Monday, June 27, 2011

Back on the Wagon - More Civil War Blocks

I have been so tempted to join in the Farmer's Wife Quilt Along, but there is no way I can start another project right now without going loopy.  I also realized that I already had a project like the FWQA, my totally neglected Civil War Blocks.  

Barbara Brackman posts a block of the week, complete with a historical Civil War story every Saturday at  I don't think I had made any since March!  So I went back through the old posts and jotted down instructions for the star/pinwheel inspired blocks.  (Here is my plan for the blocks.)  I got four (!!!!!) made on Saturday and cut out 2 more today.  I love sewing!  Here are the completed blocks:

The Barbara Frietchie Star - named after a heroic if not historically real woman.  I liked how this one turned out -nice colors and contrast.  It reminds me of the curtains in The Sound of Music.  :)

Illinois Road - This block was suppose to be made with a stripe, but since I didn't have a stripe, I free pieced the strips with small scraps.  It's not bad, but not my favorite.  It isn't quite as wonky looking in real life.

Calico Puzzle - I was sure as I was cutting and sewing that this would be my favorite block ever.  It had the awesome fussy cut flower and my favorite strawberry fabric, but something just isn't right...  What is it?  Should I have used pink for the triangles?  But that might have made the yellow print look odd....  So hard to know without making and remaking the blocks.  I'm not saying it is a disaster, it still looks good, just not as good as I had imagined.

White House Block - A lot like Illinois Road, but with a pinwheel in the middle.

There you go.  I am back on the Civil War QA wagon!  Hopefully, you will be seeing more of these blocks soon.  And if I hurry and finish the quilt maybe I can join in the Farmer's Wife Quilt Along.  :)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Block 2 - Value 9 Patch, We Can Do It! Sampler

It's Friday again and time for the next block in our sampler.  I have really enjoyed looking at all the blocks you have made in the flickr group.  The next block we will make is made out of four 9 patch units.  (scroll down for instructions)

Edited (4/15):  The Skill Builder Sampler will soon be available for purchase in book form!  It has been renamed "You Can Quilt!  Building Skills for Beginners" but covers the same skills with the easy, medium and challenging blocks and is a million times better than the original quilt along.  It is perfect for the beginning quilter or the experienced quilter who wants to branch out and learn new skills.  Find more information and pre-order a signed copy in my Etsy shop or pre-order on Amazon.  The Skill Builder Sampler tutorials will remain up until the book is released.  After release, some will be removed.

I chose this block so we could learn more about value, strip piecing, chain piecing, matching seams and pressing.

You will need at least 2 light and 2 dark fabrics.  The idea is to choose fabrics so that you have a secondary pattern of a square with in squares.  I think that the black and white photo shows what I mean better.


For the dark 9 patches cut:
3 dark 10.5 by 2.5 inch strips (Two of them the same fabric)
2 dark 5.5 by 2.5 inch strips 
1 light 5.5 by 2.5 inch strip

For the light 9 patches cut:

3 light 10.5 by 2.5 inch strips (Two of them the same fabric)
2 light 5.5 by 2.5 inch strips 
1 dark 5.5 by 2.5 inch strip

You could cut a bunch of 2.5 inch squares and sew them together one by one, but we will be strip piecing.  Strip piecing is sewing longer strips of fabric together and then cutting them into smaller segments.
Start by sewing the three long strips together and the three light strips together.  Alternate your colors.
Next, sew the short strips together alternating light and dark as shown below.

You will notice that some of my yellow strips are longer.  That is just the size they came out of my scrap baggie.  As long as your strips are at least 10.5 and 5.5 inches long, you will be fine.  We will trim everything up in the next step.

If you want to speed up the process a bit, chain piece the strips.  Chain piecing is putting a new strip though the machine right after the last strip you sewed without breaking the thread in between.  This speeds up piecing and doesn't waste thread. When you have completed the strips, remove them all from the machine and clip them apart.

Now it is time to press your seams.  Deep Breath...  There are two major schools of thought on pressing.
Some press the seams open because the seams lay flatter and it reduces bulk when seams meet.
Some press to the side because it is faster and the seams "lock" together.

I personally press to the side.  It was how I learned and it works well for me.  I really can't imagine pressing open seams without going crazy and burning my fingers off (although I know it can be done).  One of the cons to pressing to the side is that you have to pay attention to which way you press your fabric so that you don't end up sewing over tons of layers and adding bulk to your seams.  It really becomes intuitive after a bit and I will give pressing directions as we go though the sampler if you choose to press to the side.

For both of the 5.5 inch units, press the fabric towards the dark fabrics.  This is a basic pressing-to-the-side rule.  One presses to the darker fabric to avoid the dark fabric showing through the quilt.  Take the light and dark 10.5 inch units and press the seam allowances of the light fabric away from the center.  Press the seam allowances of the dark fabric towards the center.  Do you see in the picture above how if I scooted the fabric together, the seam allowances wouldn't overlap?  That is what we want.

