Throwback Thursday already?? It seems impossible but we are in the final week of January, Week 5 (and Year 5) of my 10-year-lookback at quilts. I started with 2010 at the beginning of the month and now I’m up to 2014.
In Square Dance you see my interpretation of the classic Twist block. Every Twist quilt I’ve ever seen features a solid fabric in the center of each block and two fabrics for the lattice. My version incorporates a lovely folk art floral in the center of each block and 12 fabrics in the lattice — four each of rose, green, and purple:
It was quite a challenge getting the balance of fabrics just right but I was very pleased with the outcome.
The beautiful quilting by Melissa Hoffman of Fiddlestitches is hard to see so here’s a close-up:
I remember Melissa telling me she had to wear a headlamp to stitch the free-motion filigree design in the interior of the quilt. Black thread on solid black fabric: what a challenge that must have been!
Square Dance is one of my quilts in rotation on the back of the couch in our living room. In fact, it’s there right now, and I managed to get a shot just now while the sun was briefly shining:
Have you ever made a block that didn’t turn out quite like you expected? Perhaps you were surprised by one of the elements but kept on making the block, not realizing you had made an error. That’s what happened to me a few days ago when I made a test block of Star Drops, designed by Margot Languedoc of the Pattern Basket.
Before I bought the pattern I had studied the design, guessing (correctly) that the outer star points were made from hourglass units that were trimmed on one long side. When I made my test block I resized it from 6″ to 12″ finished, adding an additional design element at the last minute. I wrote about that in my last post.
When I trimmed the hourglass units using the calculations I had made for a block that was double in size, I was surprised that the small triangle in the center wasn’t larger. And when I converted the center square into a snowball block by adding a triangle at each corner, I was surprised that the triangles were larger than the ones in the hourglass blocks. I concluded it was because the center square is larger than the other blocks.
I was wrong.
I had cut a quarter-inch too much off the hourglass units. That’s why the blue triangles were smaller than I expected. Oops! And then I cut the four corner squares a quarter of an inch too small. Oops again. My block was supposed to measure 12½” unfinished but it’s a half-inch shy of that.
To illustrate the difference, I drew the blocks in the software program EQ7:
The one on the left is a mock-up of the block I made. You can see that four of the triangles are larger than the other four. This block measures 12″ unfinished, 11½” finished.
The block on the right is a mock-up of what my block would have looked like had I trimmed the hourglass blocks properly and made the corner squares the correct size. It measures 12½” unfinished, 12″ finished. (I’m sure this star block has been made many times before and has a name but I haven’t actively searched for it yet. If you happen to know, kindly leave a comment.)
What to do about my oddly sized block? Well, if it were destined for a quilt of 12″ finished blocks, I’d have a real problem. Happily, I am planning to incorporate this block into a Junior Billie Bag panel that finishes at 14″ x 17″ so I’ll simply cut the sashing strips a bit wider to compensate.
So my block is actually a mistake. But you know what? I love it anyway!
I’m teaching a Junior Billie Bag workshop next month so I had the perfect excuse to make a 12″ test block for one of the front/back panels. I’ve been wanting to try Margot Languedoc’s Star Drops pattern since first seeing her charming design on Instagram last year. She has several patterns I want to make, all of which are pictured on her website, the Pattern Basket.
I bought the pattern and studied the construction. Her block finishes at 6″ so I resized it to finish at 12″. Here are the components of my block ready to sew together:
Just as I was getting ready to pin the rows, a thought occurred to me. What would the block look like with eight blue points instead of four? I made a snowball block from the center square using the stitch-and-flip method and wound up with this:
I have double Star Drops! The blue triangles are larger around the center square because the center block is larger than all the other blocks.
As good as the block looks as a square, look at it on point:
Is that not sensational??
It appears my next Junior Billie Bag will be black and blue and white. The floral print in the center of the block is one of several pieces I bought last April in a fit of fabric lust and wrote about here. I think I will make a kaleidoscope block out of that floral for the other front/back panel of my Junior Billie Bag.
