If you’ve been quilting a while, you probably have a good-sized number of acrylic rulers on hand, the ones you use every day for cutting fabric and trimming blocks plus the specialty rulers you use on occasion. And let’s not forget the ones you bought (but maybe haven’t used yet) because they promised a faster, easier, more accurate way of cutting fabric or making a block.
With a few exceptions, these rulers tend to slip and slide on fabrics. How many of you have experienced a shift in position just as you were running your rotary cutter along a ruler’s edge? My hand is in the air.
Enter a product that may already be in your first aid kit or medicine cabinet. It’s a flexible clear 1″-wide surgical tape called Nexcare made by 3M. My friend and fellow quilter Kathy Anderson told me about it and now I’m passing the word on to all my friends who quilt.
Here’s what the package looks like. If you look carefully, you can see I have applied it to my go-to 4″ x 14″ Omnigrid ruler.
For years I used a product called Invisigrip on the back of my rulers. Made by Omnigrid, it’s a roll of clear film that comes attached to a paper backing. You cut it into strips, peel the paper backing away, and apply the film to the back of rulers. Invisigrip works very well at keeping rulers from sliding on fabric but it does have a couple of disadvantages.
First, the film can loosen from the back of the ruler over time and need replacing. Second, after a package has been open a while, it becomes stale. That is, it becomes impossible to separate the film from the paper backing, rendering the rest of the roll unusable. I tried sealing the roll in a Ziploc bag between applications but it still got stale.
I found myself buying a new package almost every time I got a new ruler. Over the years I have spent a fair amount of money on this product. NexCare tape is much less expensive — I think I paid around $4.50 for this double-roll package containing 20 yards — and it is very easy to apply.
All you have to do is unroll the length of tape you need, cut it with scissors, and apply it to the back of the ruler. But, being a bit of a neatnik when it comes to my sewing tools, I like to use my rotary cutter to cut straight lines so the tape lines up with the lines on my rulers. In the photos below I’m putting it on the back of a specialty ruler that I use a lot, the Quick Curve Ruler.
I place the ruler wrong side up on my cutting mat. (I put the ruler on a piece of fabric here just so you can see the markings better.) Below the ruler I unroll a length of tape the same length as the ruler, following the marking lines on the cutting mat, and press the tape onto the mat:
Next I trim the ends of the tape with my rotary cutter, allowing a ¼” margin between the end of the tape and the edges of the ruler. I use a stiletto (a bamboo skewer, actually) to lift up the edges of the tape where it was trimmed . . .
. . . and then peel the strip of tape off the mat.
Using the markings on the ruler itself as a guide, I lay the strip of tape on the ruler, positioning it a quarter of an inch from the edges, and press it in place with my fingertips. Here you can see that I added strips to the top of the ruler, leaving the area around the hanging hole clear, and added an extra stabilizing strip under the curve cut-out.
You can put strips around all four sides of the ruler if you wish. You can put them anywhere, for that matter. Because the cutting channel on the Quick Curve Ruler comes within a half-inch of the sides, I opted not to put strips there, adding the stabilizing strip in the center instead.
When I’m ready to use the ruler, I can see clearly through the tape:
Pretty nifty, don’t you think?
Updated added June 21, 2019: Since posting this tutorial I have learned that Nexcare tape tears evenly because it has a slight grid embedded in it. If you want to avoid the steps of placing the tape on a mat and cutting it with a rotary cutter and if you’re not particular about the exact length of the piece that you are applying, simply tear off the amount you think you need and put it on the back of the ruler. Easy peasy.
Today’s my day to post in the “Around the World Blog Hop.” It’s like a chain letter passed from one blogger to another. What a fun way to meet new quilters and discover new quilting blogs! My assignment is to respond to four questions and then tag another quilter who will post on the same questions a week later.
I was tagged by Debbie Scroggy of All Quilted, LLC. Debbie is a local award-winning professional longarm quilter whose clients keep coming back because she does beautiful work. She takes care to bring out the best in every quilter’s project. I know this because she has quilted two quilts for me — and they will certainly not be the last. I’ve seen examples of quilting Debbie has done for other people as well as quilts she has made herself. You’ll see for yourself when you click on the link above. And when you do, you’ll find a link to the blogger who tagged her. This blog hop takes you backward as well as forward.
Moving forward, you will hop from Oregon halfway across the North American continent to visit Jennifer Gwyn of Seams Crazy. Jennifer lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and two young children. Despite the demands of working and raising a family, she still manages to get a lot of quilting done. Jennifer’s fabric choices are always pleasing to the eye. I especially admire her ability to go scrappy when the quilt calls for it. I have Jennifer to thank for the project you see below. She wrote about it on her blog late last year and got me hooked.
