Monthly Archives: June 2012

Twister Heart Tutorial (I Love Paris)

I Love Paris twister quilt

This tutorial shows how to make an interlocking pinwheel heart quilt with the same dimensions as I Love Paris. I made my own twister tool using a 6½” square acrylic ruler because I wanted my blocks to finish at 6”. I added a row of pinwheels along the bottom of the quilt using the smaller of the two Lil’ Twister tools made by CS Designs; those blocks finish at 3”.

Finished size of quilt: 58” x 64”
Size of block: 6”
Width of outer borders:  6”

My quilt was made of Paris-themed fabrics in black and white and red. There are lots of Paris-themed fabrics on the market now, but the pinwheel heart would look good in many other combinations of fabrics and colors.

If you haven’t used the Lil’ Twister tool before, I recommend that you watch an on-line tutorial. Many good ones are available; simply enter “lil twister tutorial” on a search engine such as Google.

Making a quilt with twister tools requires a lot of fabric, plenty of which falls by the wayside as scraps. In I Love Paris, the background and border strips were cut from the same fabric because I wanted the heart to float on the background. I kept going back to the quilt shop for more background fabric — a white on white print with hearts, by the way — because I didn’t know how much I needed; I was just making the quilt up as I went along. For this tutorial I calculated the yardage so you need to make only one trip to the fabric store.

3½” square Lil’ Twister tool by CS Designs
6½” square acrylic ruler, any brand
Fine line marking tool, such as a Sharpie Ultra Fine Point, in black or other dark color
(optional) Digital camera
(optional) Spray starch or starch alternative, such as Mary Ellen’s Best Press

Fabric requirements
Heart motif: (33) 8½” squares of assorted prints (a few light, plenty of medium and dark values)
Row of small pinwheels along bottom: (15) 5” squares of assorted prints (mixed values, as above)
White background fabric: 3¾ yards
Binding fabric: ⅝ yd

WOF = width of fabric
LOF = length of fabric
Background strips = strips that are attached to the four sides of the quilt top after the initial squares have been sewn together but before the twister squares have been cut. These are distinct from the . . .
Border strips = strips that are attached to the quilt top after the twister squares have been sewn together.

Cutting the white background fabric
Cut in the order listed.

1. Cut (4) strips 8½” x WOF. Trim selvages. Unfold the strips, stack them, and cut (4) 8½” squares, for a total of 16 squares. These 16 squares will be used for the background of the heart motif.

From two of the leftover pieces cut (2) 3” x 5” strips; these are the side strips for the row of small pinwheel blocks along the bottom.

2. Cut (2) strips 5” x WOF. Trim selvages. These will be pieced to make 1 of the 4 background strips for the heart motif.

3. Cut (4) strips 3” x WOF. Trim selvages. These will be pieced to make the top and bottom background strips for the row of small pinwheel blocks along the bottom.

4. Cut a length of fabric 69” (you should have about ¼ yd left over. Keep that piece intact, just in case). Fold in half on the crosswise fold. Measure fabric width. You should have at least 42” of usable fabric, not counting selvages. Trim selvages.

Cut (3) strips 5” x LOF. These are 3 of the 4 background strips for the heart motif.

Cut (4) strips 6½” x LOF. These are for the outer borders of the quilt.

Note: Fabric widths can vary widely. If you have less than 42” of usable fabric, decrease the width of the outer border strips. For example, if you have only 40” of usable fabric, cut the (4) outer border strips 6” instead of 6½”.

Cutting the binding fabric
Cut (7) 2¼” strips x WOF.

Marking the 6½” square ruler
The Lil’ Twister tools are marked with two lines crossed at right angles and tilted 30°. There are two quick ways of making your own template for a 6” twister block. One is to center a 6½” square ruler on top of the 3½” square Lil’ Twister tool and trace the two intersecting lines with a fine point Sharpie marker or similar pen. (The lines can be removed later with polish remover.)