After pressing your strips should be 6.5 inches wide.  If they are not check your pressing and seam allowances.

After you are done pressing it is time to cut.  Start by squaring up the left end of your strip.

Then cut off a 2.5 inch wide strip.

And another.  Discard any small scraps.

Repeat for the larger strips.  You will be able to cut 4 units from the long strips.  If your strips are a bit wavy, line the ruler up with the seam lines in the middle of the block.  They should be exactly 2 inches apart.

You should now have two sets of strips like this.

Lay out your strips as shown for both the light and dark fabrics.

We will now sew our rows together.  At each seam intersection make sure the seam lines are matched up and pin.  If you are pressing to the side, wiggle the lined up seam between your fingers until you feel the seams but up against each other.  If the piecing is consistent, all of your seams should meet perfectly.  As this is not always the case, I like to pin at the seam intersections and then ease in any extra fabric as I sew.  Easing in is matching seams and then using your fingers as you sew to work in the extra fabric so uneven lengths of fabric come out even before you get to the next intersection.  This works for small differences in length, but sometimes seams just won't match no matter how much you try to ease in the extra fabric.  In that case, it is better to have corners that don't match than to have a tuck or pucker in the seam.

Sew two strips together and then sew the third to the bottom.  Press away from the light center and towards the dark center on the dark and light blocks respectively.  Yea!  You just made four 9 patch blocks!!!

Now we just have to sew them together.  You may have to rotate a block or two, but if you followed the pressing instructions, your seams should all alternate and fit together.  Sew the top two 9 patches and bottom two 9 patches together.  Press towards the dark 9 patches.

Sew the two units together.  Pin the center seams together and then work out towards the edges, matching the seams and pinning.  Sew and press to either side.

Somewhere along the line, you will have a problem like this.  One of my pieces of fabric was short.  You could of course unpick and resew it (ick!).  As I hate unpicking, I sewed a 1/4 inch seam like normal and then stitched over the seam again between the 1/4 inch stitching and the short edge of the fabric.  This anchors the seam and will keep it from fraying.

You have just finished your second block!!!  It should measure 12.5 inches across.  

There was a lot of information in this post.  If you have any questions, please ask.  I will answer most of the questions in the comments so that other people who have the same question will know the answer.  All of your comments also get sent to my email account.  If you would like me to respond personally to a question or comment, you will have to change the settings on your blogger account.
  1. In, click on Dashboard.
  2. Select Edit Profile.
  3. Check the box for "Show my Email Address."
  4. Save changes.

If you have already made a hundred 9 patch blocks before, maybe you could see what other designs you could make out of light and dark 2.5 inch squares.  Or, study the block and see how you could take strip piecing to the next level.  There is a way you can sew even more strips together.  Can you see it?

You Can Do It!  :)

Friday, June 17, 2011

We Can Do It! Sampler, Block 1 - Log Cabin

Here we are at last!!!  Week 1 of the We Can Do It! Skill Builder Sampler.  This week we will make a log cabin block.  If you are already familiar with the log cabin block and feel confident in your skills, you might want to mix things up a bit and make a courthouse steps block using this tutorial.  But for the rest of us, a log cabin is a must-make type of block.

It is one of the easiest and most versatile blocks around.  It is formed by sewing strips of fabric around a central square of fabric.  If half of the log cabin block is made out of light colored fabric and the other half out of dark fabric, multiple blocks can be arranged to form a variety of patterns.  The possibilities are endless.  (scroll down for instructions)

Edited (4/15):  The Skill Builder Sampler will soon be available for purchase in book form!  It has been renamed "You Can Quilt!  Building Skills for Beginners" but covers the same skills with the easy, medium and challenging blocks and is a million times better than the original quilt along.  It is perfect for the beginning quilter or the experienced quilter who wants to branch out and learn new skills.  Find more information and pre-order a signed copy in my Etsy shop or pre-order on Amazon.  The Skill Builder Sampler tutorials will remain up until the book is released.  After release, some will be removed.

 The goal with this block is to practice accurate cutting and sewing accurate 1/4 inch seams.

Since this will be a stand alone block, you can either make it light/dark or mix a variety of different valued prints on both sides.  I personally like to have a center square that stands out, but that is personal preference. Take out your fabric and start playing with it.  You can repeat fabrics or have each piece be unique.  If you use the same fabric on all four sides it will make a square within a square pattern.  

Here is my layout.  I apologize for the picture quality.  My basement sewing room is not the best for pictures.  Does anyone know if there is a type of light bulb that will help picture quality?  Anyway...

I actually had to "try out" a bunch of fabrics before I came up with this layout.  Play around with it and don't be afraid to cut extra pieces of fabric.  I promise you will be able to use all the extra  2.5 inch strips that you cut later in the sampler.

