PM/GC Quilts Skill Builder Series: Part 8A – Flying Geese

Welcome back! This time around, Jeanne and I will show you several different methods for constructing Flying Geese. Be sure to check out Jeanne’s post. The method she will demonstrate is my favorite method for making Flying Geese, and it’s pretty slick!

Between the two of us we’ll show your four different methods. You need to make a total of eight Flying Geese units that you will assemble into a block called the Flying Dutchman. The final block will finish at 12″ (12 1/2″ unfinished) so each Flying Geese unit will finish at 6″ x 3″ (6 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ unfinished). Use whichever technique(s) you’d like to make the units.

Please review the Quarter Inch Seam post for details about cutting and sewing accurately.

I’m going to show you the traditional method, which involves cutting triangles then sewing them back together. I have a lot of experience with this method – my first “on my own” quilt (that is, the first one outside of the sampler I made in my quilting class) consisted of columns of Flying Geese alternating with long strips. It was inspired by an illustration in the children’s book The Quiltmaker’s Gift written by Jeff Brumbeau and illustrated by Gail de Marcken. This is a fantastic book – the illustrations are incredible, and there are two pattern books – Quilts from the Quiltmaker’s Gift and More Quilts from the Quiltmaker’s Gift, both by Joanne Larsen Line – that are some of the best I’ve seen. They’re very accessible for beginners – in fact, several of the quilts were made by children.

Anyway, back on track! Here’s my original Flying Geese quilt, titled Wild Goose Chase:

11 I made It - Wild Goose Chase

Technically, a Wild Goose Chase quilt has a different layout, but there’s a family story behind it so I used the name anyway. As this was my first quilt, I did a terrible job with the quilting (just a few straight lines). It looks pretty good despite that, and you’d never guess the agony I went through when I made the thing. My columns looked like the geese were trying to make a U turn! I made it work and the strips between helped straighten them out. It was partly the sewing method and partly my own inexperience, but I muddled through anyway, and I’m glad I did. I still love this quilt, warts and all.

Method 1 – Traditional

Flying Geese are made of three right triangles. For those who have forgotten Geometry class, right triangles have one “right” or 90 degree angle (shaped like an L) and two smaller angles. If you start with a square, the two smaller angles are 45 degrees. Although all three triangles are the same shape, they are not cut the same. The “sky” triangles are made by cutting a square in half diagonally. The “goose” triangle is made by cutting a larger square in quarters diagonally.

So why are those triangles cut differently? Let’s review a bit about bias edges. When you cut a square, all four edges are on the straight of grain, and are fairly stable. They don’t stretch too much or too easily. If you cut a square in half diagonally, the diagonal edge is on the bias which stretches a lot and very easily. When you’re making blocks you want the exposed, unsewn fabric at the edges of the block to be on the straight of grain. Blocks are often assembled over a period of time and collected until you have enough to sew into a quilt. You want them to be as sturdy as possible so they aren’t distorted when you handle them.

Back to the triangles – the sky pieces are a square cut diagonally once, so they have one stretchy edge and two stable edges. The goose piece is a square cut diagonally twice, in quarters, so each triangle has TWO stretchy edges and one stable edge. When you put the pieces together to form the Flying Geese unit, you’ll sew the stretchy edges together, stabilizing the bias with the seam. All four outside edges of the unit are on the straight of grain and are less prone to stretching.

The magic numbers for figuring out what size to cut your squares is 7/8″ for the sky and
1 1/4″ for the goose. For the sky pieces, start with the smaller measurement of the finished unit and add 7/8″. For the goose, start with the larger measurement of the finished unit and add 1 1/4″. If you’ve been reading my Skill Builder posts, however, you know I prefer to cut a little larger then trim to size, so I cut my sky 1″ larger and my geese 1 1/2″ larger.

In order to create one 6″ x 3″ finished Flying Geese unit, you’ll need one sky square cut at 4″ (or two, if you want to use different fabrics on either side of the goose) and one goose square cut at 7 1/2″. (Full disclosure – for this sample I accidentally cut my large square at 7 1/4″, so trimming was a little tight.) Cut the sky square(s) in half diagonally, and cut the goose square in quarters diagonally. Lay out the pieces so you can see how they will go together.

Flip one sky piece over onto the goose piece, aligning the bottom corners. The top sky corner will extend well past the goose edge – that’s okay, you’ll trim the excess here.

Place the fabric under the presser foot, sliding the fabric forward enough that the tip of the triangle is well over the feed dogs.

Remember, this is a bias edge so sew carefully, just guiding the fabric and letting the feed dogs do the work. Don’t hold the fabric down because the feed dogs will pull and stretch it. Once it’s sewn the seam will stabilize the bias, but you should still be careful when pressing because the other bias edge is still exposed.

