The Lily Pad: The Journal of White Lotus Quilting


Finishing up Behemoth superblock #2

Posted in Atomic quilting,Block of the Month (BOM) by whitelotusquilting on January 29, 2011
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Well, here it is the end of January already, and I am just getting to posting the last two blocks of the Behemoth month #2 blocks.  We’ll just call the monthly 20″ by 20″ squares ‘superblocks’ so you can more easily follow what I’m doing.

Also I’ve given up calling the superblocks by their month — we’ve slipped a month or two coming up on superblock #3 so we’ll just go by the numbers instead of the months.  Each superblock has several smaller block components as well as strip segments.  We’ve covered a few of month #2 blocks and talked a little about the strip segments.  So all that’s left is the Monkey Wrench (churn dash) and the Colorado blocks.  Both are made up of pieces you’ve seen before, and should know how to make already.  The exception is in the Churn Dash block — there’s a little strippy block you might not have seen or used before (but could still figure out how to make I hope!)

So here’s the block:

Monkey Wrench or Churn Dash block from Behemoth #2

It’s got four half-square triangles (at the corners), one plain square, and four strippy squares.  The strippy squares are compound pieces, which have been cut from two strips sewn together first (a light and a dark).  Of course you have to do the funky seam allowance math, so for instance if the strippy square finishes at 2 inches square, then the strips you need to cut to sew together to begin with need to be 1 inch finished plus 1/2 inch each for seam allowance of 1/4 inch on each side.  So for a strippy square of 2.5″ (the finished 2″ plus the 1/2 inch seam allowance), you need to begin with two 1.5″ strips.  Then sew those together along the long edge, press toward the dark side, and then cut 2.5″ squares.  And yes, there are pictures of this in the photostream, just click on any picture to go to the picture set for that block.

The cool thing is with these pieces you can easily change your mind about which way you want the Churn Dash to be, dark on light, or light on dark.  By switching the direction of the half-square triangles, and then also the strippy squares, you can flip the pattern to be dark.  Of course then you need to change out the solid square to a light color instead, but if you have lots of strips and squares on hand, this is easy and just becomes a matter of a design choice.

Here’s the reversed block:
monkey wrench block alternate

The leftover center dark square is to the left — all the other components are the same.  All I did was reverse the direction that they point.

So try this with your block as you assemble it.  Put it together one way, and then try reversing it and the center square.  See which image you like better, light on dark, or dark on light.  Figure out which one pleases you more with your other blocks.  Or just make two blocks, you’ll certainly use the spare later if you’re making the bigger quilt.

Which reminds me, if I haven’t said it before, definitely build up a spare parts bucket with this quilt.  Anytime you make half-square triangles, make a few extra.  Same with flying geese.  That way you can fill in a plain strip or square with your spare parts and look like a piecing genius who’s drafting all sorts of new patterns.

In superblock #2 there’s also a little strip of flying geese and the Colorado block. You already know how to make flying geese, and the Colorado block is made up entirely of half-square triangles, which you also know how to make (or can choose your favorite method).  You can do all 16 in the same lights and darks in your half-square triangles for this block, or experiment a little with different combinations of colors in different locations.  Or do it completely scrappy, just keep the light and dark locations correct in each position, and you’ll still see the pattern.
colorado block

If you need a review on how to do flying geese, just click on the picture below.

Making flying geese for economy block

So there’s everything you need for superblock #2; good luck!  Be sure to send in a picture of your Behemoth in progress if you’re not here on an open sewing night (where we try to take lots of pictures — the blocks look very different with different color choices).  Be sure to check the Block of the Month sewing dates page to check for those dates if you’re not sure.

If it’s quiet here for awhile it just means there’s LOTS of stuff going on in the studio, not all of which I’ve uploaded the pictures for :).  Just give a call or e-mail to find out what’s happening!

Happy sewing all!