The second way is to mark the lines using the 30° angle on your rotary cutting mat as a guide. On my mat the 30° angle is indicated by a dotted line. Mark the center of the 6½” square ruler with a small dot. Center the dot over the zero mark on the mat. Lay a small ruler on top of the square ruler along the dotted line and draw a line extending about 2” on both sides of the dot. Rotate the ruler 90° — a quarter turn — and draw the second line.

locating 30 degree angle and zero mark on cutting mat
centering square ruler over zero mark on cutting mat
drawing first line along 30 degree angle
clear view of first line
drawing second line on square ruler
clear view of second line on square ruler
clear view of second line


Starching the squares
This is an optional step but one I recommend. The Lil’ Twister squares that emerge from these initial squares are cut on the bias, so starching the fabric at this point is a good idea. Lightly mist each square with starch (I really like Mary Ellen’s Best Press, a clear starch alternative), being careful not to distort the fabric by dragging the iron across it.

Making the quilt
1. Arrange the 33 colored squares in a heart shape on a 7 x 7 grid, preferably on a design wall. Refer to the chart below for placement of squares. Colored squares are indicated with an X; the unmarked squares are where the background squares go.

7×7 grid for heart motif


heart motif blocks arranged in 7×7 grid

2. Using a small stitch length – about 12 stitches to the inch — sew blocks together in horizontal rows. Row 1: press the first, third, and fifth seams to the left. Press the second, fourth, and sixth seams to the right. Do the same thing with rows 3, 5, and 7.

Row 2: do just the opposite: press the first, third, and fifth seams to the right; press the second, fourth and sixth seams to the left. Do the same thing with rows 4 and 6.

3. With right sides together, pin the first row to the second row, matching seams. The seams will be opposing, or “nesting.” Sew the rows together. With a seam ripper, pick out the seam allowance at each intersection on both sides of the seam. (That’s the reason for the small stitch length.)

Rotate or “pop” the seam allowance open, allowing the four connecting seams to be pressed in the same clockwise or counterclockwise direction. You’ll see a tiny 4-patch design emerge where the four seams intersect. Popping the seam allowances open is a bit of extra work but it gives each pinwheel a nice flat center – something you’ll really appreciate when it’s time to quilt it.

From the back, with seam allowances popped open
close-up of seam allowances popped open


4. Trim two of the long 5” wide background strips the exact measurement of the length of the quilt top (should be 56½”). Sew strips to the sides. Press seams to the outside.

Trim the third long 5” wide background strip to the exact measurement of the width of the quilt top (should be 65½”). Sew strip to the top. Press seam to the outside.

Sew the two 5” x WOF background strips together to make one long strip; press seam open. Position the strip on the bottom of the quilt top with the seam in the middle of the fourth block, i.e. the center of the heart motif. (The seam becomes part of the waste fabric when the pinwheel block is cut from the larger square.) Trim strip even with the sides of the quilt top; the measurement should be the same as the strip across the top. Sew strip to the bottom. Press seam to the outside.

5. Cut pinwheel blocks using 6½” square ruler marked with 30° angle. Reassemble the blocks on your design wall and evaluate the design. Are you happy with the arrangement? Does your heart stand out from the background? This is the time to make changes, even if it means making new blocks or modifying existing ones. Please see “Using Directional Fabrics” at the end of this tutorial.

twister blocks arranged on design wall


6. Sew blocks together in horizontal rows. Press the seams in each row in alternating directions as explained in Step 2 above, with the first seam pressed to the left in the odd numbered rows and the first seam pressed to the right in the even numbered rows. Sew rows together. Instead of popping the seam allowances at each block intersection, press each row seam in one direction (I usually press toward the top of the quilt, as I did on I Love Paris) or press the row seams open. I generally don’t press ¼” seams open but I find it works well on seams with bias edges.

heart motif twister blocks sewn together


7. Sew (15) 5” squares of assorted prints in a horizontal row. Press the seams in alternating directions as explained above, with the first seam pressed to the left.

Sew a 3” x 5” strip to each side of the row of squares. Press to the outside. Sew two of the four 3” x WOF strips together to make one long strip; press seam open. Repeat with the other two strips. Position the strips above and below the row of squares, making sure the seams fall in the middle of a block. Trim strips to the measurement of the row of squares (should be 80½”). Sew strips to the top and bottom; press to the outside.