I finished piecing the bed runner I started a couple of weeks ago. (I wrote about it here and here.) When last you saw it, it looked like this, measuring about 34½” x 68″:
The plan was to increase the length so it would drop over the sides of a queen-size bed. I had very little of the background fabric left, though. (It’s hard to see from the photo that the background fabric is an inky blue and black batik print. I had only a yard to begin with — and I used every bit of it.) I inserted a 1½”-wide decorative strip at each end, working with the two fabrics used as lattice strips around the 4-Patch Wonder blocks in the interior.
Now the bed runner looks like this:
The inserts and end pieces added 10″ to the length. I trimmed a bit from the sides so now the bed runner measures 32″ x 78″.
My quilt already has a name: Olivia Twist. (Yes, that’s a nod to Charles Dickens.) The reasons behind the name? First, the focus fabric is from a line called A Garden for Olivia by In the Beginning Fabrics. Second, the quilt is based on the twist block that produces the wonderful interlocking design you see above. The twist block dates back to 1870, which by coincidence is the very year Charles Dickens died.
Now it’s on to the backing for this quilt. I have a good-sized piece of the focus fabric on hand for the back. People always want to know that the fabric looked like before it was cut up!
It’s still in progress but here’s a shot of the bed runner quilt I’m working on:
Can you believe all the blocks came from the same focus fabric? I never tire of making these faux-kaleidoscope blocks. It’s so much fun to see the amazing variety of images created by stacking four repeats and cutting them into squares. For more information on the fabrics I used and the two simple blocks that created the interlocking twist design, see my previous post.
Right now my quilt top measures 34½” x 68″ but it’s going to be a little bit longer because I want more of a drop over the sides of the bed. I haven’t decided yet whether to simply add strips of background fabric to the short ends or incorporate a pieced element with color.
It’s one of my favorites: It’s All in the Twist, made from my 4-Patch Wonder with a Twist pattern. The original quilt has been on display at the Pine Needle Quilt Shop for quite a spell. It was high time, I decided recently, to make a new version, so I started on one last week using these fabrics I showed you a couple of weeks ago:
The floral focus fabric is from a line called A Garden for Olivia designed by Lida Enche for In the Beginning Fabrics. I thought it would serve up some interesting and beautiful four-patch kaleidoscope blocks (I call them 4-Patch Wonder blocks) — and I was right. I paired the focus fabric with an aqua blender, also from In the Beginning Fabrics, and two batiks from my stash. The dark batik may look solid black in the photo but it’s actually a navy and black print.
The quilt design is deceptively simple: it starts with a snowball block and an alternating block, both finishing at 6″ square. When the blocks are joined together, you see snowballs surrounded by interlocking ribbons. Take a look at this 4-Patch Wonder snowball block between two alternating blocks:
Now see what happens when the blocks are butted up against each other:
The illusion is complete when rows are sewn together. This is how far I’ve gotten doing just that:
Isn’t that pretty?
This is my favorite part of quiltmaking: when you start sewing the rows together and can finally see if the reality matches the picture you had in your head when you chose the fabrics and settled on a design.
I’m departing from the original quilt in one other respect: instead of a throw, I’m making a bed runner. It seems to me the quilt world has been very slow to embrace the concept of bed runners. In 2014 I stayed in hotels seven times, ranging from my home state of Oregon to as far away as New York and Florida, and in every single one the beds were accented with bed runners.
It’s an idea whose time has come. I’m jumping on board! How about you?
Last August I posted a tutorial about using template plastic as a sewing guide when making snowball blocks (you can see the post here). I noted that the template could be used with just about any block that calls for a triangle to be made from a square or rectangle.
Using a template eliminates the need to draw lines marking the diagonal — for snowball or square-in-a-square blocks, for example — or ¼” inch on either side of the diagonal, as you might for Half-Square Triangles made from two squares of fabric. Drawing lines on fabric may not seem like a big deal but it takes a surprising amount of time, especially if you are working on a big project.