On to the assignment at hand.
1. What am I working on? Ah, the easy question first. I always have several projects underway. One is my series sampler quilt, Reach for the Stars:
I’ve been working on this quilt since the beginning of the year, and the end is tantalizingly in sight. At the moment I’m trying to solve the puzzle of how to make the borders match in all four corners, something the original design does not do. The math doesn’t work out, and I’m trying to figure out a creative way to make it work.
I’m currently teaching a class on this bag at the Pine Needle and need to make a tote along with my students to demonstrate the steps. In the photo above, that’s the lining you see on the left. The green strip turns into pockets that go around the entire inside of the bag. Clever!
Yet another project is this Rotary Cutter Coat, one of my own designs:
Look closely at the fabrics in the unfinished project above: those are zipper pulls and zipper teeth on the front and straight pins on the back. So cute! (I posted a tutorial a few days ago that includes a link to the free pattern; perhaps you’d like to make a rotary cutter coat yourself.) As soon as the zipper pull coat above is finished, I’m going to give all three away. I hope you’ll come back later this week for my Giveaway.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? I would be hard pressed even to identify what genre my work fits in. I’m all over the map in terms of the kinds of quilts I like — and the kinds of quilts I like to make. Am I a traditional quilter? Absolutely. Non-traditional quilter? Yes. Modern quilter? Yes. Art quilter? That too. I tend to make what pleases me, and most of the time my work pleases others. That’s satisfying on both fronts.
3. Why do I create what I do? It’s all about the fabric. I love fabric! I love to make things with it. My mother taught me to sew when I was 12 years old, and I honestly can’t remember a time I didn’t have some kind of sewing project underway. I made all of my own clothes well into the 1980s (past the time when it was cheaper to make clothing than to buy it), along with pillows and curtains and other “soft furnishings.” By then I had also discovered quilting, which became a creative outlet and antidote to an intense work schedule. When I retired six years ago, quilting — and then teaching quilting — took over my life. Oh, and sewing for my sisters, who think I’m the Home Dec Queen.
4. How does my creative process work? Often an element in a quilt — a block, perhaps, or a border — will catch my eye, and I will think about how I might incorporate it into a quilt of my own. Or I will look at a traditional block and ponder how it might be jazzed up a bit. I will look at a design element and think, “What if I did this or that to it?” Some of my best ideas have come from asking myself, “What if . . .?”
Some of my work is frankly derivative. Case in point: the rotary cutter coats pictured above. A couple of years ago I saw a pattern in a magazine for a quilted eyeglasses case. I was instantly transported back to the age of four, when I got my first pair of glasses. I came home from the optician with glasses on my nose and a faux-leather case to store them in when I wasn’t wearing them. The case was cut along the same lines as the one in the magazine. I examined the eyeglasses case in the photo and said to myself, “What if . . .?” The result was a case (or coat, as I like to call it) designed specifically for a rotary cutter, though it could certainly double as a case for a pair of large eyeglasses.
I find inspiration everywhere: not just in books and magazines but also in nature, the work of other quilters and crafters, designs in fabric, a sidewalk, a coffee cup. I study quilts I like — and quilts I don’t much care for — to understand what appeals to me and why. Straying from the familiar path and trying something new are parts of the creative process, so I take classes whenever I can.
Jennifer’s “Blog Hop Around the World” post is due Oct. 20, one week from today. But you don’t have to wait till then to visit her blog. Go there now and see what she’s working on. Not only will you get a glimpse of her Reach for the Stars fabrics, you’ll be able to check out the size of her stash. Oh my!
A couple weeks ago the Pine Needle Quilt Shop, where I teach, held its annual fall Open House. I was on hand to promote my upcoming classes and share a sewing project or two. It’s always fun to talk to customers, fondle the newest fabrics in the shop, and visit with the other teachers. Local luminaries Violet Craft, Christina Cameli, and Rachel Kerley are joining the ranks of Pine Needle teachers this fall. I’m in good company!
One of the sewing projects I showed off at Open House was a rotary cutter case I designed a couple of years ago. I made up a few samples, which we gave away as door prizes:
These cases are also good for eyeglasses but I prefer them for rotary cutters. Don’t they look like little coats?
They make great gifts. And the holiday season is fast approaching. Hmmm . . . I’m thinking a tutorial is in order (and maybe even a giveaway!). What do you think, readers? Would you like to know how to make an eyeglasses case or rotary cutter coat?