8. Cut pinwheel blocks using small (3½” square) Lil’ Twister tool. Sew blocks together in horizontal row. Do not press seams yet. Lay the quilt top face down with seams exposed and then lay the strip of small pinwheels face down along the bottom. The center seam of every other 3” twister block will be aligned with a seam from the quilt top. Using the tip of a pin as the point of an arrow, mark the direction those seams must be pressed to be opposing. The remaining pinwheel seams will fall in the middle of a 6” block and can be pressed in either direction. Press seams and sew strip to the quilt top.

9. Staystitch a scant ¼” inch around all four sides to stabilize the bias edges. This minimizes stretching when outer borders are applied.

10. Measure the quilt length on the sides and down the middle; take the average of the three measurements. Cut two 6½” strips the averaged length and sew to the sides, easing where necessary. Remember that the edges of the quilt top are bias; handle carefully to avoid stretching. Press seams toward the outside. Measure the quilt width at the top and bottom and across the middle; take the averaged width of the three measurements. Cut the remaining 6½” strips that width and sew to the top and bottom. Press seams toward the outside.

I Love Paris with bottom row and borders added


Your quilt top is now complete!

Using Directional Fabrics
The one quibble I have with the Lil’ Twister tool is no fault of the designer’s but rather an inherent feature of the tool itself: Because the four pieces that make up a pinwheel are all cut at a 30° angle, the pinwheel doesn’t spin. But isn’t that the point of a pinwheel? To spin, like a windmill? With solids and smallish prints, the lack of movement isn’t noticeable. What you tend to see is the contrast in value between the interlocking pinwheels.

But look what happens when a striped fabric or strong directional print is used:

pinwheel with no movement

All of the lines are going in the same direction. Do you see how static that is?

Now look at the pinwheel with the top right and bottom left pieces replaced with new pieces going the other direction:

pinwheel with movement

Do you see how much more movement it has?

Here are the two blocks side by side:

comparing the pinwheels

I think you can see that the block on the right is more dynamic. The bolder the stripe or directional fabric, the more dramatic the difference. While I was working on I Love Paris, I was so bothered by the lack of movement in my zebra print blocks that I took sections of the blocks apart and remade them.

I realize some quilters may not have a problem with this feature of the Lil’ Twister tool, and I’m fine with that. But if you are planning to make a twister quilt with some striped or directional fabrics thrown into the mix, you might want to plan ahead and put some spin in those blocks.

Here’s a close-up of the left corner of I Love Paris with one of those zebra print blocks in it:

detail of I Love Paris

Questions? Feel free to email me!




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Instant gratification . . .

well, not quite instant. It actually took a couple of afternoons to make the quilt top you see below, but it was still a very satisfying experience. After working for weeks on several projects requiring a lot of time and effort, I was itching to work on something new. Something that would go together very quickly and be fun to make.

A quilt from the March/April 2012 issue of McCall’s Quilting magazine caught my eye: Silhouette, designed by Kari Nichols.

Silhouette quilt pattern by Kari Nichols


Dawn’s version of Silhouette


The quilt is made entirely of black and white fabrics — a favorite combo of mine. The pattern calls for pairs of prints that are positive/negative. If you look at the outer borders of the quilt in the photo above, you’ll see what I mean by that. I already had some positive/negative pairs in my stash, and I found some additional fabrics in the Night and Day line by Exclusively Quilts that I thought would work very well.

In Kari’s design the two squares in the center of the quilt are made of four triangles, and all of the triangles are made of two pieces. I didn’t want seams interrupting the design of my beautiful prints, so I altered the cutting and construction methods. My triangles are solid pieces cut from strips, and the two squares are made of two triangles instead of four. My quilt top went together very quickly, in part because it contains 44 pieces instead of the 68 pieces called for in the magazine instructions. It measures 59″ x 72″, a generous lap size.

I have a feeling this is a design I will make more than once. A scaled down version in primary colors would make a great baby quilt, don’t you think? And I could see a modern version made with contemporary prints or batiks or gradated fabrics.

Of course I’m thinking about what to call this black-and-white version. I’m leaning toward Day for Night, after the 1973 film by French director Francois Truffaut.




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“It’s a twister!”