The template I made back in August measured 2½” x 4½”, the perfect size for the 6″ snowball blocks I was working on at the time. When I started working earlier this year on my version of Reach for the Stars, a medallion sampler quilt with triangles of all sizes in every single block, I made a larger plastic template with a couple of modifications.
I’ll show you how I used it in Block 7 of my Reach for the Stars project:
See the five square-in-a-square components in the center of the block? They’re the blue and green ones and the one in the very middle of the block.
For each square-in-a-square, I first sewed two squares on opposite corners, trimmed the seam, and pressed the seam toward the corners. Now I’m getting ready to sew the third square on:
I lay the template on top of the fabric with the right edge of the template lined up with the diagonal of the square:
Because I can see through the plastic, I can easily see that my template is positioned correctly. Did you notice that the right edge of the template is marked with black ink? That helps me see the edge of the tool on light fabric. When I’m sewing on dark fabric, I used the other edge.
Now I’m ready to sew. With the needle down I position the fabric right next to the edge of the template . . .
. . . and start sewing. As I stitch I can see that the edge of my template is in position along the diagonal of the square. My left hand on the template keeps it firmly in place:
On bigger pieces I use both hands to keep the fabric and template in place.
Here is my square-in-a-square, with the two edges ready to be trimmed and pressed:
(Every now and then as I am sewing next to the template I let the needle get too close to the template and it takes tiny bites out of it. That’s why you see what looks like perforation marks on the edge. I can still use the template for quite a while but eventually I will need to make a new one. And change my needle.)
Now what about those lines on the inside of the template, you ask? They are exactly ¼” and ½” in from the edge on both sides. When I am sewing Half-Square Triangles (HSTs) made from two squares, the ¼” line is on the diagonal and the edge of the template is right where it needs to be. To illustrate, I have two 5″ squares, right sides together, ready for the first line of stitching:
See how the ¼” line is on the diagonal of the squares?
Stitching the first line:
When I flip the block around to sew the second line, that ½” line on the template is directly on top of my first stitching line. I am lifting up a corner to show you what I mean:
Strictly speaking, that ½” marking isn’t necessary but I like it because it gives me one more way to test the accuracy of my stitching.
Would you like to make your own template? Here’s what you need:
— a strip of template plastic (frosted or clear) about 2¼” x 10″
— a piece of scratch paper (8 1/2″ x 11″ is perfect)
— a clear acrylic ruler (my favorite size for this purpose is 4″ x 14″)
— an Ultra Fine-Point Sharpie (or other fine point permanent marking pen) in black
1. Lay the strip of plastic on the scratch paper and, using a ruler and Ultra Fine-Point Sharpie, draw a scant ¼” line from one long edge:
The measurement needs to be scant because 1) the line you draw with the pen will add to the measurement and 2) when using the template you will be stitching right next to the edge of it.
2. Draw a line exactly 1/4″ away from the first one:
3. Repeat for the other side:
4. Lay the ruler very close to one edge and draw a solid line. You shouldn’t be able to see the edge of the plastic at all:
The reason for working on top of scratch paper:
Wasn’t that easy?
If you decide to make this template tool, please leave a comment to let me know how it’s working for you. Happy sewing!
Time to show you more of the project I’ve been working on since my last post. I actually started this project over a year ago, when I got a bug to make a new quilt based on my 4-Patch Wonder with a Twist pattern. This is the first quilt, which is on the cover of the pattern:
The 12 snowball blocks are very different from each other but they are all from the same piece of focus fabric, made into 4-Patch Wonder blocks (my name for blocks made of four identical layers of fabric that are stacked, cut in squares, and then rotated to make a pleasing symmetrical design). An alternating block — red and green in this case, on a black background — helps create the illusion of interlocking strips. The quilt looks contemporary but the twist block actually dates back to 1870.