To start off, if you aren't using fat quarters (18x22 inch pieces of fabric) cut your fabric in half so the piece you are working with is only 22 inches wide.  Fold up the other half of the fabric and save it to use later on in the sampler.  Why cut your yardage in half?  It makes it easier to work with and none of the blocks we will be making will need a strip of fabric 44 inches long.  You can cut all of your fabric in half now if you want or just the pieces you will be using.

Cut 2.5 by 22 inch strips of all the fabrics you will be using.    

Let me break that down for you.  To cut your strips, first square up the edge of the fabric.  Squaring up means to trim the uneven side of the fabric so it is straight.  
 To do this, fold your fabric in half so it is now 11 inches wide.  Line the fold up with an inch mark on your ruler.  If it is not lined up evenly along the whole fold your strip will not be straight.
 Starting at the bottom cut along the edge of the ruler with the rotary cutter.  Remove excess fabric.  If the fabric is not cut in places, cut again.  You might need to use more  pressure, or your blade may be dull.  Sharpen or replace your blade as necessary.
Next, move the ruler so the trimmed edge is lined up at the 2.5 inch mark and the bottom fold is on an inch mark.  Make sure the fabric is lined up at the far side of the 2.5 inch mark not the inside of the line.  You want that extra thousandth of an inch - it will help make sure your blocks don't end up too small.
 Cut with the rotary cutter and voila! you have a 2.5 inch strip.  Repeat for all of the fabrics you will be using.
Next, referring to my professional diagram, cut your strips to the necessary length.
Pieces 1 and 2 are 2.5 x 2.5 inches
Pieces 3 and 4 are 2.5 x 4.5 inches
Pieces 5 and 6 are 2.5 x 6.5 inches
Pieces 7 and 8 are 2.5 x 8.5 inches
Pieces 9 and 10 are 2.5 x 10.5 inches
and Piece 11 is 2.5 x 12.5 inches

For example to cut a 2.5 x 4.5 inch piece you would:
  1. square up the end of the strip
  2. line up the top of the strip along an inch mark 
  3. line up the short edge with the 4.5 inch mark 
  4. and cut
Once you have your pieces cut it is time to get sewing!

To make sure we are sewing accurate 1/4 inch seam grab a scrap piece of fabric and sew 1/4 away from the edge.
 Most of the time 1/4 inch is just shy of the edge of a regular sewing foot.
 Let's see how we did.  Line up the edge of the fabric along the 1/4 inch mark of the ruler.  Your seam should be on or just inside the edge of the ruler.  Having a seam that is just short of being 1/4 inch is called a scant 1/4 inch seam and is desirable.  If you are over the edge of the ruler your seam is too wide and will make the block come out smaller than 12.5 inches.  Trust me at the end of the sampler you will be much happier if all your blocks are the same size, so let's get that 1/4 inch seam right on.
To mark your 1/4 inch line, take a ruler and put the needle down on the 1/4 inch mark.  Place a sticky note or piece of tape along the edge of the ruler.  This is your 1/4 inch mark.  Make sure when sewing you stay right on the edge of it, not on it.  Try sewing a 1/4 inch seam again.  Better?   Then let's get going!

Sew Pieces 1 and 2 together
Put the two pieces of fabric right sides together and sew.  With pieces this small it should not be necessary to pin, but if it makes you feel more comfortable, go for it.
Press the seam towards Piece 2.  I don't press the seams open (I'll go more into pressing theory later - this post is getting too long!)
To press, open up the fabric and iron flat.  Give the fabric a gentle push with the side or tip of the iron to make sure the seam is pressed completely open.  If the fabric is not completely open the block will be too small.
Take a second here and measure the two pieces of fabric you have sewn together.  They should now measure 2.5 x 4.5.  If they don't check your seam allowance (distance from the edge of the fabric to the stitching) and pressing.  Next sew on Piece 3.  The block should now measure 4.5 x 4.5.
Sew on Piece 4 and press.
Then Piece 5 and press.  Then Piece 6 and press (remember to press the seam allowance towards the newest piece).

Continue on and add Pieces 7, 8 and 9.  After you have added Piece 9 measure the block.  It should now be 10.5 inches square.  If it is less than 10 1/4 inches square, cut Pieces 10 and 11 wider than 2.5 inches so your block will finish at 12.5 inches square.  Also go back and look at the seam allowances and pressing.  Figure out what went wrong.  You might just have to sew your seams a bit more "scantly".

Finish up the block by sewing on Pieces 10 and 11.
Because we are focusing on 1/4 inch seams this week, take a second and do a final measure of the length and width of the block.  I am a consistent 1/8th inch short.  Not too bad.
Oh, take all of those 2.5 inch leftover strips and put them in a bag.  I plan on keeping a bag for each width of fabric so I can find the right size of scrap easily for later blocks.

Whooo!  We Did It!

BWS tips button

Let me know if you have any questions.  I would love to see your pictures in the groups flickr pool!