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Scary canary paper piecing :)

Posted in Block of the Month (BOM),Quilting tips and techniques by whitelotusquilting on January 6, 2011
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Okay, here it is: the one block section you definitely need to foundation piece in the Behemoth:

Paper pieced star from block #2 of the Behemoth

It’s from the second Behemoth large block, the one we were working on in November (you’re with me, right???), but that I still haven’t posted all the components to yet.  (There’s a few more to come.)  Okay, so maybe block #3 will be in February, but that’s good, right?  It gives everyone a chance to catch up.  Besides.  the first few blocks are the most time consuming to show and explain, and the more experience you get, the easier the later blocks become.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it :).

This is a pretty good place to start if you haven’t done paper piecing before.  Let me clarify.  The technique you will use on this block component is actually called paper foundation piecing.  There is another technique called English paper piecing, which is very different, that we’re not going to cover in the Behemoth.

If you click on the picture above you’ll get to the photostream that has the entire process documented so if you haven’t done paper foundation piecing yet (or haven’t made friends with it) then you might want to check out each individual step.  You need a dark, a medium, and a light, and I started with 2.5″ strips and then trimmed them to fit the paper.  That’s quick and easy for me but it does waste a bit of fabric so if that keeps you up late at night then you might start with pieces cut closer to their finished sizes.

Foundation piecing can be out of fabric, stabilizer, or paper, and can be left in (depending on the type) or removed after piecing, depending on what you’re after.  A foundation provides perfect seam line guidance for very spiky points, which are difficult to piece with other methods due to sewing distortion.  Also a foundation provides strength and stability for slippery or biased fabrics (like silk ties) so depending on the circumstance you may wish to leave the foundation in the quilt.

Paper foundation piecing isn’t really scary at all but many quilters shy away from it because it is a bit of a perspective shift.  Typically you’re looking down at the seam you’re sewing from the top side of the work.  With foundation piecing you’re looking at the seam from the bottom — that is, you’re sewing with the wrong side of the quilt top facing you.  Clear as mud?  Well you can think of it like a compass issue.  In the West we look at our compasses top down, as if they were by our feet.  The Chinese look at their compasses as if they were in the sky, looking up at them (by the way, this reverses north and south without altering east and west — how’s that for a brain flip).  So just think of paper foundation piecing as looking up through your quilt top toward the sky.  The printed guidelines on the paper or other foundation will be flipped from how it appears on the right side of the quilt.

So give it a try and make your own beautiful eight pointed star!

Behemoth, month 2, continued: End of Day block

Posted in Atomic quilting,Block of the Month (BOM) by whitelotusquilting on December 23, 2010
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No matter which holiday you celebrate, December is an action-packed month.  The season has a way of getting ahead of me and this year it’s been no exception.  We started with an extreme ice and snow storm the week of Thanksgiving (the end of November) — which included 20 hours of power outages over the course of two days — and then have had wind storms, excess rain, and lots of visitors to our house.  So I feel like I started out behind on my holiday preparations and then got further behind.  Not that I really mind — it’s all been fun. Oh and there’s been LOTS of Christmas quilts to finish for clients.  I just finished the last quilt to be done for Christmas yesterday so I’m just getting some giftmaking and shopping done, and I’m finally posting some more blocks of the Behemoth for month #2.  This block was supposed to be for November but it’s stretched into December so don’t worry if you’re not caught up yet!  You’ll have plenty of time as we’re poking along here.

Here’s the ‘End of Day’ block:

End of Day Block

This is a gorgeous block and wonderfully shaded with lights and darks, which can give it a 3D feel if you look at it just right.  I built it with Thangles, which isn’t in the pattern directions, but you can successfully follow the pattern directions instead if you prefer.  With Thangles you’ll wind up with two full blocks, one that spins to the right, and one that spins to the left.  If you’re making the larger version of the Behemoth, you’ll need four extra big blocks anyway, so just start up a spare parts bucket and by the time we’re done with the 12 months of blocks, you’ll have a few good spare pieces to get you started on your extra blocks.