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!
This tutorial is for a 19″ square napkin with a ¼”-wide hem and mitered corners. Here’s a look at the corners from both sides:
For two napkins, you’ll need ⅝ yard cotton fabric 42-44″ wide. Wash and iron fabric.
Supplies acrylic ruler with 45° angle marking
sewing stiletto (I use a bamboo skewer)
removable marking pen or pencil (I like the Frixion pens)
1. Trim selvages from fabric. Cut a 20″ square.
First Light Designs tip: trim ¼” from one of the sides that is parallel to the selvage. This reduces the crosswise width by a quarter inch. Why this step? The crosswise grain has more give than the lengthwise grain. With repeated use and washing, the napkin will relax along the crosswise grain. Trimming the fabric at the beginning compensates for that bit of stretch. To identify the crosswise and lengthwise grains, give the square a gentle tug in both directions; you should be able to tell immediately which side has more give. (Of course, you can cut the napkins 19¾” x 20″ initially but somehow I find trimming a 20″ square easier.)
2. At the ironing board, align 45º marking on ruler with top right edge of napkin as shown below. With a removable marking pen or pencil make a mark 1½” in from the edge of the napkin (not the edge of the ruler):
See the pink dot I made with the Frixion pen? It’s exactly an inch and a half in from the corner.
3. Bring point of fabric in to meet the mark and press:
4. Fold raw edges a generous ½” down and press all the way around. The pressed edges should form a miter at each corner:
5. Bring the raw edge in to meet the fold and press about 2″ in from the corner:
6. Fold again, forming a ¼”-inch miter. Press fold in place, again about 2″ in from the corner. Repeat for all corners. Do not press all the way around. Do not insert any pins yet.
7. Open up folds at each corner and trim a ¼”-square from the point of fabric. (You don’t need to use pins to hold the folds open before trimming; I did it here for photography purposes only.)
8. Place a pin at each corner to hold the miters in place:
9. Starting in the middle of any side, bring raw edge in to meet fold, fold again to form ¼”-inch fold, and finger press in place. The finger-pressed area is at the left edge of the photo:
10. Move to the sewing machine. Set stitch length at about 12 stitches to the inch (2.4 on computerized machine). Insert needle right next to the fold and begin stitching. Stop every couple of inches to make the two folds that form the quarter-inch hem.
11. As you approach the corner, remove the pin and use the point of a stiletto to hold the fold in place as you stitch toward the corner. Pivot when the needle is at the point the two folds meet. Remove second pin and continue stitching. When you get to the starting point, change stitch length to almost zero. Stitch three or four tiny stitches. Bring threads to the back and cut close to the line of stitching. Give the napkin a final press to set the stitches.
Add a pretty napkin ring, and you’re ready to set the table!
Part 1 of this tutorial, joining two lengths of bias tape, is available here.
Part 2 of this tutorial, overlapping ends of bias tape on an apron, is available here.
Part 3, Joining ends of bias tape on an apron
If you have ever finished attaching binding on a quilt by joining the two loose ends with a diagonal seam and then sewing the newly-joined strip to the quilt edge, this method will look familiar. On a quilt edge, you are normally working with binding that’s at least 2″ wide, 1″ when folded. On an apron edge, you are working with bias tape that’s 1″ wide and a mere quarter-inch when folded. That makes finishing the seam both challenging and time-consuming but the result is a seam that is almost invisible. Take a look at the bias trim on this apron belt piece:
On my Monterey Bay Apron, I use the overlapping method (described in Part 2 of this tutorial) on the inside edge around the neckline. There’s just no straight stretch long enough to accommodate the method described below. But you can use this method on the outer edge of the apron (along the bottom front, for example) and on both belt pieces. Look for straight lines on other apron patterns using bias tape to see where the most unobtrusive joining spots are.
Remember that ¼”-wide double-fold bias tape is pressed in such a way that one side of the tape is slightly narrower than the other (from the fold to the outside edge). The narrow side always goes on the right side of the fabric. When the fabric of the apron is inserted into the fold of the bias tape, the wider side of the tape, underneath, is always caught in the line of stitching from the top.
1. Leave 6″ between the beginning and ending points of stitching and leave 6″ tails on each side. Make a mark at the midpoint on the apron and 3″ from the starting point of stitching on the right-hand tail. The marks should be at the same point, as shown below:
Allowing 6″ between the beginning and ending points of stitching leaves enough room to manipulate the loose ends of the binding before they are joined, and the binding strip after joining is short enough that it can be stitched to the apron edge without getting distorted.
