Saturday, October 2, 2010

Striped Quilt Block Tutorial

Here is a tutorial for making the striped blocks I've been posting about recently.
In this tutorial, for every two nine-inch squares cut from your striped fabric, you will have two squares at the end, like the ones above, one with four pieces, and one with eight pieces. 

Caution: this post has about 40 photos, so if it's taking forever to load on your browser, that's probably why. Also, I'm left-handed so if you see how I've ironed or cut things and it seems a little off to you (and you're not left-handed), that's probably why. Just do things on the opposite side of what you see in the photos and you'll probably be fine.

First, find some striped fabrics that you like. Some of the stripes that I have were fat quarters (the fabric piece is about 18"x22") and others were "long" quarters, i.e. regular quarter-yard cuts, which should be a little bit more than 9" if the quilt shop that did the cutting was conscientious and/or generous. In some cases I have quarter-yard cuts that are exactly 9" down by the selvages but then narrow to ~8" at the fold because the cutter was not paying attention to the details.

Press out any wrinkles with an iron, then line up the stripes on the cutting mat. Generally the stripes will run either parallel to the selvage or perpendicular to it. You are going to cut nine-inch squares. I find it easiest to start by cutting parallel to a stripe if possible. Line up the stripe on the cutting mat and cut a nine-inch strip.
 This shows the 9" strip having been cut away from the rest of the fabric. I made sure the cut ran parallel to the line.
 For each striped fabric, cut two 9-inch squares. In this case, I had to cut two 9" strips, then cut them down to 9" squares.
 Layer them on top of each other with the lines running in the same direction and trim the edges so the pieces are 9"x9".
 Then make sure the pieces are lined up on top of each other (you could do the next step one piece at a time but this saves a lot of work to do them together). Lay them on the cutting mat grid so they are even with the lines and lay inside a 9"x9" section of the grid. I prefer to have my stripes running horizontally at this point, because it helps when stacking the smaller triangles for later use. Then line up the edge of the ruler with the fabric four and a half inches from the point (i.e. the corner of the square), on both sides. Then cut along the edge of the ruler making sure to keep it positioned firmly over the fabric 4.5" in on both sides. By the way, I just eyeball the 4.5" - you could make a mark on your mat, but I find that eyeballing it works fine. It may not be terribly 100% precise, but it's sufficient.
 This is what it looks like when it has been cut.
 Repeat for the other 3 sides. When finished, you'll have a square in the middle (two if you're cutting both pieces of fabric at the same time) and triangles on the outside.
 Stack the triangles (there is a method to that as well, to make it easier when lining up the smaller triangles to sew at a later step - stack the top left two with the top right two, and the bottom left two with the bottom right two - you can play around with the triangles to see what I mean about that - it is much easier to see it than to try and put it into words).

Then cut the middle squares in half, making sure to cut parallel to the stripe, not perpendicular. For the square to look the way it does by the end, this is really important. If you mess up, just put the pieces in the scrap pile and start over. After you finish this step, you have all the pieces you need to begin sewing.
 SPECIAL PROBLEMS: here is an example of a regular quarter yard where the person who cut it at the quilt shop was not concerned with (or paying attention to) cutting along the stripes. Most quilt shops I have been to are aware of this and generally will cut carefully to cut along the stripe. But if you find in your stash a piece of fabric that looks like this and you still want to use it, generally it can be salvaged especially if the quilt shop has been generous in cutting the quarter yard and has given you 10" or 10.5" instead of just exactly 9" (in which case it likely cannot be salvaged - although you could fussy cut the triangles from it, which may be worth it if you really love the fabric):
 I worked with this piece a little and cut here and there to get a piece that was nearly 9" wide (off by about 1/8" on the top edge for a half-inch or so), and then repeated the above steps to cut it down into the triangles.
Two 9"ish squares, etc.
 Here is an example of working with a fat quarter. Cut a 9" strip from the fat quarter, making sure that the cut runs parallel to the stripes.
 Trim off any excess and cut the 9" strip into two nine-inch squares.
 Follow the above instructions to get triangles.
 MORE SPECIAL PROBLEMS: What if you have a fabric you love that has stripes on the diagonal? Well, this can be harder to work with if you're trying to conserve fabric. The beauty of the above process is there really is no waste - just what little excess is trimmed away. But with stripes on the diagonal, I found it a little more difficult to be conservative with the fabric excess. There may be an easier way to do this, but here is what I did. Using algebra (yes, trigonometry!) I calculated that I needed to cut two 6.36" squares from this fabric to make the large triangles (that really is not a difficult thing to cut, just whack the fabric halfway-ish between the 6 1/4" line and the 6 1/2" line on your mat - because 6.36" is about halfway between 6.25" and 6.5", or enough to be sufficient anyway).