(remember that if you want to see the whole photostream for this block, click on any picture, which will take you to the flickr photo album for this block)

When I look at this block, I see a pinwheel made of stripped components.  That is, there are four very large half-square triangles, that same quilting atom again, spun around like a basic pinwheel.  Each triangle half, though, is made of a light and dark strip, making it a compound triangle.

Clear as mud?  Well, what it means is that you can create this block without cutting triangles or trapezoids first.  In fact, you can create it with a light and a dark strip (of the same size) and a handful of Thangles.  For this particular block I used 6″ finished  ‘big Thangles’ and started with 3.5″ strips.  But you can scale it to suit your needs.  To begin with, sew your light and dark strips together along the long edges.  Press toward the dark side. (Darth Vader would be so proud).  It will look something like this:

End of Day Block

I paired this beautiful hand dye by Judy Robertson (Just Imagination) with a batik from Fabric Depot in Portland Oregon.  Then I stacked the layers as you might for sewing a four-patchie, like this:

End of Day Block

Then I cut the sewn pairs to 6.5″ by 7.25″ rectangles and pinned on the Thangles paper, like this:

End of Day Block

Then I sewed on the guidelines.  When I cut them apart (each pair of rectangles makes 2 half-square triangle atoms), I realized that I had both right- and left-spinning units, and that to make one whole block I needed to make twice as many half-square triangles as I’d originally thought.  Here’s the four half-square triangle units, two right-spinning, and two left-spinning:

End of Day Block

For the second set of half-square triangles I changed up the fabrics a bit, so the final block is made up of two different sets of strips, with each pair retaining a light and dark so that the contrast would work properly for the overall block.  Here’s the two finished blocks:

End of Day Block

However you make your ‘End of Day’ block I hope you enjoy it.  It’s fun to play with values and see if you can get enough contrast to get the 3D effect that makes this block sing.

Take time to enjoy the season and your celebrations, and stay ‘sew’ happy!

More Atomic Quilting: the three-part triangle

In today’s exciting episode of atomic quilting, we’re going to consider a hybrid atom that is really very useful: the three-part triangle.  (In Thangles instructions this is often called a ‘tulip square.’)  And we’re going to look at this atom in the context of building a Behemoth block, from month #2.  Yes, I’ve finished mine (it was supposed to be for November), and no, I haven’t posted any pictures yet, at least not here.  But the whole photostream is on flickr so if you click on that link, or any of these pictures below you’ll get to the album full of Behemoth pictures from October and November.

It’s the ‘card trick’ block that’s so interesting, and I made it last, but I’m going to show it to you first.

card trick block assembly

In the Behemoth directions, Julie shows this as a three color block, and I made it with five colors.  Take your pick of how you’d like yours to look.  I made the block with Thangles but of course you can use your favorite way to make half-square triangles and related pieces.  With the Thangles I made make all the pieces from one strip size; depending on the method you may need to cut up to three different sizes of squares or triangles.

If you break this block down into quilting atoms, it contains three different atoms, each successively more complex, although they each finish out to the same size.  There are four half-square triangles (HST) on the corners (one each of each colored ‘card’ and common background); one quarter-square triangle (QST) in the center (with four different colors of the ‘cards’); and four three-part triangles (if you can think of an appropriate abbreviation let me know), each one containing two colors of ‘cards’ and the common background color.

Three-part triangles are like a half-square triangle, except that one half is divided again, usually into a light and a dark.  They are made similarly to quarter-square triangles in that a finished half-square triangle is sewn again, this time to a solid square (instead of another half-square triangle, for the quarter-square).  Again I used Thangles for this step, so I wound up with one three-part of the appropriate size, and one smaller hatchling, for each color ‘card.’

