Block of the Whenever #5

This block is called a LeMoyne Star.  Well, sort of.  A proper LeMoyne Star uses a horribly complicated sounding technique called Y-seams, which I might try mastering one day, but not today.  So this is a cheat’s version, that (apart from the seams running through the diamonds) ends up looking exactly the same as a proper LeMoyne Star, but uses half-square triangles instead of scary Y-seams.

I used the same four-at-a-time method for making half-square triangles that I did for the Dutch Pinwheel. And just as for that block, all those bias edges made life a bit difficult, so I probably should have chosen a different method, but seeing as I needed four half-square triangles in each colour combination, it was the most convenient way of doing them.

What you need:

Print: two 4 1/2 inch squares

Solid: two 4 1/2 inch squares

Background: two 4 1/2 inch squares, and four 2 3/4 inch squares

Match one print square to a solid square, the other print square to a large background square, and the other solid square and large background square to each other. Stitch each pair right sides together with a quarter inch seam around the edges.

Cut along the diagonals.

And press open.

Cut off the dog ears, and trim to 2 3/4 inches square.

Lay out the block, and sew together as a sixteen patch, in the same way as the Dutch Pinwheel.

The final result gives a reasonably convincing illusion (as long as you don’t look too closely) of the block having been constructed with diamonds rather than half-square triangles.

I’m not 100% happy with my block – I didn’t think carefully enough about how the seams would lie, so a couple of the points ended up a bit bulky on the back, which could be annoying when I come to quilt it.  But I really like the overall effect of the block (and maybe one day I’ll get brave enough to experiment with Y-seams so I can sew one properly…)

You’re not going to believe this…

…but I’ve actually finished the Birds in Flight quilt!  I made the binding for it last weekend, and then took advantage of the fact that I have a cold and it was raining yesterday to spend the day doing as little as possible other than sitting watching videos while hand-stitching the binding down (yes, I’m a glutton for punishment, but it looks so much better when it’s hand sewn compared to just top-stitching it).

And here’s the result (with bonus Parsnips in the background – I didn’t notice her there while I was taking the photos):

Other than the fact that I really should have added an extra strip of background fabric around the edges so that the birds aren’t so close to the binding, I’m really happy with how it turned out. I had a few doubts about my choice to use a scrappy binding while I was sewing it on, but now that I see it as a whole I like it again. And I’m really pleased with how the quilting looks, especially the contrast between the background and the birds.


(The duck is definitely my favourite bird on the quilt – I’m not normally a fan of orange, but something about the way the different fabrics combined just works here)

I love the way the quilting around the birds makes them show up on the back, too:

And talking of the back, here’s the full effect of the rainbow stripe (which, yes, is a bit askew. It wasn’t supposed to be, and I thought I’d lined everything up correctly when I basted the quilt, but obviously not…)

Other than the slight slant, the back turned out exactly as I’d hoped. In fact, I think I almost like it more than the front.

Just as I was finishing taking the photos, the sun finally came out, so here’s a couple of shots to show off how bright those colours look:

Not bad for three year’s and two month’s work (I checked, and I started it in January 2015).

And finally, just for the pretty, an artistic-type shot of the back:

Block of the Whenever #4

Another very traditional block, the Ohio Star.  But unlike the other blocks I’ve made so far, which have just used two fabrics (plus the background), this time I’m adding a third fabric:


Technically you can make an Ohio Star with just two colours (or even one, if you kept the central square the same as the points), but I think it looks much better with three.

What you’ll need:

Print: one 3 1/2 inch square

Solid 1: one 4 1/4 inch square

Solid 2: two 4 1/4 inch squares

Background: four 3 1/2 inch squares and one 4 1/4 inch square

Pair one green* square with the pink* square, and the other with the large background square.

(*Obviously, you don’t have to use green and pink – I just can’t be bothered writing “solid 1” and “solid 2” every time.  If the fact that your colours are different than mine is too confusing for you, possibly quilting is not the craft for you…)

This is another way of making half-square triangles.  It only makes two at a time, which actually works out nicely for this block, and also doesn’t end up with bias edges on your block like the four-at-a-time method.

Draw a diagonal line across each pair (the line doesn’t show up very well in the photo, but I could see it pretty clearly in person), and stitch quarter of an inch either side of the line.

