The Lily Pad: The Journal of White Lotus Quilting

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!

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!

Adventures in the Hyperbolic Plane

Posted in Quilting tips and techniques by whitelotusquilting on November 8, 2010
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Borders are one of those things that vexes quilters, because they are difficult to get to lay flat.  Plus most quilt instructions cast casual directions toward the reader, assuming they already have the skills to make the borders lay flat.  Well, here’s a secret: sometimes it’s just not possible to make the border lay completely flat.  The results depend not only on your sewing skills but also on your sewing machine and fabric, and then at the last stage, also on the quilting.

And what’s this got to do with a hyperbolic plane, anyway?  Plenty.  Most borders when they don’t lay flat are bigger at the outside edge than the inside — in short, they ruffle.  (and yes, ruffles are a shortened explanation of the hyperbolic plane, more on this in a moment, but if you click on the link, there’s a super cool example).  Here’s a quilty example:

hyperbolic plane border

This is the kind of border that makes a longarm quilter very nervous, because we’re unsure we can come up with a pattern for quilting that will make this sort of ruffle unnoticeable.  And while most of my clients think I can work miracles with anything — and that all sorts of unflatness can be ‘quilted out’ — sometimes we can’t make it work and have to take pleats and tucks in the top (hopefully along piecing lines) to make the top lay flat.  We have to use a pattern that doesn’t cross itself and pile up the extra fabric in unflattering ways.  In a bit I’ll show you how this one quilted out.

In any case, this can happen to any border, even if you’re careful, and even if you’re a skilled sewer (which the piecer is in this sample — she makes terrific quilts).  That’s because there are variables beyond your control that contribute to the distortion of a border.  The first is that usually borders are cut on the cross-grain; that is, they’re cut perpendicular to the selvedge, across the width of fabric (WOF).  It turns out that there is a fair amount of give and stretch to the cross-grain that is absent in the selvedge grain.  So the fabric can stretch as you sew, sometimes substantially.  To counter this, you can cut your borders on the lengthwise or selvedge grain, parallel to the selvedge.  But that means you need at least 2-3 yards of fabric to accomplish the border, so if you don’t have that much, you pretty much need to cut it on the cross-grain.  So you can starch it before cutting and sewing to minimize the stretch; that may help.  But it might not.

Another factor is how powerful the feed dogs are on your sewing machine, and whether you have some top feed or not.  If the feed dogs are aggressive and there is no top feed, then the feed dogs act like a micro-gatherer, and slightly gather the fabric you place next to them.  Typically borders are sewn on by placing the border over the larger quilt top, so the quilt top edge gathers slightly while the border piece stretches slightly.

Notice I keep saying ‘slightly?’  That’s because these effects ARE slight when you’re working on 4-8 inch seams.  By the time you get to bed quilt-size seams — like on borders — they’re at least ten times that length and the things that you didn’t notice at the smaller length become visible on the longer seams.

So what can you do if this keeps happening to your borders?  Besides cutting on the lengthwise grain and using some Best Press starch (gotta love this stuff, it doesn’t flake), you can adjust your feed dog pressure to minimal (just enough to pass the fabric under the feet if you have this adjustment) and you can try placing your border underneath the quilt top (next to the feed dogs) to sew it.

Bonnie Hunter’s advice for borders is also great.  She uses the center of the quilt top to measure her border (with the actual border fabric, not with the intermediary of a tape measure) and pins it to the quilt top before sewing, distributing any fullness across the entire border.  This is to prevent the distortion of either level.

Here’s what the border looked like after quilting:

hooked style feathers

There are a few slight wrinkles visible, but overall I think the ruffles quilted out successfully.  Feathers to the rescue again!

It’s actually pretty rare that a quilt lays completely flat.  Usually there are some small areas of bowl or cup shapes (like where eight seams come together in pinwheels or kaleidoscopes) as well as ruffles.  Ruffles turn out to be an interesting phenomenon and have some interesting mathematical properties that you might want to glance over at some point, especially at the crocheted models of hyperbolic planes.  Crochet turns out to be a great medium for modeling this useful but challenging concept.  There’s also an entire book dedicated to the art of the crocheted hyperbolic plane, written by a mathematician at Cornell University.  How cool is that!  After all, the point of science and engineering to make better art, isn’t it???

Borders may be one of those things you’ll have to gain experience with before you gain some mastery, so don’t be afraid to try your own techniques.  And be sure you have a fresh seam ripper :), so you can stay ‘sew’ happy!

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 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 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!