With five colors, it can be a bit confusing, so here are pictures of the block in progress so you can see how I built the block:

card trick block assembly

First, I made the half-square triangles of the four colors plus the background.  I cut the Thangles paper into individual pairs, so when I sewed these, I wound up with two HST of each (I only show one here, in each corner).  I used all of them though, more on this in a moment.  Then I made the quarter-square triangle in the middle, by making two pairs of half-square triangles in light/dark combinations.  I then sewed one pair together for the center QST.  (The alternate pair will be spare.)  You wind up with one QST in the correct size, and one hatchling of smaller size, which is also spare.  These hatchlings, by the way, are the result of using only one strip size to begin with, rather than cutting each piece to different sizes.  I don’t mind them, and usually find other uses for them, but if they bother you, use a different method for your QST.

Here’s the quarter-square triangle and its hatchling:

card trick block assembly

Now comes the interesting bit.  I laid them out a little strangely, but it’s so that I can get the colors right for the three-part triangles.  I took the leftover half-square triangles from the block corners, that look like this:

card trick block assembly

And I put them next to their similar colors, in a sort of flying geese layout.  (Don’t worry, it will look wrong at this point.)  Then I cut solid squares of each of the colors for the cards, like this:

card trick block assembly

Then to make each three-part triangle, I laid the square over the spare half-square triangle, in the orientation I wanted to see it finish (to be sure I sewed the line correctly).  Here’s what I mean:

card trick block assembly

Once I knew where the color square needed to be placed, I stacked it on top of the half-square triangle and used Thangles paper to sew the diagonal seam.  I sewed the second seam for the bonus ‘hatchling.’  Here’s what it looks like with the Thangles paper:

card trick block assembly

Here’s finished three-part triangles in a different color set, one of the correct size, and one hatchling:

card trick block assembly

And here is the block with two three-part triangles completed (it’s their hatchlings below the block):

card trick block assembly

Cool, eh?  Once you finish all the three-part triangles, the block looks like the picture at the top of the post.  It gives the illusion of the color ‘cards’ overlapping each other, which I think is wonderful.  Sure, the block is fussy, and it takes a fair amount of diligence to get the colors right, but when you do, it’s an entertaining illusion.  And by breaking it down into component atoms, it makes the block construction simpler to understand, and scale up or down, as you choose.

The card trick block is part of the Behemoth BOM block #2 (in the lower left corner):

finished block #2

So if you haven’t started on your Behemoth yet, don’t worry!  Make the blocks in your own way and time.  You’re going to gain a month as  we’ll use December to catch up.  (I don’t know about any of you, but the snow/ice storm and ensuing power outage shredded my schedule last week!) I won’t post any of the third block until January.  We will still have the open sewing studio date in December, though, so feel welcome to come and sew on whatever blocks you’re working on.  And get your free teeny weeny holiday gift!

And in the meantime, enjoy the holiday season, and happy sewing!

Let’s Twist!

Posted in Block of the Month (BOM),gadgets by whitelotusquilting on November 21, 2010
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Here’s a 12″ block I made this month, in the colors of my Behemoth, with a tool called Lil’Twister by Country Schoolhouse:

Lil' Twister block

The Behemoth is written for a twin size, and if you want to make a queen size, you need to make four extra composite blocks (made of smaller separate blocks).  You can compose them of blocks you’ve already used for other Behemoth blocks, or you can use some of your personal favorites, or try out some new techniques.  Here’s the Lil’Twister block next to my Behemoth block#1 and a few friends from block#2:

Lil' Twister block with friends

The Twister tool and its smaller cousin the Lil’ Twister are simple gadgets and a great way to get your feet wet in  quilting tool using if you’re new to the gadget side of patchwork.  They are designed to take advantage of pre-cut fabrics offered by most major manufacturers and are a great way to leverage your sewing time.

Lil’ Twister is designed for charm packs, those little stacks of pre-cut 5″ squares.  Of course you can also cut your own, and if I do, then I use 5.5″ squares instead, since that’s the size of my template.  It’s not so much that I can’t use the measuring lines on my templates but rather that I’m a lazy cutter and prefer to use the edges of the template when I can.  In any case, either size will work for the Lil’ Twister.