Thanks to Thelma of cupcakesndaisies fame, my I Love Paris quilt, pictured below, has been seen by quite a few folks. Thelma is working on a “twister” quilt right now, made with an acrylic template that creates interlocking pinwheels, like the template I used for I Love Paris. In her post last week she included a couple pictures of my quilt and some tips I had passed on to her.

i love paris, 58″ x 64″ (2012)


Here’s a picture of my first twister project, a little 33” square table topper with lime green ric rac in the inner border. It’s not quilted yet, which is why it’s not in my Gallery.

twister table topper (2012)


The funny thing about making a quilt using twister templates is that you take perfectly good fabric, cut it into squares, sew the squares together, cut those squares into smaller squares, and then sew those squares together. (Quilters get that but other people just scratch their heads.) The upside to this method is that you wind up with perfectly interlocking pinwheels. The downside is that you wind up with a lot of fabric scraps.  

Some of Thelma’s readers were interested in how I made I Love Paris, so I’m working on a tutorial which I will post in a few days. The tutorial will include information on pressing seams, which I think is just as important as sewing them. In the meantime, I am heading upstairs to my sewing room. As a fledgling blogger, I’ve been spending too much time in front of the computer reading other quilters’ blogs and not enough time in front of my sewing machine.




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Making Music, Making Quilt Labels . . .

Compact discs are permanent fixtures in my sewing room. I listen to music all the time when I’m sewing. Sometimes the radio is on, set to an FM station that plays oldies, but most of the time I listen to songs I’ve compiled myself on CDs, eclectic mixes of everything from folk music to jazz to country to the Great American Songbook.

What do my musical tastes have to do with quilt labels? Simply this: CDs do more than just produce beautiful music. These slender silvery discs, measuring 4⅝” in diameter, make great circle patterns for quilts and home sewing projects. They’re lightweight, portable, and very easy to trace around. And they’re the perfect size for quilt labels.

I use fusible interfacing as the backing fabric, so the labels actually get fused to the backs of my quilts. Labels can be made just as easily with a non-fusible interfacing or other lightweight fabric and then appliquéd to the back of the quilt by hand or machine. Either way, they are easy to make and give the back of the quilt a nicely finished look as well as added visual interest.

Here’s a tutorial on how I make quilt labels using a compact disc. For this demonstration I’m making a label for a little quilt called Wonderful Town that I made a couple of years ago. (It’s in my Quilt Gallery, about halfway down, if you’d like to take a look. You’ll notice it doesn’t have a label yet.)

Scratch paper
Pencil with a fine point
See-through ruler
Compact disc
Scrap of freezer paper about 6½” square
Piece of cotton about 6½” square for the label
Piece of light to medium-weight fusible interfacing about 6½” square
Temporary marking pen or pencil (I recommend the Frixion erasable gel pen)
Fine point permanent marker
Painter’s tape
Pinking shears

1. Start with a piece of scratch paper and a pencil with a fine point. Trace around a compact disc and put a dot in the center. Draw a line across the dot to establish the baseline rule.

circle and baseline drawn


2. Decide what your label will say and how many lines it will take. Write the label information on scratch paper first to make sure it’s what you want. Center each line, just as it will appear on your label. This is good practice before you record the same information on fabric with permanent ink. Using a see-through ruler, draw lines ⅜” apart in the circle.

label drafted and guidelines drawn

In my example, I drew two lines above my baseline rule and three below it, for a total of six lines. If I were making a label with five lines, I would have drawn two above the baseline and two below.

3. Using a hot dry iron, press the shiny side of the freezer paper to the wrong side of the label fabric. This keeps the fabric taut, making it easier to write on with a pen. Press from the front to make sure the fabric is flat with no bubbles. The freezer paper will be removed later.

Note: many quilters use cotton muslin for their labels. I usually choose a cotton fabric that was used in my quilt top or one that goes well with it. Here I am using a scrap of light gold fabric that picks up the same shade in the quilt.

4. Center the compact disc on the right side of the label fabric. Trace around it with a temporary marking pen or pencil and put a tiny dot in the center. Draw a baseline across the dot. As with the scratch paper version, draw lines ⅜” apart above and below the baseline.

circle and lines drawn with disappearing ink

I absolutely love the Frixion erasable gel pens by Pilot. The ink vanishes at the touch of an iron. Frixion pens come in a rainbow of colors. Here I used green ink, pressing lightly to get just enough of a line to see where I needed to write.