Quilty Pleasures

Posted in Atomic quilting,gadgets,Quilting tips and techniques by whitelotusquilting on October 3, 2010
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If you’re new to quilting and don’t know where to start on a pattern like the Beige Behemoth — just begin with small easy-to-manage units.  One of my ‘quilty’ pleasures is just sewing up a stack of four-patches or nine-patches from my stash of pre-cut strips (that I’ve cut down from my scraps — look at Bonnie Hunter’s advice on scrap management at for some great ideas) without much regard for color or scale of print.  I always have a bucket of ‘spare parts’ going (something I learned from the Collaborative Quilting book, yum) and just keep filling it with small usable quilty units in common sizes.  You can constrain the color palette as much or as little as you want, depending on how ‘scrappy’ you want the quilt to look.  In any case paying attention to value — where there is two lights and two darks in the four-patch, diagonally opposite — gives you a chance  to make a terrific checkerboard without having to cut individual squares.  Clear as mud?  I’ll use the Behemoth as an example.

The first block of the Behemoth has a checkerboard rectangle that I constructed out of four-patches, as well as the ‘Thrifty’ block that also uses four-patches.  There’s also a nine-patch block, which is constructed similarly.  Here’s what I started with for the checkerboard: two identically-sized strips, one lightish and one darkish (sizing details in the pattern, go to Big Horn Quilts to get your copy) sewn together along the length, pressed toward the dark.

Making 4 patches for checkerboard

Then I cross-cut the strip combination into the same width I started with.  In this case I used Linda Laney’s brilliant Log Cabin ruler, which itself is the width of the strip, so you don’t need to read any measuring lines for this cut.  You can find Linda and her wonderful rulers (and custom-cut templates if you need them) at Baycreek Quilting.  I’m always pleasantly surprised by how much cutting time the right size template saves, and it happens because you don’t have to take time to measure.  Maybe that’s why I’m such a gadget geek :).

Sew the cross-cut pieces together with right sides together, and light against dark, and then press toward either side, or open if you like, and voila!  Four-patches.  Or four-patchies as I wind up calling them.
Making 4 patches for checkerboard
In this case I used a solid that graded in color from a dark to a light, so one end of my checkerboard will have a lot of contrast, and the other side will have low contrast.  I like the movement that produces.  Clothworks makes these wonderful graded solids — they do all the work of color shading for  you!  I paired the solid with a mottled hand-dyed fabric in a similar color family, so, no prints this time — unusual for me.  I have to admit a love for huge garish botanical prints — and teeny weeny uneven polka dots — but I restrained myself this time :).

I’ll keep adding pictures of the smaller components of block #1 as I add them, and then show you the finished block later in the month so stay tuned!

Lazy Girl ruler fun

Posted in gadgets,Quilting tips and techniques by whitelotusquilting on September 14, 2009
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Lazy and Lovin It book with companion ruler and sample blocks

Lazy and Lovin' It book with companion ruler and sample blocks

Once I got started making 30-something blocks with Gayle Bong’s ruler, I noticed that the basic block looked something like a block you can make with the Lazy Angle ruler.  So I gave two sample blocks a try — the two blocks on the right of the ruler.

The top block is one of my favorite quilting elements — the triangle-in-square block.  If you’re new to quilting you might not recognize how wonderful it is :).  It makes wonderful stars when constructed into a nine-patch larger block, and besides, it’s the core of the ’54-40 or fight’ block, named for the line of latitude the US and Canada were considering as a dividing line during a political campaign.  But I digress.

Anyway.  There are lots of ways to make the triangle-in-square, none of them particularly easy or terribly accurate, since they involve tall triangles that love to distort when you sew them on the bias.  But that said, if this pretty little block is going to be a little fussy to sew, it sure would be nice if it were easy to cut, which is where the Lazy Angle ruler comes in.

The nice thing about rulers like this is that they’re marked with several strip sizes, so the tool is useful for several different block sizes.  Plus having a trim-off style ruler — that you can cut from both sides on –is much faster to use than individual templates, at least for me, anyway.

You can work with strips or squares with this ruler, and the hardest thing for me to keep straight was which way to keep the fabric and ruler aligned so that I had both a left and right triangle to sew to the larger square.  I like the way the little ‘bow-ties’ on the edges help you both align the pieces and give you a valley to begin the seam line.  It helped me be more accurate than I’m used to in sewing this block.

The second sample block, the bottom of the two, starts with the same two beginning steps, and then slices off a different edge for the second background triangle, creating a kind of cone-in-the-corner shape.  This is the block that reminded me of the 30-something block.  So of course that sent me looking for the protractor, and I just had to compare the blocks and all their angles.  They’re not quite the same block, even if they look the same.

comparison of two types of triangle in corner of square blocks

30-something blocks on left and lazy angle block on right

For the complete set of pictures I took in making the sets of blocks and comparing all their angles, click here.

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