I started by sewing my squares together in a pleasing combination, and then bordering the little mini-quilt with a background color.  In this case I picked what I thought was a pale blue/purple batik as the background.  And I also thought the colors contrasted with each other more — oh, well.  This is a little watercolor-y Twister block.  Then I used the Lil’ Twister tool to recut the intersections — the places where the blocks meet — at an angle (which is clearly marked on the tool).  The tool also has little feet on it so you can move it around without losing your place, and the fabric will stay in place beneath the tool.

Then I sewed the newly cut mini-blocks back together in the same order I cut them in, and viola!  Little windmills of the charm squares appear next to each other, easy as pie.  You can change the size by altering the number of charm squares you start with.

If you want to make something larger, start with layer cake squares (10″) or 10.5″ squares if you’re cutting them yourself, sew them together, border them with the background, and then use the Twister tool to recut the intersections.  The details are in the ‘Let’s Twist’ book by Country Schoolhouse.

Both Twister tools and the book have been added to the Kitsap Quilters Guild gadget library and are available to members for check-out.  And I have them in my library if you want to try them on an open sewing studio date.  But of course you can buy them for yourself and start Twisting!

Atoms, continued: the Quirky Quarter-square Triangle

So (sew!) to finish up your first block of the Behemoth, you need to make up some giant quarter-square triangles.  Like its less complicated cousin, the half-square triangle, the name refers both to the single triangle as well as the assemblage of the four, usually alternating in lights and darks.  I used the larger of the ones shown below for the block.

Composing quarter square triangles

A quarter-square triangle takes up a quarter of a square, and is the shape that happens when you drawn two diagonal lines within a square, both lines corner to corner.  (And the half-square triangle is what happens with only a single diagonal line in the square, corner to corner).

And like its plucky hard-working cousin — which appears in so many quilt patterns —  the quarter-square triangle (QST) is a versatile quilting atom that can be constructed in LOTS of different ways.  I chose a non-conventional way because it’s easier with what I have on hand.  In any case, the QST is a little further down the food chain of piecing because you need to make at least two half-square triangles (HST) first.  Or halves of HST’s first if that’s your method.

If you consider that a QST has to be seamed twice before it’s inserted into the block then you can understand why you have to start with larger pieces than simple squares.  That is, if you want all your results to be the same size.  I was happy to create QST’s of different sizes, because I may use those in other Behemoth blocks.    In this case I wanted my final QST’s to be 6.5″ square (so they would wind up in the finished quilt at 6″ square).  So I cut my initial pieces of  fabric to 6.5″ by 7.25″ rectangles of  two different sets of lights and darks.  This is the size that the Big Thangles paper needs — and each rectangle pair will produce two identical HST’s that wind up at 6.5″ square.  But if I simply sewed the HST’s together on the diagonal to produce the QST’s, they would both be too small for the size that fits my block.  So I used the Thangles paper again, sewed on one diagonal, and then on the smaller one, and would up with QST’s that are 6.5″ and roughly 5.5″ (which I can use in a later block).

If you click on any of the pictures below, that sends you to the flickr album that has the tutorial for making these QST’s this way.

Composing quarter square trianglesComposing quarter square trianglesComposing quarter square trianglesComposing quarter square triangles

So with all the components finished, I could finally assemble block#1 of the Behemoth on my design wall.  I’m pretty happy with how it turned out and can’t wait to add some more fabrics.

The finished first block

I hope you’re enjoying this project as much as I am!  There are some things I might do differently if I made the blocks again — but that’s part of the fun, getting to learn something about piecing, and yourself, in the process.

Happy Samhain all!  (Today’s Halloween so I hope you will excuse the pun.  It’s the Irish word for this time of year, and it’s pronounced something like ‘sow-wain’ and it sounds a lot like sewing to me!)

