The Lily Pad: The Journal of White Lotus Quilting


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!)

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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 :).

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.

Gadget Hound Demo

Posted in gadgets,Quilting tips and techniques by whitelotusquilting on August 19, 2009
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Gayle Bong donated a ‘Thirty-Something Too’ book and a companion square-up ruler to the guild, so I thought I’d start the gadget demos with her ruler tool.  I made two sizes of thirty-something blocks, both the 3.5 and the 4.5 inches.  They’re both marked clearly on the ruler.

Thirty-something ruler

Thirty-something ruler

If you’re new to quilting then it’s a good time to remind you that most rulers are hard plastic and will slide on the fabric unless you add a non-skid aid onto the ruler.  I usually add little rounds of fine-grit sandpaper but little pieces of sticky-back felt on the ruler would also work to hold itself in place nicely, especially on fabrics that sandpaper would be too rough on.

The square-up tool is my favorite kind of ruler.  You sew the patchwork according to the directions and then line the block up underneath the markings on the ruler — and then just lop off the edges of the block so that they are the correct size.  Any time you can sew first then cut afterwards makes the blocks — and subsequent patchwork — more accurate

Trimming block with ruler (on my favorite Fiskars rotating cutting mat)

Trimming block with ruler (on my favorite Fiskars rotating cutting mat)

Gayle’s directions are great and as long as you remember to always sew the longest part of the triangle to its neighbors it’s easy enough to accomplish.  For both sets of the blocks I sewed, I added narrow sashings and cornerstones as I really liked how these brought the larger blocks together.  In one size I sewed pink and black pieces, and in the other, pink and white, so I could see the difference between having a light and a dark background in the same pattern.

Two thirty-something composite blocks with sashing

Two thirty-something composite blocks with sashing

I will say I’m not a fan of cutting or sewing triangles, in part because I’m not very good at it.  Unless I kill the piece with starch, the bias edge distorts too much in sewing for me to be pleased with the accuracy of the results.  I think it’s always better to sew while the bias is stabilized and then cut the triangles after sewing.  For example, I always sew half-square triangles in some sort of grid before cutting them apart.  But that said, a trimming tool is wonderful compensation for less-than-perfect sewers like me.  I found I could sew the thirty-something blocks together accurately enough to use the trimming lines and assemble them into larger blocks without much difficulty.

The interesting part of Gayle’s idea is that it gives you a 30-60-90 ‘cone’ shape that can be replicated in many unusual ways.  I love all the star blocks that result.  Plus there are some great pine-cone style patterns that emerge when you stagger the blocks and place the colors carefully.

To see the whole set of pictures I took while sewing the thirty-something blocks, click here.

You can find Gayle here at her website and here at her blog.  If you want to try out her book and tool, it’s here in the gadget library for borrowing.  I did notice that some of her patterns call for the use of a ‘Clearview Triangle’ which cuts 60 degree angles, which we also have in the gadget library, so you can check both tools out if you don’t already have at least one Clearview Triangle  in your gadget stash.

Coming up next: how lazy can a girl be and still use the ‘Lazy Angle’ by Lazy Girl????