2. Press the right-hand tail open about an inch and a half from the end. Don’t try to press the fold lines completely out. With the right side up, make a diagonal cut as shown about 1/4″ to the left of the mark on the bias tape:
3. Lay the left-hand tail over the edge of the fabric. Lay the right-hand tail on top. With a removable marking pen or pencil, make a diagonal mark next to the cut edge of the right-hand tail.
4. Open out the left-hand tail and press open about an inch and a half from the end. With right side up, draw a diagonal line exactly 1/2″ to the right of the mark made in Step 3. Cut along that line.
This is what the two cut ends should look like:
5. With right sides together, pin the two ends as shown, overlapping 1/4″ at each end.
Be sure ends are not twisted!
6. Draw two lines 1/4″ apart on a small scrap of paper. Lay the pinned edges of bias tape on top, aligning the two cut edges with the line on the right. Leaving tails at both ends, sew a 1/4″ seam, using the drawn lines as guides. Use 15 stitches to the inch or 2.0 on a computerized machine.
7. Gently tear the paper away. Trim seam to a scant 1/4″ and press open. Trim dog ears from seam but leave thread tails in place. Carefully press folds back into place, using just the tip of the iron. Be very careful not to stretch or distort the length of tape.
In the photo above, you are looking at the back side. You can tell it’s the back because the stitching is not as close to the inside folded edge of the bias tape.
8. Now open the bias tape and trim the thread tails. On the right side, encase raw edge of fabric between the folded edges of the bias tape and finish stitching the seam, beginning and ending with tiny stitches.
(Part 1 of this tutorial, joining two lengths of bias tape, is available here.)
Part 2, Overlapping ends of bias tape on an apron
Several of the vintage apron patterns in my small collection feature aprons edged in double-fold bias tape. As I was working on my Monterey Bay Apron pattern, I consulted my vintage patterns to compare notes on how the edges were finished. To my surprise, none of them – not a single one – explained in detail how to finish the edges. “Turn under one end” was the most common instruction. I tried that, every way I could think of. The result was always a lumpy bump (a bumpy lump?) where the edges overlapped. After much experimentation I was finally satisfied with two methods. The first method is described below, and the second method is described in Part 3 of this tutorial (coming soon).
I really like the method I am showing you here because it’s fast and easy. It leaves one cut edge of bias tape exposed but the cut is made perpendicular to the folded edges of the tape, i.e. on the bias, so it won’t ravel. It leaves a crisp clean finish, but you can cover the cut edge with a tiny satin stitch if you wish. Here’s what the joined ends looks like:
Before you begin, determine where on the apron you want the bias edges to be joined. Look for straight stretches of fabric at least 4” long. My Monterey Bay Apron pattern calls for the bias tape ends to be joined in the places least likely to be noticed: on the back left inside neckline just below the shoulder seam, on the front right side close to the curve along the bottom edge, and in the middle of both apron belt pieces. Look for straight lines on other apron patterns using bias tape to see where the most unobtrusive joining spots are.
Remember that ¼”-wide double-fold bias tape is pressed in such a way that one side of the tape is slightly narrower than the other (from the fold to the outside edge). The narrow side always goes on the right side of the fabric. When the fabric of the apron is inserted into the fold of the bias tape, the wider side of the tape, underneath, is always caught in the line of stitching from the top.
1. On a straight stretch of fabric, insert fabric into the fold of the bias tape. Leaving a 2” tail of bias tape, insert the needle right next to the folded edge of the tape. Take two or three individual stitches to start. Continue stitching right next to the fold, stopping every inch or so to insert more fabric into the fold of bias tape and to adjust for any curves.
2. Stop stitching 3” from the starting point. Change stitch length to almost zero and take two or three tiny stitches. Clip threads. Cut off the excess bias tape, leaving a 3” tail from the end of stitching.
3. Trim the right-hand tail to 1½”:
4. Trim the left-hand tail so that it overlaps the right tail by ½”. The cut should be perpendicular to the folded edges of the bias tape.
5. Cover the tape on the right side with the tape from the left side. Using the point of a small sharp-pointed instrument such as a stiletto (I use a bamboo skewer), coax open about an inch of the first fold of the bias tape on top and tuck it under the bias tape beneath it:
6. Do the same thing on the back side:
7. Finish sewing the bias tape to the apron, beginning and ending with tiny stitches as shown:
And there you have it! In Part 3, I’ll show you how to join ends of bias tape on an apron using a diagonal seam, similar to finishing the binding on a quilt but with the added challenge of using inch-wide bias tape with multiple folds. This method is quite labor-intensive but it is definitely do-able and the result is a seam that is almost invisible.