The Mighty Half-Square Triangle

Next to the superhero square, the half-square triangle is probably the most important sub-atomic unit in quilting.  The half-square triangle appears in all sorts of patterns in lots of combinations, so it’s worth getting to be friends with.  In the Behemoth block, it appears in the Friendship Star, which is the second to last part of block #1.  So I feel compelled to try to explain it a bit even though it is a huge hairy topic in quilting, which invokes emotionally charged responses like in discussions of politics or religion.  And a little like religion, everyone is pretty much sure their way of making these little units is the best way.
Making the friendship star

Here are the beauties I sewed for the Friendship Star.  So let’s start with these as an example of the half-square triangle unit.   A half-square triangle is the triangle that happens when a square is divided along its diagonal.  That means that if you cut a triangle like this out of fabric, the long diagonal edge is on the bias.  And bias means STRETCH.  Fabric has the most give (distortion) along the bias.  So if you cut the triangles and sew them back together to make a two-triangle square (don’t worry, here’s where some of the confusion lies — this compound unit is ALSO called a half-square triangle, or HST), the piece will distort as you sew.  If you’ve starched the heck out of it, it might distort only a little.  But if your feed dogs are a little aggressive and the fabric has a lot of give, you’ll wind up with a diamond or trapezoid instead of a square.  WAH.  In the past I’ve trimmed many of these oddly shaped little units down to their more accurate size, but that means you have to start with bigger triangles than the match tells you, to accommodate the accumulation of sewing mistakes.

So here’s one place where I substantially differ from Bonnie Hunter, the genuis behind Quiltville.com: I don’t cut triangles first, unless it just can’t be helped.  I always sew first, then cut later.  If you sew the diagonal seam while the weave of the fabric is intact, it stabilizes the bias and prevents a lot of the distortion that happens when you sew on bias edges.  The other thing is that although you can mark your own sewing lines, and cut the odd size strips that HST’s call for, I have come to prefer sewing on pre-marked lines on Thangles paper, on normal pre-cut (by me or fabric companies) strip sizes.  It helps me make the most of my limited piecing time.

Making the friendship star

This is where I started for my Friendship Star adventure — by layering two identical size strips over each other, light over dark, and pinning on Thangles paper of the appropriate size.  Then I sewed on the dotted lines, cut on the solids, and after pressing produced the half-square triangles seen above.  Actually in the view of the HSTs above (first picture in post) I haven’t yet removed the paper.  If you leave the paper in when you press, that also stabilizes the bias and prevents distortions from the ironing.

The Friendship Star is a nine-patch block, with five plain squares and four half-square triangles.  The plain squares are divided into four dark squares and one light square (in the center) in this case but you could reverse the color balance and make the star look dark in a light background.  Here it is as a light star in a light background:

Making the friendship star

For a survey of half-square triangle construction methods, try this link: half-square triangle goodies.  Yum!  Lots of great stuff here.  There’s even triangle paper you can print out on your printer if you like that sort of thing!

After the Friendship Star, the only thing left in our Behemoth block #1 is two giant quarter-square triangles, which I’ll tackle in the next post.  And of course I’ll post a photo of the finished block #1.

Say sew happy, all!

Sub-atomic quilting particles: the square

Okay, for those of you who noticed that the quilting ‘atoms’ I’ve mentioned so far — the four-patch and the nine-patch — are they themselves made of smaller units — good job!  You’ve discovered one of the great difficulties of modern science — deciding which are the smallest, indivisible pieces of matter.  You see, every time the scientists think they’ve found the smallest piece, they find that those pieces are made up of even teenier pieces.

Look here to find an educational link about the quest for elementary particles.  You can even click on their section on accelerators and particle detectors if you want to get all geeky and find out how the physicists are doing their detective work.  (As an aside, I used to live near a giant particle accelerator, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, a 2-mile long tunnel made just for atom smashing purposes… check out their link and see what’s happening!  They even have a virtual vistor’s center you can click on.)

