This week I will share with you two of my favorite piecing shortcuts. These are techniques that can help you to get some projects done quicker than you thought you could. Sometimes you look at a pattern and say “there are too many small pieces!” and decide not to make it. Well, I think these piecing shortcuts will help to change your mind. Let’s go!
Lots of Tiny Squares!
Here is a quilt of mine, Seaside Cottage, that looks like I just sat by a box of 1 1/2″ squares and kept sewing… and sewing…. and sewing.
Well, that’s not the case! Any time you see a quilt with a lot of nine-patch blocks (like above), four-patch blocks and even rail fence blocks … the secret ingredient is: strip sets!
Strip sets are made from joining two or more long strips on their lengthwise sides. You can use width of fabric strips (40-44″ long) if you need a lot of pieces cut for your project, but I prefer to cut those in half to 20-22″ long. It’s easier for your strip sets to distort if you are using longer strips.
I make my strip sets with a scant 1/4″ seam to make sure they measure accurately when done. My tip for using a scant 1/4″ for piecing these is after each strip is added, press the strip set open, measure and trim up the set before adding the next strip. Below are photos showing the first steps of joining 3 strips into a strip set measuring 3 1/2″ wide when done. I’m beginning three 1 1/2″ wide strips (left photo).
Instead of lining up the edge of my strip unit for stitching with the edge of the 1/4″ foot, I move it a hair to the left (as shown in the last photo).
Once those strips are stitched together I want it to measure 2 1/2″ wide. To do this, I press the set, place the ruler evenly on the strip set to trim it to 2 1/2″. The 1 1/4″ line of the ruler should rest on the center seam for even trimming. Then I add the next strip in the same manner.
Once that last strip is added to the set and the new seam is pressed open, I place the 1 1/4″ line of the ruler on the new seam and trim. The strip set will now measure 3 1/2″.
Tip for stitching more than one strip: when you stitch strips together, alternate your sewing direction. That helps limit distortion of the strips and the strip set.
After you have your strip sets made, then you sub-cut them into the pieces you need. For example, the photos below show sub-cutting a two-strip strip set that is used to make four-patch blocks.
You can use strip sets to make a lot of different blocks like these:
Lots of Half-square Triangle Squares!
On no! I know you’ve shuddered at quilts that have a lot of these types of block units. For beginners, the short-cut term for these is: HST squares. If you’ve seen patterns that states you need X amount of HSTs … they’re talking about half-square triangle squares.
You may shy away from my Village Square quilt for this reason.
If you want to make a quilt pattern like mine with a lot of scrappy HSTs, the technique of making multiple HSTs at once is a skill you want to learn. There is a way to make four HSTs at a time or even eight at a time!
Four HSTs at a Time: To start, you need to know the size of the HST you want to end up with to know what size to cut your fabric pieces for this technique.
If you need your HSTs to measure 2 1/2 x 2 1/2″ (that includes the seam allowance), you divide that number by .64 and then round up to the nearest whole number. Here’s how that formula looks in action:
2 1/2 ÷ .64 = 3.906 – that number is then round that up to 4″
So, you will cut two squares each 4 x 4″ from the two different color fabrics you want for your HSTs. (first photo below), lay the two squares, right sides together, on top of each other and then stitch with a 1/4″ seam around the outside (last photo).
Sorry my thread doesn’t show too well on the above photo (finger is pointing to the seam) Here’s a drawing of what it should look like:
The final step is to cut the unit apart as shown below and then press open the resulting units for four HSTs.
Since the size of the squares used here are rounded up to make these HSTs, they may need trimming to measure the size needed for the pattern you are making. Be sure to lay the 45 degree line of the ruler you are using for trimming on the diagonal seam for accuracy.
Eight HSTs at a Time: If the quilt pattern you are making has a large amount of HSTs made from the same color combinations, then the eight at a time method will be more efficient for you. Start with 2 squares that are each 2 times the size of the HST square you are making plus 1 3/4″. For an HST squares that measure 1 1/2 x 1 1/2″ , here is the calculation:
1 1/2″ x 2″ = 3″
3″ + 1 3/4″ = 4 3/4″
So, you need two squares each 4 3/4 x 4 3/4″.
Draw two diagonal lines on the wrong side of one of the squares (photo on the left below) and then place your squares right sides together like in the four HSTs at a time instructions above. Pin the unit and sew a scant 1/4″ on each side of each drawn lines (photo on right below).
Cut the unit apart into 4 squares and then cut each square apart on the drawn diagonal line. Once all the pieces are cut apart, then press open for your eight HSTs!
Now you can trim those HSTs to the size you need. Repeat as often as needed to get as many HSTs as you want using a variety of color prints to end up with a fantastic scrappy quilt.
So that’s a synopsis of my two favorite shortcuts. What kind of shortcuts have you used? Share in the comments and I will choose one of you to win my pattern, Village Square. You can then practice multiple HSTs!
The drawing will be on Monday, February 12th. **We have a winner! Congrats, Lynn!**