Cut along the drawn line and iron open, to get two half-square triangles of each colour combination.

Now take each green/pink HST, and pair with a green/background HST, with the diagonals running the same direction, and the green on opposite sides.

Draw a diagonal line in the opposite direction, and sew quarter of an inch on either side of the line.

Cut along the lines and iron open, and you’ll have four quarter-square triangles.

The quarter-square triangles should end up 3 1/2 inches square.  Trim off the dog ears, and lay out the block.

Sew together as a nine-patch, and you’ve got your Ohio Star.

A couple of my points didn’t line up perfectly (there’s a lot of fabric coming together in those corners), so I did consider unpicking that last seam and trying again, but it won’t really be noticeable once it’s part of a big quilt, so I decided to follow the most important quilting rule of all: “Finished is better than perfect”

The fridge magnet was a free gift thrown in with my last order from the Missouri Star** Quilt Company, and lives on the filing cabinet next to my cutting mat – it’s a useful reminder sometimes, when I feel the obsessive perfectionism gene I inherited from Granny trying to come out – luckily it’s nicely balanced by my inherent laziness :-)

(**There seems to be a star block named after every state in the USA (now there’s an idea for an overly-ambitious sampler quilt for someone!).  I’m sure a few more will end up in this quilt, though maybe not the Missouri Star – I think it might be a bit too complex to work well at this scale.  Maybe if I run out of simpler blocks…)

Block of the Whenever #3

Racing along here!  The third block is called a Dutch Pinwheel.  It has a lot of parts, but they’re all the same: half-square triangles. So the instructions are pretty short.

Now that I’m feeling a little more confident in my ability to sew a proper quarter-inch seam, I decided it was safe to start using some of my favourite fabrics from the layer cake.

I used the same four-at-a-time technique to make the half-square triangles as last time (mainly because the measurements fitted nicely into a 10-inch square). I think if I made this block again, I’d use a different method, because making them the four-at-a-time way means you end up with lots of bias edges, which makes it harder to sew all the parts together without anything stretching out of shape. These measurements are for that method, so if you use them, be warned it’s not the best approach.

You will need:

Print: four 4 1/2 inch squares

Solid: one 4 1/2 inch square

Background: three 4 1/2 inch squares

I won’t repeat the instructions on how to make the half-square triangles, seeing as I already did that yesterday, but you should end up with 16 of them, 12 with the background fabric on one side, and 4 with the solid.

Again, thanks to the edge being the hypotenuse of a isosceles right-angled triangle (sorry, the mathematician in me always comes out when I’m playing with shapes like this), there’s a fun √2 in the calculations, so the half-square triangles turn out a few millimetres bigger than needed. Trim them down to 2 3/4 inch squares, and lay out the block.

Sew each corner unit as a four patch, then sew those together into one big four-patch to get the finished block.

(Look! 9 1/2 inches again! It worked!!!)

Block of the Whenever #2

The second Block of the Whenever is a nice simple Churn Dash.  Nice and simple, but another block I’ve never tried before (possibly because of the whole “leap into the deep end before you try out the paddling pool” thing I’m so prone to…)

Because this block has a plain centre square, I picked out one of the fabrics with strong individual motifs so I could “fussy cut” one of the flowers to go in the centre.

For this block you’ll need:

Print: one 3 1/2 inch square
Solid: one 5 1/2 inch square, and four 2 inch by 3 1/2 inch rectangles
Background: one 5 1/2 inch square, and four 2 inch by 3 1/2 inch rectangles

The first step is to make half-square triangles. Everyone seems to have their own favourite method for doing this, each with its particular pros and cons. I haven’t settled on a favourite yet, so I think I’ll probably test out a few different methods over the course of this quilt, depending on how many I need to make.

The method I used for this one is another one of those slightly magic techniques that doesn’t quite make sense until you try it. First, place the two large squares right sides together, and sew all the way round, 1/4 inch from the edges.

Next, cut along each diagonal.

Iron the pieces open, and you’ll have four half-square triangles!

They come out just a millimetre or two larger than 3 1/2 inches square (because square roots), so you’ll need to trim them down to the correct size (and cut off the dog ears while you’re at it).

Next, the dash part of the Churn Dash. Pair the solid and background rectangles together, and sew along the long edge. When opened out, they should also measure 3 1/2 inches square.