But for us in the quilting world, what’s an elementary particle?  Why, something that’s sub-atomic, of course.  The obvious unit in this case that is smaller than the four-patch and nine-patch atoms — the square.  Here, for instance, in the ‘economy’ block of the first Behemoth installment — squares are the fillers at the corners and hold open the vast space in the center.

Assembling the economy block

The economy block consists of four flying geese (those triangle in rectangle thingies), and five squares, one of which is larger than the others.  And even though there are nine pieces to this block — after the flying geese are assembled — it isn’t considered a nine-patch, because the grid of the block is 4 X 4.  So it’s kind of a four-patch.  Or a 16-patch if you want to be more accurate.  The math definitely works out better if the finished dimensions are divisible by four.

Haven’t made flying geese before?  No problem.  Click on the picture link below and it will take you to the flickr album of pictures (it’s the last one in the set, so you’ll have to get back to the beginning to see the process) about making flying geese with the ‘Lazy Girls’ No Math Flying Geese x 4 ruler.

Making flying geese for economy block

Flying geese are proportionally twice as wide as they are tall, and the tip of the triangle is at the halfway point.  Well, it will be after it’s sewn in place :).  And I think flying geese are useful enough — and appear often enough — in patterns that we might as well consider them another quilting atom.

Getting back to that sub-atomic square.  You could make a quilt just with squares, and not even bother with the intermediate step of four- or nine-patches.  (But at some point you’ll probably lump groups of them together to make it easier to compose the next step.  You could arrange the colors in diagonal chains of lights and darks — or make no effort to arrange them at all.)

I found a searchable quilt image index site composed by several museums, and have enjoyed looking through their collection.  Try the link — where I’ve already put in the search term ‘postage stamp’ — and you’ll get to see several postage stamp style quilts, made entirely of small squares (often as small as an inch square finished).  Postage stamp quilts were often scrappy — meaning they had more than a few fabrics –and sometimes were even ‘charm’ quilts (where no two fabrics were the same).

See?  It makes everything we’re doing look simple!

Come to the Dark Side (we have cookies)

Posted in Block of the Month (BOM),Quilting tips and techniques by whitelotusquilting on October 14, 2010
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Something I haven’t mentioned in the discussion of basic quilt parts is which way you press the seams and why.  Generally, pattern instructions say something like ‘press toward the dark fabric.’  Perhaps obviously that means the DARKER of the two fabrics joined at the seam.  If you have yellow and white, for instance, yellow is still the darker of the two but isn’t really very dark on its own.

There are a few reasons for this, method to the madness as it were.  The first being that the darker color will shadow up underneath the lighter fabric, so whenever possible, press the seam away from the lights (or toward the darks) to avoid the shadow.  Maybe Luke and the rest of the Jedi would disagree with moving fabric toward the Dark Side but it just makes good quiltmaking sense.

According to the garment makers I know, the reason for pressing a seam to the one side or the other is to protect its thread, especially in circumstances of exceptional wear.  That’s a good strategy for quilts, too, especially the ones that will get sat upon and washed quite a lot (though admittedly they still don’t have the kind of stress on them that the sitting seam of a pair of trousers is under).  But what about the times when the directions say to press a seam open?  That’s to reduce the bulk, to more evenly distribute the pile-ups of layers of seam fabrics on the underside of the quilt top.  I don’t usually resort to pressing a seam open unless there’s a LOT of bulk — like when 8 seams come together in a pinwheel or a hexagon.  There are side-press strategies for pinwheels, too, so it just depends on how heavy the fabrics are and how they are laying.  In general I press a bulkier, compound piece toward a simpler less bulky piece, especially when composing blocks or fitting blocks together, and that trumps the color ‘rule.’  (We don’t use a lot of quilting rules around here and even if we did they’d be ignored so maybe just think of it as a guideline)

I’m going to use block #4, the lighter version, of the current Thangles block of the month, as an example. (and yes, I know, it’s not October’s block, I’m just working ahead here for a sample :))