The fabric I had in mind for a second version was this lovely print, Ella, by Kathy Brown for Red Rooster Fabrics:
I was attracted to the folk-art feel of her design and the rose and purple tones set off by green vines on a black background. My thought was to make the lattice strips out of three colors — rose, purple, and green — instead of two colors as I did in my first quilt. And I thought the Ella print would make great 4-Patch Wonder blocks
Trouble was, the first couple 4-Patch Wonder blocks I made were — well, they were pretty but not nearly as pretty or as interesting as the original fabric:
I abandoned the plan for 4-Patch Wonder blocks and simply cut squares. Then I dug into my stash for the rose, purple, and green fabrics needed for the twist strips. I pulled out quite a few pieces, all reading as textured solids. Pretty soon I had several options for each color. (What does this tell you about the size of my stash?)
Somewhere along the line I got the idea of using four different fabrics for each of the three colors. That’s right — 12 different fabrics for the twist strips. I just about drove myself crazy deciding which strips would go where, and then devising a way to keep track of them once their positions were assigned. Maybe that’s why I made just a few blocks and put the project away for over a year. Another Work-in-Progress, languishing . . .
Out it came last week, ready for some close personal attention, and here is the result so far:
I’m very pleased with it! Still to come: borders. With quite a few 2½” strips left over from the lattice, I’m thinking about making an inner border of 2″ squares using all 12 lattice fabrics. I hope you’ll check back in a few days to see what I’ve done.
I’m working on a quilt (another Work-in-Progress, begun over a year ago) that contains several snowball blocks — you know, the ones that have a triangle sewn to each corner, like this:
I’ve seen these edges referred to as foldover corners and stitch-and-flip corners. Whatever they’re called, the usual method of making them is to place a small square in each corner of the larger square, sew diagonal lines from corner to corner, trim the seams, and press the resulting triangles to complete the square.
Pretty basic, pretty fast. Except that it’s usually necessary to draw a stitching line on the small squares and sometimes to pin them to the larger square. It can get pretty tedious drawing all those lines on fabric, and it’s surprisingly difficult to stitch a perfectly straight diagonal line, especially when you are starting out at a corner.
Well! I recently learned a new way to sew these squares that doesn’t involve either pins or drawing lines. It’s faster than the old method and has resulted in improved accuracy in my stitching. I experimented a bit with the method and the materials, and this is what I came up with that works best for me:
It’s a piece of template plastic, about 4½” wide and 2½” long, the perfect size for a block that finishes at 6″. I placed the plastic on a piece of scratch paper and, using an acrylic ruler and black Fine Point Sharpie pen, drew a thin line along one long edge. You’ll see what the dark edge is for in a moment.
Here is my large square and the four smaller squares I need to make the corner triangles:
(The only reason I have pins in the smaller squares is to make sure they are in the correct position for the quilt I am making. If I were using the same fabric in all four corners, I wouldn’t need pins at all.)
I start by positioning one of the smaller squares right side down in one corner of the larger square. Then I lay the template plastic right along the stitching line, from corner to corner, with the edges of the template plastic extending beyond the beginning and ending points of the stitching line. The inked side of the template plastic helps me see the edge of the plastic better on light fabric:
Next I position the fabric with my needle (in the down position) right next to the template at the exact corner of the small square. Holding my left hand (not shown in the photo below) firmly on the template plastic, I start stitching right at the corner:
You can see the needle is right next to the edge of the template plastic, eliminating the possibility of straying off the stitching line:
It feels a little bit like stitching in the ditch, with the edge of the template plastic serving as the ditch. Being able to see the fabric through the plastic helps me make sure the fabric isn’t shifting.
I use the uninked long edge of the template on dark fabrics, as it is easier to see the needle as it goes in and out right next to the edge of the template plastic:
I sew all four corners in this manner, rotating the large square as I go and not cutting the thread between corners:
Now all I have to do is cut the threads, trim the seams, and press. Voila! My snowball block is done:
This method works for flying geese blocks, sawtooth edges, just about any block that calls for a triangle to be made from a square or rectangle. The templates can be made with cardboard or other stiff materials, but I’m sticking with template plastic because I like being able to see through it as I sew along next to it. I’ll make larger templates for larger blocks.
My thanks to Kelly at BlueBird Sews for introducing me to this new method. I love learning from fellow quilters!