Lift and press with the iron, don’t push it over the fabric. Press your seams open if you prefer, but I nearly always press my Flying Geese to the side. You hear about pressing to the darker fabric, and if there is no benefit to pressing one way or the other, that’s what I do. However, with Flying Geese you can create a magic spot with the seam intersections that helps keep your points intact. (I’ll show you the magic spot later in the post.) If you press to the side, always press to the sky.

Place the second sky piece on the goose, again aligning the bottom corners and letting the top corner extend past the edge.

When you place this under the presser foot, put the seam side up so you have a smooth surface going across the feed dogs. Slide the fabric forward so it rests over the feed dogs. See how the two sky pieces make a Y shaped notch? That’s where your needle should go.

Sew, again gently guiding the fabric and not pulling or pushing it to avoid stretching the bias, and press toward the sky if you are pressing to the side.

If you cut the pieces a little larger, now you need to trim it to size. Look at the piece – there’s only one seam intersection that you need to worry about (the point at the top). If you trim that edge so it is exactly 1/4″ past the point, you should have no problem with floating or cut off points when you sew it into a block. That needs to be the center point, so be sure to measure from the center out when you trim your sides. The piece should be 6 1/2″ x 3 1/2″, so I placed the ruler with the intersection of the 1/4″ and 3 1/4″ lines right on the point. The 3 1/2″ mark at the bottom lines up with the long edge. (Since I cut my goose fabric at 7 1/4″ instead of at 7 1/2″, I don’t have any room to trim at the bottom, wide part of the goose. If I’d cut it large, I could also trim here.)

Trim the excess fabric on all four sides. Both fabrics should extend to the bottom corners. Mine doesn’t one one side, but I can live with the amount that it’s off. If I’d cut it larger I could have fixed this during trimming.

Here’s your finished Flying Geese unit:

If you flip it over, you can see that “magic spot” I talked about. When you sew this to another piece of fabric, you’ll sew just a hair above the place where the threads cross.

Method 2 – Squares

The second method for Flying Geese is easier because it does not require you to deal with exposed bias edges. Instead of cutting the triangles, you sew two squares to a rectangle and then cut off the excess. Depending on the size of the pieces, you may want to sew a second line on each corner, creating half square triangles out of the excess fabric. This may not be feasible for very small pieces, and so the method can result in some wasted fabric.

In this case, figuring out the size of your pieces is very easy – if you Flying Geese unit finishes at 6″ x 3″ (unfinished at 6 1/2″ x 3 1/2″), you cut a rectangle of goose fabric at 6 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ and two squares of the sky fabric at 3 1/2″. If you want to cut these larger and trim later you may, but I don’t usually find it necessary.

Draw a diagonal line on the back of each square. If you are going to sew a second line and save the half square triangles, draw a second line 1/2″ to the outside of the center line. (Note: When you sew half square triangles, you draw a center line and then another line 1/4″ on either side of center. The two outside lines are for sewing and the center is for cutting. For the Flying Geese units, you will sew the line that runs corner to corner.)

Sew on the lines.

If you have a seam guide you may choose not to draw the sewing lines (this is easier with smaller pieces). Put the point under the needle and line up the opposite point with the sewing line on your seam guide. Sew, watching the point nearest you – keep it on the sewing line.

If your seam guide has markings for 1/2″ on either side of the sewing line you can do the same thing with the second seam, lining up the point with the 1/2″ marking on your seam guide.

Cut off the corners, setting aside the half square triangles for another project.

Press to the sky fabric using the same instructions as in the first method. Sew the second sky square in the same manner. Because you need to put the fabric with the drawn line on top, be aware of the seam allowance on the back, making sure it doesn’t fold down when you sew it.

You’ll notice I had some trouble with the corners getting chewed by the sewing machine.

Melinda of quirky granola girl pointed out that she sometimes uses a little piece of tear away foundation paper as a leader/ender when she has to feed a point into the machine. I tried doing the same with a small sticky note and it worked well. When you’re sewing the second sky piece, you can turn the piece around and the fabric extending from the top will protect the point.

Trim the corner just like the first side and press to the sky fabric.

Your Flying Geese unit is finished!

Just like Method 1, the intersecting seam lines show where to sew the component to another piece so you don’t cut off the points.

Method 3 – One Seam (Dimensional)

The last method is… unusual. It’s one part gimmick, one part ridiculously easy, one part wasteful and one part designer-friendly. I saw it demonstrated in the sample video over at The Quilt Show (with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims) and was amazed at how quick and easy it was to make a Flying Geese unit. This creates a dimensional unit, with little pockets on each side of the goose.