Option: Instead of drawing the rules on the front of the label fabric with a temporary marker, you could draw them on the back of the freezer paper with very dark ink so that they show through from the right side.

5. Tape the label to your work surface with painter’s tape. Test the permanent marker on a corner of your label fabric to make sure the ink doesn’t bleed. Carefully write the information on your label. Don’t worry if your lettering isn’t perfect; mine certainly isn’t. The label just needs to be neatly written and easily read.

label written with permanent marker

I used a Sharpie Ultra Fine Point here but you may prefer an archival quality pen such as the Pigma Micron, which uses an acid-free pigment-based ink.

6. Remove the tape and peel the freezer paper off the back of the label. On the right side insert a pin at the spot where you marked the center of the label. Is the writing centered in the circle? If not, adjust the pin.

7. Turn the fabric over. Center the compact disc over the pin and trace around the disc with the pencil (not the permanent marker). The line you traced is your stitching line.

stitching line drawn on back of label


8. From the right side press the label with a hot iron. This sets the ink of the permanent marker and removes the Frixion ink, if you used it. If you used some other type of temporary marking pen or pencil, you may need to remove it before applying heat to the label.

lines drawn with Frixion pen have disappeared!


9. Place the interfacing on a flat surface with the fusible side up. Lay the label fabric right side down on top of it. Imagining the circle as a clock, insert four pins at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions. Place the pins across the seam line, with the tips pointing toward the outside edges; this helps keep the two layers flat. Insert four more pins evenly around the circle.

pins inserted evenly around circle


10. Using a small stitch (about 12 stitches to the inch), sew completely around the circle, gently turning the fabric as you sew to keep the curve line smooth and removing the pins as you come to them. Stitch beyond your beginning point by five or six stitches (no need to knot). Clip threads.

stitching around circle completed


11. Using pinking shears, trim closely next to the line of stitching.

seam pinked close to stitching line


12. Gently pull the interfacing away from the label fabric and make a small slit in the center of the interfacing. With scissors extend the slit to about ¾” from the stitching line on either side.

interfacing clipped in the middle and slit extended


13. Carefully turn the label inside out through the slit. Insert your fingers through the slit and gently run a fingernail around the edges to smooth out the circle shape. Fusible interfacing tears fairly easily, so be gentle.

label ready to be fused to back of quilt


14. The label is now ready to be pressed to the back of the quilt. Remember that the fusible side of the interfacing is on the outside. Be sure to position the label exactly where you want it before following the manufacturer’s directions for fusing. After the label is attached, you can stitch around it if you wish to give it that appliquéd look.






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Quilt-Along Update . . .

I wrote in an earlier post about my very first Quilt-Along, hosted by Jenny of A few weeks have passed since the Quilt-Along officially ended and I’ve finally finished the top of one of the projects I started:

baby marta’s quilt


It measures 48″ square, a good size for a baby quilt. I’m toying with the idea of using curves in the border but will wait till I’ve quilted it before making a final decision.

And here’s a little something I made recently for my friend Vivienne’s birthday:

Viv’s rotary cutter case





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Testing 1, 2, 3 . . .

Every now and then I test one of my own patterns by making a new version. When I haven’t looked at pattern instructions for a few months, I find myself reading them with fresh eyes. I go over the math and measurements as well as the clarity of the written directions. My inner editor usually kicks in, and I wind up making revisions.

Recently I tested Full Moon Rising II, making a few adjustments in the process. Mogambo Moons is the result:

Mogambo Moons, 16½” x 62”
Mogambo Moons 16½” x 62”


Although the pattern calls for different fabrics in the background blocks, I used the same Marcia Derse print for all of the blocks in this version. The moons are made of a gradated cotton sateen that travels from a pale yellow to a deep orange. The uneven striped fabric between the blocks is a batik that includes the entire range of yellows and oranges found in the moons.

I departed from the norm in one other respect. Instead of inserting set-in circles for my moons as my pattern directs, I appliqued them to the top after the blocks were joined together. They are finished-edge applique circles, backed with fusible interfacing.

This is the same method that I use for many of my quilt labels. In an upcoming post I’ll show you how I make them. The process starts with one of the most versatile objects in my sewing room: a compact disc.




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