Nested seams directions

In this case the half-square triangle units area on the corners of this top row of the 3 x 3 block (it’s a nine-patch in disguise for those of you following the atomic quilting thread), so I decided to press them toward the middle plain square.  (But this is toward the lighter fabrics in this case, Obiwan would be very proud) For the middle row, which is all plain squares, I pressed from the center square toward the outer ones, and then reversed it again for the bottom row.  So when you put the rows together to sew, the seams that are going to meet are pressed in opposite directions.  That way, the troughs and cliffs of the side-pressed seams nest into each other, and you can feel it by pressing down on the seam joins with your fingers and thumb.
Nested seams directions

Here you can hopefully see the two seams that are pressed in opposite directions, that will meet when the two rows are sewn together.  You can pin these intersections once you have them seated over each other correctly (nested) if you like but I prefer the non-pinned freedom of adjusting top and/or bottom row if the pieces don’t fit exactly.  You can slightly tug top or bottom to get them to fit better and make some very lovely points where your squares or other components come together.

Nested seams directions

This is the best method I’ve found to match pieced sections, but of course — your yardage (meterage for Canadian readers) may vary :).  If you’re matching very long rows with each other, pins might be useful.  Or you could baste each intersection together with large stitches on your machine and once you’re happy with how the pieces fit together, sew the seam with your normal stitch length.

Nested seams directions

The finished light and dark versions of block #4, after pressing.  Rock n roll!  Onto the next blocks :).

More Atomic Quilting: the nine-patch

Posted in Atomic quilting,Block of the Month (BOM),Quilting tips and techniques by whitelotusquilting on October 13, 2010
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No discussion of the fundamental units of quilting would be complete without the mighty nine-patch.  In fact when my daughter and I made our first quilt together, we sought advice about patterns and were led to the nine-patch, perfect in its simplicity and beauty.  It’s where we began our quilting journey.

Nine-patch construction

Of course the nine-patch atom is a little more complicated than the four-patches in the foreground of this picture, in that the nine-patch is a three-by-three grid construction compared to a two-by-two.  It is a useful quilting unit: it can easily be scaled up and down, and can be substituted for plain squares, just like the four-patch, and will similarly make chains if placed in alternating locations.  And likewise there are related ways to build a nine-patch.

(As an aside, the kind of nine-patches we are talking about here vary in specific ways in light and dark, just as the four-patchies do, and come in two distinct varieties, one with light corners and center, and one with dark corners and centers, as in the blue examples above)

You could cut individual squares and sew them together, but because I’m an impatient and not terribly accurate sewer, I prefer to start with strips that I cross-cut and then sew back together.  This gives me both more speed and accuracy — more efficient overall.  But of course your yardage may vary :).

You’ll need two strip sets — one with dark, light, dark and the other with light, dark light, as in the photo below.  The blues are for the nine-patches, the yellow and blue strip above is for four-patches.

Making of 9-patches

Press the seams toward the dark (more on this in a later post) for both sets and then cross-cut in the same strip width that you began with.  Assemble in  alternating sets for lights and darks to complete nine-patches of both varieties and then finish by pressing in whichever direction helps the block lay the flattest.

Making of 9-patches

Here’s another trick I learned from Bonnie Hunter at Quiltville.com: you can also make a nine-patch from four-patch halves and pieces.  Using the yellow and blue strip set, I cross-cut into four-patch halves and then arranged them into most of a nine-patch — you just need a plain square to complete it.  So depending on which strips you have available, and what sizes, and how many sets you want to sew together — and how many nine-patches you need to make — now you have a few choices of how to approach it.

Nine-patch construction

The top right nine-patch was made with four-patch units and a plain yellow square; I hope you can see the spaces between the pieces.

There’s a nine-patch block in the first of the Behemoth blocks, so by now you should be able to make the plain strip, the checkerboard strip, the Thrifty block, and the nine-patch.  Steaming right ahead there!

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