For each Flying Geese unit, cut two squares (sky) and one rectangle (goose). The squares should be 1/2” larger than the finished height of your Flying Geese unit, so for a 6″ x 3″ finished Flying Geese unit, the squares should be cut at 3 1/2″. Cut the rectangle the same width (3 1/2″) and 1/2” shorter than the total of the two squares. In this case, the rectangle will be 6 1/2″ (3 1/2 + 3 1/2 = 7, and 7 – 1/2 = 6 1/2). (Yes, these are the same measurements we used in Method 2.)

Fold the rectangle in half, WRONG sides together, and place on a sky piece, RIGHT sides together. The fold should be toward you, and the top two corners should line up. There should be a 1/4″ space between the fold and the edge of the sky square.

Place the second sky square on top, RIGHT sides together, lining up the four corners.

Sew the right edge of the sandwich using a scant 1/4″ seam.

If you flip the top sky square back it should look like this:

Turn the unit over and press the seam open, creating a little arrow at the top. Pressing the back first makes the next step easier. (By the way, that arrow points to where you would sew when you put the units together into a project.)

Flip it back over and open the center piece, spreading it…

…and pulling the center fold line down to meet the seam line.

Press, making sure the points align at the corners. That quickly you have a Flying Geese unit!

You can use them as you would any other Flying Geese. Here they are in a quilt I called “Flying by the Seat of My Pants” (a swap quilt that introduced me to Karrie Lynne of Freckled Whimsy):

Modify Tradition Swap

You could even take this a step further and turn back the dimensional edge to form a curve. Here are two Flying Geese, the top with the edges curved back and stitched, the bottom just a regular dimensional goose.

One Seam Dimensional Flying Geese with a Twist

Whew! That’s a lot of poultry, and there’s still one more – the best one – to come over on Jeanne’s blog, Grey Cat Quilts!

Flying Dutchman Block

The Flying Dutchman block consists of eight Flying Geese assembled into four sets of two. You can play with color placement to create secondary patterns, as I did in my sample, or you can use just two different fabrics, one for sky and one for geese. If you are creating a secondary pattern, lay out the Flying Geese so you can watch your fabric placement.

Sew the Flying Geese together into four sets of two. As you cross the seams, use the seam line intersection point as a guide for where to sew (just at the tip of the point).

Pressing gets interesting here. If you’ve chosen to press open, continue of course. But if you’ve been pressing to the side, you need to decide which way to press from this point forward. If you press the way that the fabric wants to go, the goose points will lay flatter but you will not be able to see the point where the seams intersect when you sew the rest of the pieces together.

The unit on the left is pressed so it will lay flatter, and the unit on the right is pressed so you can see the seam intersection points. There isn’t a right or wrong answer here – you need to decide what’s best for you. Personally, I like my points to be as precise as I can get them so I decided to press like the unit on the right.

Move your units to your sewing machine…

…and flip the top right unit over the top left unit.

Normally I’d tell you to keep it facing the same direction when you sew, but because I went to the effort of pressing so I can see the seam intersections, I need to flip it over so they’re visible.

Sew, watching your seam intersections.

Continue pressing based on the decision you made above. I’m still pressing to the points so I can see the seam intersections.

Sew, again watching the seam intersection points. You won’t be able to see the first one since it’s on the bottom, but the center point and the third intersection are both visible.

Press your final block, opening the center point like we did on the Half Square Triangle Pinwheel block.

Trim to 12 1/2″, if necessary, and you’re done!

I want to point out one thing on the finished block. Notice how I used directional fabric for the geese. When I used Method 1, cutting the square in quarters, I ended up with geese that had the fabric running different directions (the red background). Method 2, starting with rectangles, keeps the fabric running the same direction (the white background). Keep that in mind if you’re using directional fabrics.



  1. thanks for your comment on my blog. i’m working on a bee quilt full of flying geese right now. i like the flying dutchman block. i think i’ll have to add that.

  2. What a great tutorial and jam packed with information! I am going to include a link to it on my blog.

    Thank you – I know these tutorials aren’t whipped up in 5 minutes!

  3. My favourite method uses the dimensions of Method 1, and yet you never handle bias edges, but there is no waste.

    It is nicely explained here under speed piecing method two.:

    You start with one large square and four small squares, and end up with four geese! – best for many geese out of the same fabric I guess.

    • Yes, this is my favorite method also. That’s the technique that Jeanne will be posting on Grey Cat Quilts.

  4. I was going to ask why you didn’t mention the waste-free efficient flying geese, but I see comment 4 already covered it. I was entertained by the fancy schmancy method with the folding magic and pockets!

  5. do you have a picture of the completed quilt with the blocks rotated? I am doing a study on rotational symmetry for school and trying to show a quilt of your type.

Comments are closed.