edges corralled, I stitched quickly around the edges of each part separately. Then I pinned them, right sides together. Using my walking foot, I stitched around, leaving the top open.

Then next step was to create a cuff. I decided how deep I wanted it (4.5″), doubled that (9″), and added an inch (10″). The inch was the seam allowance for both edges that would attach to the top edge of the stocking. I cut the piece 10″ deep. I also needed to know how long to make it. Honesty: this was a bit of fudging. What worked fine was using the width of the finished stocking, doubling it, and adding something like  1 1/4″. Because the cuff needs to fit around the stocking, you need a little extra leeway. Then I sewed my cuff along the 10″ edges, right sides together, to make a tube. The seam allowance here is probably a fat 1/4″. As I said, I fudged a little.

I turned the cuff and folded it to make a tube half as deep, with right side of fabric on the outside. I pressed the fold edge all the way around. Then I tucked a piece of batting into the folded tube to give the cuff a little poof. You could skip that if you prefer.

With the stocking turned inside out, I pinned the cuff to open edge of the INSIDE of the stocking.

Again using my walking foot, I stitched the cuff down around the top edge, back-stitching at the beginning and end to secure. Once turned right-side out, the cuff lies nicely around the top. Finally, I used a piece of grosgrain ribbon to create a loop, attaching it with zigzag stitching.

Here is the finished stocking, featuring Son’s first Christmas present from Santa. Next to it on the right is his original stocking, which served as the model.

Four Flying Geese, Three French Hens, Two …

[I published this in April when I was making lots of geese. Well, I’m at the geese stage again! Since I needed to remind myself of the four-at-a-time method, I thought I’d remind you, too. Cheers!]

Fooled ya, huh? It’s actually “four calling birds…” The geese don’t come in until later, when there are six geese a-laying…

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. The flying geese I need finish at 8.25″ in length. That’s a weird size, but easy to make. (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. 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.

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 needed 32 flying geese units with finished measure 4.125″ x 8.25″. To make FOUR units this size:
Stitch-and-flip requires 4 (units) x 4.625″ x 8.75″ = 161.875 square inches of the base fabric, and
4 (units) x 2 (per unit) x 4.625″ x 4.625″ = 171.125 square inches of the sky fabric.

Four-at-a-time requires 9.5″ x 9.5″ = 90.25 square inches of the base fabric, and
4 x 5″ x 5″ = 100 square inches of the sky fabric.

For this size example, stitch-and-flip requires almost twice as much of each fabric, compared to the four-at-a-time method. For 32 of them, that’s almost a half yard difference for each fabric. 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.

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