And that’s all the components made. Again, there’s two possible ways to lay the block out:

Probably if I was just making this as a single block, I’d have chosen the second option, but I want to keep the background fabric actually as the background consistently across all the blocks (well, for now, anyway – I might change my mind once I’ve got more of them done and can see the overall effect).

Sew the pieces together as a nine-patch, and block two is complete:

And I can proudly say that this one turned out 9 1/2 inches square on my first try!  There’s something to be said for this whole being slow and accurate thing…

Let’s try that again

Not to keep you in suspense any longer, I made that block again, this time being a lot more careful about my quarter inch seams.  And it worked!

It’s still a tiny bit smaller than it should be (I actually think my sewing machine is slightly out of alignment, because the needle doesn’t come down exactly central in the foot, but I’m not sure how to adjust it), but it’s close enough to 9 1/2 inches to be usable.

The difference between the two blocks doesn’t look like much, but it’ll make a huge difference to the final quilt.

An important lesson in accuracy!

Block of the Whenever #1

A while back, on one of my “the shipping is flat rate, so I might as well add a few more things to my cart” shopping sprees from Missouri Star, I found a layer cake of Kaffe Fassett fabrics on special.  Kaffee Fassett is one of those fabric designers that you learn the name of very quickly if you follow any quilting channels or blogs, because everyone seems to be in love with his intensely colourful designs.  So as it was on special, I thought it was time I investigated the possibilities of this magic fabric.

I didn’t have any particular project in mind for it, so it may have ended up waiting in my stash for months until inspiration struck, except that the other day I was in Lincraft buying another spool of the blue thread so I can finish quilting the Birds in Flight quilt (which I will get round to finishing soon, I promise), and discovered they had a new range of cheap fat quarters in super-bright solid colours.  Which, I realised, would go perfectly with the colours in my Kaffee Fasset layer cake.  And that was enough for inspiration to strike on exactly what sort of quilt I wanted to make with it. So I bought a handful, plus some dark navy to use as a background colour, and came home and scribbled a few sketches, and a lot more calculations, in my little quilting notebook (which is actually just an old maths exercise book), and a design was born for a sampler-style quilt.

And along with that, an idea for a series of blog posts was born.  Everyone does those “Block of the Month” or “Block of the Week” quilts, with accompanying blog/YouTube posts for each block (I’ve even seen one that’s Block of the Day!), but there’s no way I could ever be that dedicated – my creativity comes in fits and bursts, not on schedule once a week.  So instead, this is a Block of the Whenever quilt.  I’m going to try and make a blog post for each block, but I’m making no promises about their regularity.  If I get inspired, you might get a run of several posts all at once, or if I’m too busy with other stuff, there might be long gaps between blocks.  But if all goes according to plan, the entire quilt will be documented as I go.

I also don’t promise these will be full-on tutorials.  How much detail I go into will depend greatly on how many photos I remember to take of the process as I go, and how inspired I feel to write it up afterwards.  And anyway, I’m intending that most of the blocks will be traditional block patterns that you can find a million tutorials for all over the internet.  But as I’ve had to do the maths to convert patterns for various sizes of blocks to fit the size I want (which is a 9 inch finished square*), I’ll try and at least share the measurements and enough basic instructions that someone who understands the principles of how blocks go together could reproduce them (and actually, mostly my aim here is just to produce a library of blocks for myself, so I can make them again in other quilts – that’s the traditional purpose of a sampler, after all).

[* In theory.  Except, spoiler alert, my quarter inch seams in my first block turned out to not be quarter inch, so my first block turned out too small.  I promise you the maths is correct though, it’s just that I need to learn how to use my quarter inch foot properly…]

Also, most of these blocks and techniques I’ve found repeated in multiple places around the internet, so I’m not going to give sources, because I’ve got no idea where they originally came from (so many quilt blocks come from long traditions of being passed from person to person, with no attribution).  But if there’s any that do seem to be someone’s original pattern, I’ll of course give credit.

Right, with the disclaimers out of the way, here’s the first Block of the Whenever: a Flying Dutchman (which I’ve also seen called a Double Pinwheel, or a Dutchman’s Puzzle).

The first step (and hardest part) was choosing the fabrics.  I didn’t want to start off with my favourites, just in case I messed the flying geese up (it’s the first time I’ve made them using this technique) and wasted the fabric, but it’s the first block of the quilt, so I wanted it to be a nice combination.  I think this one works, though:

And then the really brave part: cutting into the fabric for the first time.

You need:

  • Print: one 5 3/4 inch square
  • Solid: one 5 3/4 inch square
  • Background: eight 3 1/8 inch squares

This flying geese method is one of those quilting techniques that seems totally impossible.  You look at that combination of pieces, and there’s no way it adds up to eight flying geese.  And that impression continues all the way through until you iron open the final unit, and somehow it’s worked.  It still seems totally magic, even after I worked through the maths of it while I was working out the measurements.  Here’s the unlikely steps:

Mark a diagonal line across each of the background squares, and place two on diagonally opposite corners of each of the bigger blocks.

Sew quarter of an inch away from each side of the marked line.

Cut along the marked lines.

Iron open. So far, nothing like flying geese. More like weird fox faces.

Take the remaining four background squares, and line one up on the nose of each fox.

Again, sew on either side of the marked lines.

Cut along the marked line.

Iron open, and magically, you’ve got flying geese!

The units should each measure 5 inches by 2 3/4 inches. Mine didn’t. That’s because I was running the edge of my quarter-inch foot along the inside of the chalk line I’d marked, instead of the outside, and those few millimetres’ difference, added up over multiple seams, were enough to make the final units about an eighth of an inch too small.  Which means I really should scrap this block and try again.  But I decided as I’d got this far, I might as well carry on, just to see what the final block looked like.

Trim off the dog-ears, and lay out the block.  There’s two possible layouts, depending on which fabric you want to make most prominent.

I went with the print block on the inside, because the orange dominated the block too much when it was on the inside.

Sew the flying geese into pairs.

Then sew the pairs together as a four-patch for the final block.

In theory, it should measure 9 1/2 inches square (which would be 9 inches finished, because you lose quarter of an inch off each side when you sew it to another block). Mine is only just over 9 inches, so I can’t even pretend to myself that I’ll be able to hide the difference in the seam allowances in the final quilt.  It’s just wrong. But it’s such a pretty block!

So now I need to decide do I want to try and make another identical block with the correct seam allowances (I do have another piece of that same fabric in the layer cake, and I’m only planning on having 30 blocks in the quilt in total, and there’s 42 pieces in the layer cake, so in theory I can afford to waste a few), or do I try and adjust all the measurements for the rest of the blocks so they all end up this size (which would make the final quilt quite a bit smaller than I intended, and also mean the measurements I gave you for this block would make it bigger than all the rest of the blocks, if you were following along at home)?  I think the most sensible answer is to make it again, isn’t it?  It would give me a chance to practice getting those seam allowances right before I move onto the next block, too.

Yep, I’m going to have to make it again.  But not tonight.

Building blocks

I still haven’t got round to buying more of the blue thread I’m using for the Birds in Flight quilt, so in the meantime I’ve been working on the Lego quilt.  This time I’m quilting it much more loosely (to keep the quilt nice and soft, seeing as it’s intended for a baby), so it’s been going much faster.  There’s only a bit of the border area left to go:

I’ve been using a monofilament thread to quilt it, which has been… challenging (especially because I only just noticed the bit on that page where they recommend not using it in the bobbin… which I have been… oh well, it seemed to work ok anyway).  It sews great once you get going, but the thread is so fine and almost invisible (which is the whole point) that anything that requires cutting the thread and restarting (which means having to tie off the loose threads and threading them into a hand-sewing needle to bury them inside the quilt so they won’t work loose) is very hard work – just seeing the thread well enough to be able to tie a knot in it is hard enough, but threading a needle was almost impossible!  I did a lot of back-tracking over previously sewn lines to get to new areas of the quilt just so I could avoid ever breaking the thread!

The invisible quilting does look nice though, especially on a quilt like this where whatever thread colour I’d chosen would have stood out too much.  But I don’t think I’ll be using it on a regular basis – it’s just too difficult.

As you can probably see in the wee sample in the photo above, I used the different “bricks” of the Lego to experiment with different quilting patterns (inspired by Angela Walters’s Shape by Shape book, which is a seriously useful resource – although I don’t think I actually ended up using any of her patterns exactly as she has them in the book, they’re a great leaping-off point).  I’d originally planned to just pick a single design and use it in all the blocks, but I couldn’t find one I liked enough to repeat that many times, so I decided to use a few different ones.  In the end I think I managed to have no two exactly alike across the entire quilt (though some of the variations are pretty minor).  There’s a few bricks that didn’t turn out quite as well as I’d like, and one or two places I might have been tempted to unpick and redo if that wouldn’t have been so hard with the monofilament.  I suppose that’s one way to learn not to be such a perfectionist – make it too hard to unpick mistakes!  Hopefully none of the mistakes are too obvious – I keep telling myself that nobody knows what pattern I was aiming for, so they won’t know that I got it wrong :-)

Back to the birds

Hey, remember this quilt?

Yep, that one I started ages ago (ok, I just checked, and the quilt-along started in January 2015, so pretty close to three years ago!), which I finished the top for, and then never got round to quilting, because semester started and I was too busy, and then Tartankiwi released three extra birds, which I wanted to incorporate into the back but couldn’t decide how, and then I thought I should probably get a bit better at free-motion quilting before I attempted it, and I couldn’t decide how I wanted to quilt it anyway, and then I was just totally intimidated by its size and by how long it had been sitting there waiting so I felt like when I did quilt it, it would have to be perfect, and then I kept getting distracted by shiny new projects (ok, so that’s been happening pretty much all the way through all the other stages as well), and finally yesterday I told myself it was time to bite the bullet and get it done.

So I spent the afternoon yesterday sewing the backing together, and ironing the top (because apparently if you leave a quilt top folded up in the bottom of your half-finished projects pile for a year or two, it gets a bit wrinkly – who knew?), and then this morning, after I’d scrubbed the kitchen table (and the kitchen floor, because have you seen the size of that quilt?  There was no way I was going to be able to baste it without some of it falling onto the floor at some point.), I finally got it basted, and started the quilting!

Did I mention this is a very large quilt?  And incredibly heavy?  I am going to have very well developed shoulder muscles by the time it’s finished – moving it around on the machine is a real workout (I am so thankful for my nice new sewing table – quilting it on my old setup would have been impossible).  But I’m pleased with how the quilting is turning out so far – it’s definitely not perfect (the other problem with it being so hard to move is that it’s difficult to keep the motion nice and smooth, so some of my swirls (the swirly patterns are supposed to be air currents or something – it makes sense to me, anyway) are pretty wobbly in places), but hopefully the effect as a whole will make up for the occasional oddity.

Don’t hold your breath for this to be finished soon though – there’s a lot of quilt to cover, and many many hours of work still to be done (and also, much as I enjoy quilting, I don’t really want to spend my entire break in my sewing room, when the sun is shining outside (well, it was earlier – it’s clouded over again now…)).

Not all my own work

When I was down in Alexandra the other day, mum gave me an old piece of appliqué she’s had for ages, and asked it I could quilt it and turn it into a cushion cover for her.  So that’s what I spent yesterday afternoon doing (in between writing that ridiculously long blog post).

Stupidly, I forgot to take a before photo, so you’ll just have to be satisfied with photos of the finished object (you can just use your imagination for the before shot – it looked like this, but flat, and with no binding):


I wanted the appliqué to really stand out, so I used the same technique as with the skeleton, stitching in the ditch around the main elements, and then using a really dense quilting pattern for the background (possibly too dense – it’s a bit stiff for a cushion cover, really, but I wanted to keep the scale of the quilting really small to be in fitting with the size of the piece).  I found a scrap of super-high loft batting to use, so the flowers really puff out:

I even managed to find some fabric in my stash that matched the colours in the flowers almost perfectly, so I could give it a nice colourful binding to frame the picture.  I reckon it turned out pretty good.

It’s a bit of a weird shape for a cushion (which is why it looks a bit strange here – I didn’t have a cushion the right size to fit it, so I just stuffed it quickly with an old towel for the photo), but the fabric was too small to square up, and adding extra borders on the sides would have looked strange, so it’ll just have to be a rectangular cushion.  I think it looks ok, anyway.

And it means that for once I’m showing off a completed project (even if most of the work on it was done by someone else), instead of a work in progress!

Hope you like it mum!  I’ll try and remember to take it into work tomorrow so I can post it to you.