Because this fat quarter wasn't necessarily cut keeping the stripes in mind, I made sure that my triangles would be true to the stripe by lining up a pre-drawn diagonal line on my cutting mat (I used a sharpie marker) with the length of one of the stripes. If you look closely you can see that (there are also pre-printed diagonals on most mats - you can use the one that says 45 degrees - in my case I drew one that ran in the opposite direction of the pre-printed ones - it was left over from a project from several years ago when I was squaring up blocks for a quilt).
 Then trim and cut a 6.36" strip, rotate it and trim and cut a 6.36" square from it, using the straight edge cut in the last step as a guide to keep the square true to the diagonal stripe (line up the edge with one of the horizontal lines on the mat).
 Cut in half along the diagonal and repeat, to get a total of four of these triangles. These are the same size as the large triangles from the above, "regular stripe" procedure.
 For the smaller triangles: there are a total of eight small triangles. If you have cut triangles already from a regular stripe (not a stripe on the diagonal) you can look at the small triangles and how they go together to form the finished square to see that not all eight are the same. Four have the stripes running in one direction relative to the hypotenuse (yes, that is a word from trigonometry, it means the longest side of a right-sided triangle - if you want a better explanation or a diagram, then check out this link to Wikipedia). And four have the stripes running in a different direction relative to the hypotenuse. So four of the triangles can be made by cutting another 6.36" square from the diagonally-striped fabric. Cut the square, then cut on the diagonal and again on the opposite diagonal, like this:
 The other four squares have to come from fabric that has been made to eliminate the diagonal lines. So work with the fabric to come up with a strip of fabric that looks like the one below, that is 4.5" x 9". (Ignore the part in the photo below where there is a piece missing from the upper right corner of the fabric - I messed up on that and had to start over. Like I said, this method of getting triangles from a diagonal stripe is not the most conservative with your fabric).
 Cut two 4.5" squares from that, and then cut those in half on the diagonal. You can use one of the other small triangles to test and see if you are cutting in the right direction (the photo below shows one of the smaller triangles on top of the ruler to show that cutting this 4.5" square in half in this direction will provide a triangle with the stripes in the right direction needed for the finished square).
 If all that bit about the diagonal stripes was totally confusing and you don't feel up to messing around with it, then I suggest just sticking to stripes that run parallel or perpendicular to the selvage. So this is my pile of triangles cut out from the remaining 33 fabrics (I've finished 47 squares for this quilt and my goal is 80 - keeping in mind that I have the other half of the squares, another 47, in a different pile for a separate quilt).
 And now to sew together the triangles. Here I have my stack of triangles.
 First I'll start with the larger triangles. On my lap or on the table I'll lay them out in the order that I like - sometimes a stripe will hit up against another stripe in a contrast that I don't like so I'll rearrange the order.
 Then I'll sew them together, two triangles together, right sides together, and then the other two triangles together as well. I chain piece at this point, doing all the triangles, both the large ones and the small ones, before stopping to press (I'll chain piece a whole pile of 10 different stripes but for this I'll just show one striped fabric set):
 Then I start to line up the smaller triangles, making sure that each pair creates the proper pattern,
 like this:
 Then I sew those together.
 Here is the pile of chain-pieced triangles from this set. Clip the threads,
 then press the seams. For the large triangles, I press both in the same direction, so that when I sew them together, the seams 'nest.'
 Same thing for the smaller triangles, I press the seams in the same direction (you can see how I've made sure the lines are all going in the same direction before pressing, this helps with the flow of the seams especially since with eight pieces in this block, there is quite a pile of seams in the middle by the time you're done sewing it together, so anything you can do to help reduce that bulk is a good idea).
 Here is what I meant by 'nesting' - the seams lay flat together making for a flatter sewn seam where the two other seams meet.
 Sew the two large triangles together.
 I lay out the smaller, pressed triangles again to make sure they are ordered properly.
 Then I sew the pairs together,
 lay those out,
 sew those together, nesting the two middle seams as much as possible (you can pin if you'd like but I don't do that, it would require too much dedication to excellence =))
 This is the finished product. Two blocks, one made with eight smaller triangles, and one made with the four larger triangles. I'm going to put all the 4-piece blocks into one quilt, and all the 8-piece blocks into a second quilt. Really I ought to square up the 8-piece blocks especially, but that is highly unlikely. I mean, let's be honest.

This post shows how I used the 8-piece blocks, and this post shows one of the baby quilts I made with some of the 4-piece blocks.

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