“Working with 1/4″-wide double-fold bias tape.” You may think that’s an overly-specific title for a tutorial but I have discovered that not all bias tape is created equal, and different widths behave differently depending on how they are sewn. I like the finished look of ¼”-wide double-fold bias tape and used it on my Monterey Bay Apron. I find it easy to handle, and I really like the way it just hugs the inner and outer curves. Here’s a close-up:
I insert the raw edge of my fabric between the folded edges of the bias tape and stitch once to hold both sides down, rather than opening the tape up, stitching one side to the raw edge of the fabric and then turning it to the back and stitching again. Encasing the edge of fabric in the tape leaves a beautiful finish on both sides of the garment and is much faster than the other method. Take a look:
The process of joining two lengths of bias tape is almost identical to joining two strips of fabric for a quilt binding. Double-fold bias tape comes in a package with three folds already pressed firmly in place, however, so handling it can be a bit tricky. (I’ve made my own bias tape but find that the tight weave and the crisply pressed folds of the packaged tape make it easier to handle.)
Quarter-inch double-fold bias tape starts out an inch wide. Each long end is pressed 1/8” under and then the remaining strip is pressed in half . . . but not precisely in half. It’s pressed in such a way that one side of the tape is slightly narrower than the other (from the fold to the outside edge). The narrow side always goes on the right side of the fabric. The wider side, underneath, is always caught in the line of stitching from the top. You can clearly see that in the photo above.
Since a package of bias tape normally contains four yards, you may be wondering why it would it be necessary to join two lengths. Well, many apron patterns require more than one package to go all the way around an outside edge. Not wanting to be wasteful is another good reason. If two shorter lengths of bias tape will make a piece long enough for a specific purpose, why open another package?
1. Lay two ends of bias tape next to each other on the ironing board, narrow side up:
2. Press each end open about an inch and a half from the end. Don’t try to press the fold lines completely out:
A straight pin helps hold the tape in place on the ironing board.
3. Without changing the position of the strips on the ironing board, turn the ends so the right sides are up:
I’ve written an R on the corners with a removable ink pen to indicate the right side. You can also easily distinguish the right side by the fold lines.
4. With right sides together, lay the left strip on top of the right strip at a right angle. Overlap edges slightly as shown. This makes it a bit easier to handle, since the bias tape is only an inch wide:
5. Draw a diagonal line from the upper right to the lower left corner, using a pen or pencil with removable marking lines. Pin in place:
6. Stitch the two strips together along the diagonal line, leaving a tail at each end to keep the seam intact. Use 15 stitches to the inch or 2.0 on a computerized machine. I used a contrasting thread for illustration purposes only; thread should be matched to the color of the bias tape.
Because the tape was originally cut on the bias, the diagonal seam is on the straight of grain.
7. Trim seam to a scant ¼”, being careful to leave the tails on thread. Press seam open:
8. Trim the dog ears – but leave those thread tails on. Press all three folds back into place, using just the tip of the iron. Be very careful not to stretch or distort the length of tape.
9. Now open the bias tape and trim the thread tails:
10. A final press and voila! A beautifully joined seam, ready to be sewn onto your project.
In Parts 2 and 3 of this tutorial, coming soon, I’ll show you two methods of joining the ends of bias tape where they meet on an apron.
My newest pattern, the Monterey Bay Apron, makes its debut this Friday, Sept. 14, at the Pine Needle’s Fall Festival Open House! I am so excited that the pattern is finally ready. Here it is in its little plastic envelope, ready to be displayed in the shop:
I’ve had the design for this apron in my mind for almost three years but started seriously working on it just in the last year. In a future post I’ll tell you how the design process evolved; for now I’ll just say that inspiration struck in an aquarium, of all places. You can guess which one.
The apron pictured below, made from a charming line of fabric called All About Coffee from Exclusively Quilters, is hanging in the Pine Needle right now.
I learned a lot about using 1/4″-wide double-fold bias tape while developing this pattern. So much so that I will be posting a tutorial on it in the next few days.
The Pine Needle’s Open House runs from 10 am to 5 pm Friday and Saturday, Sept. 14 and 15. I’ll be there a good bit of the time both days. If you are in the Portland metro area, please stop by! The Pine Needle is in Lake Oswego, just a few minutes from downtown Portland.
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.
Supplies 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
Terms 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Do you see how much more movement it has?
Here are the two blocks side by side:
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: