PM/GC Quilts Skill Builder Series: Part 11A – Drafting

So far the Skill Builder Series has been primarily about construction. It’s time to take a little break from that and work on the head stuff instead of the hand stuff. Be sure to check out Jeanne’s post as well – we’re each going to do two posts on drafting, the first focusing on existing blocks and quilts, and the second on creating your own designs.

In this post I’m going to explain how to break down a traditional block, figure out its components, and determine how to construct it without benefit of a pattern. Before I go too far, I want to talk a bit about copyright infringement. I am not a lawyer and the information I’m sharing is simply my understanding, not a legal opinion. (Yeah, that’s the CYA statement.) There are a few things to know about copyright when it comes to quilt patterns.


1. You cannot copyright a technique. (“Technique: A systematic procedure, formula, or routine by which a task is accomplished.” – For example, drawing diagonal lines on the back of a square and sewing it to another square, then cutting down the center to create two half square triangle units is a technique. Even if I were the first person to do this, I couldn’t copyright it and insist that I receive payment if anyone else uses that process.

2. There are many, many traditional blocks that are now in the public domain, which means their copyright has expired. If a block was published before 1923 it is in the public domain and can be used freely. There are other specific rules, but 1923 is a good date to remember. Check Barbara Brackman’s book, “Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns” or its companion software, Blockbase (through Electric Quilt), or “The Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns” by Jinny Beyer for more information about original publication dates for specific blocks.

3. While you cannot copyright a block that is in the public domain, you CAN copyright instructions that you’ve written on how to make the block (or a quilt or other project). The text and diagrams belong to the person who created them.

4. It’s okay to make copies of something for your own personal use. It is NOT okay to make copies to share with friends.

5. Even if a book is out of print, someone else holds the copyright. Even if a pattern is given away for free, someone else holds the copyright. Sometimes the author will indicate on the pattern or on their blog that it can be used for certain things, but if they don’t, ASK. It’s not unusual for them to grant permission, but you have to ask. And if they say no, then don’t.

6. Copyright isn’t just about the pattern, it’s also about money made from the pattern, either by redistributing it or selling a quilt made from an original design. Re-selling the original pattern is fine; copying it and selling it (either the original or the copy) is not. Likewise, purchasing a pattern for an original design (a copyrighted block, for example) allows you to make the quilt, but not to sell quilts that you’ve made from the pattern.

7. A copyright does not have to be registered to make it legal. If a person writes something on their blog, it’s theirs whether they specifically tell readers it’s copyrighted or not. That’s true for text, patterns, diagrams, photos, or anything else that is created. It’s a good idea to remind people by including a brief statement or the copyright symbol with your name and the date.

If you’d like to read more about copyright as it relates to quilting, check out some of these sites:

Copyright & Quilters (This one is particularly good.)
Lost Quilts Come Home – Copyright Infringement
Electric Quilt’s Copyright Info Page (If you use EQ products – if not, it isn’t relevant.)

Bottom line: Be respectful of other people’s work, don’t copy and share their written patterns, but don’t worry about recreating a quilt that is made of traditional blocks that are in the public domain, even if someone has written a pattern for it. They only have rights to their text, diagrams, photos, etc., not to the design. (Of course this is assuming the quilt is in a common setting – if they did something original with the layout or other design, that may be protected.)

Whew! Moving on…


Many – but certainly not all – pieced blocks are created on a grid, which is why graph paper is so useful. The first step to deconstructing a block is identifying the grid size. The most common grids sizes are 2, 3, 4 and 5. Here are some examples:

2 Grid

3 Grid

Friendship Star

4 Grid

5 Grid

Goose in the Pond Cross and Crown

In each example, you should be able to divide the block evenly, both across and down, by the size of the grid. This is important for determining the size of blocks. A block that is on a 3 grid is easy to construct when it finishes at a size divisible by 3 – for example, 3″, 6″, 9″, 12″, 15″, and so on. Likewise, a 4 grid works well at 4″, 8″, 12″, 16″, etc. and a 5 grid is best at 5″, 15″, or 20″. A 2 Grid is the easiest – obviously 2″, 4″, 6″, etc.

Here’s why: Say you have a 4 grid block made entirely of squares (a Sixteen Patch).

If you make a 4″ finished block, each square will finish at 1″. If you make an 8″ finished block, each square will finish at 2″. A 12″ block has 3″ squares, and so on. Now imagine making this block so it finishes at 9″. Each square would finish at 2 1/4″ (9″ divided by 4 = 2 1/4″). Possible, but not as easy to calculate as the others. A 4 grid block is fairly easy because it breaks down into quarters. Imagine making a Nine Patch block (3 grid) that finishes at 5″. Each square would have to finish at 1 2/3″ – not an easy measurement in quilting.

You probably noticed that several examples can break down even further. Rather than call it a 6 Grid or a 15 Grid, I like to think of blocks in terms of 2, 3, 4 or 5, and then break down each half, third, quarter, or fifth into another grid.

Look at the second block in the 5 Grid example. The block is called Goose in the Pond, by the way.

Goose in the Pond

The first step is to divide it into the basic grid, five across and five down. That tells you the finished block should be divisible by five. But wait – some of the squares are divided further into a 3 grid. See the nine patch and the rail fence components? To make construction as easy as possible, you might want to make the block in a size that is divisible by both 5 AND 3. A 15″ block would work, as would a 30″ block. Half inch measurements aren’t difficult, so you could also try a 22 1/2″ finished block. Here’s how the pieces would break down:
15″ block – squares in nine patch would finish at 1″, HSTs would finish at 3″
22 1/2″ block (15 x 1.5) – squares in nine patch would finish at 1 1/2″, HSTs would finish at 4 1/2″
30″ block – squares in nine patch would finish at 2″, HSTs would finish at 6″

You could even turn this into a lap quilt made of one big block that is 60″ square.


Once you’ve determined the grid, you need to figure out what components make up the block. Sometimes it’s obvious, as in the Goose in the Pond. Some HSTs, a few Nine Patches, some Rail Fences and plain squares – easy peasy. Sometimes the fabric or color placement means you need to look a little closer. Take this block, called the Capital T:

At first glance, the aqua fabric at the center stands out, and then you see the T shapes at each corner. If you ignore the fabric and just look at the lines, it becomes more obvious:

See the components? How about now?

When you look at it without the colors interfering, you can see the block is comprised of HSTs, Flying Geese and a plain square – all very basic components.


Let’s continue with the Capital T block. It’s a 3 Grid, so it’s best to create the block in a finished size that is divisible by 3. For the sake of continuity, let’s make a 12″ finished block. If the block finishes at 12″, then each square of the grid would finish at 4″ (12″ divided by 3 across or down equals 4″). There are nine squares in the grid:
1 square
4 HSTs
4 Flying Geese sets

We’ll start with the square, since it’s so easy. The square finishes at 4″, but you need to add 1/4″ seam allowance on each side, so you’ll cut the square at 4 1/2″. Remember, a finished block is always 1/2″ smaller than the unfinished (not sewn into a quilt) block, a finished component is always 1/2″ smaller than a component that has not been sewn into a block, and a finished square is always 1/2″ smaller than a cut square.

Next, you’ll need four HSTs. They also finish at 4″, so refer back to the HST Skill Builder posts (mine and Jeanne’s) and follow the instructions for your favorite method of constructing half square triangles that finish at 4″.

Finally, you have four Flying Geese sets. Notice I said “sets” – there are actually eight Flying Geese. You know they finish at 4″ wide, because that’s what the grid has determined. Two Flying Geese are 4″ high, so each Flying Geese unit finishes at 4″ x 2″. Refer to the Flying Geese posts (again, mine and Jeanne’s) and follow the instructions for your favorite method of constructing Flying Geese that finish at 4″ x 2″.

(I deliberately did not write out the details of how to construct these components – the skill you’re building in this post is the ability to break down a block and create it from components that you already know how to make.)

Once you’ve made all of your components, lay out the block. The Flying Geese units are still separate – go ahead and sew those together so you have four Flying Geese Sets. You now have nine component squares, exactly as a basic 3 Grid would have. Sew those units together just as you would a Nine Patch block, and you’re finished!

Identifying Blocks in a Quilt

When you see a block on its own, identifying the components within it is fairly easy. But when a block is used in a quilt without anything to separate it from the next block, it can be more challenging. Secondary patterns are wonderful, but they can blur the block. Also think about whether the quilt is a straight setting or on point. Sometimes just tilting your head sideways will make the block more obvious. Here are some examples:

EQ Monkey Wrench

Monkey Wrench or Snails Trail block:

Criss Cross 3

Mosaic #10 block – a little easier to see in this colorway:

Laura 10

And here’s the block:

Criss Cross block

Recognize this one?

Karen's Green Quilt

It’s the Friendly Hand block from above:

And finally:

The good ol’ Goose in the Pond, on point, using batiks:

For me, being able to break down quilts and blocks and recreate them opens up a whole world of possibilities. In fact, I almost never follow instructions when I make a quilt. I still purchase books and patterns sometimes, but I do it for the pictures, not the patterns. There are so many different techniques for creating the components, and too often the pattern instructions are for a method that I don’t like. Many patterns still use the traditional method of cutting squares the perfect size, cutting them diagonally, then piecing them together to make a HST. That just doesn’t work for me. By using the two squares method, or Triangle Papers, or strips, and usually making them larger then trimming to size, I create the same effect but in a way that is logical for me.

So does the deconstruction and reconstruction of blocks and quilts make sense to you? Do you have any questions or suggestions?


PM/GC Quilts Skill Builder Series: Part 9 – Diamond in Square

Welcome back for the latest Skill Builder Series post! Today I’m writing about the Diamond in Square component, which is also known as the Square in a Square. Be sure to check out Jeanne’s post over on Grey Cat Quilts about the Fifty-Four Forty or Fight block which features 60 degree triangles.

As with most of our posts, that are several different ways to create a DinS component. The traditional method isn’t difficult to sew, but determining the correct dimensions is a pain in the patoot. If you don’t know the necessary measurements (as in, you’re not working from a pattern) and want to skip the math, your best option is Method 2.

Method 1 – Traditional

The traditional method for creating a DinS consists of cutting a center square and two small squares that are cut once diagonally to create the outer triangles. Remember in the Flying Geese post where I talked about cutting squares diagonally once, in half, compared to cutting them diagonally twice, in quarters? Which you used depends on which edges will be exposed when the block is sewn together. The same is true here. If you cut a square in quarters and then sewed them to the center square, the bias edges would be on the outside of the unit. By cutting two squares in half, the bias edges are sewn to the square and the outer edges stay strong.

Before I get into the math, let’s just go through the assembly method. The center square must be cut to the correct size, but you can cut your outer triangles slightly larger and then trim. You still need to sew fairly accurate scant 1/4″ seams, but you don’t have to measure to 7/8″ and you can correct slight errors in sewing when you trim. Here I rounded up for the corner squares so I can show how to trim.

Note: If you want to cut to the exact measurements, you can try using a special ruler called Judy Martin’s Ultimate Point Trimmer. It helps you trim the points off before putting the triangles on the square, which in turn helps you align the pieces more accurately. I have it, and I’ve used it two or three times. I just have trouble remembering which way to line it up for the different kinds of triangles. Personally, I’d rather cut big and trim. (I know, I know – you’ve heard that a few times before!)

Cut a center 3 1/2″ square, and two 3 1/2″ squares of the outer fabric. Cut the outer squares in half once diagonally.

Fold the center square in half and press lightly to crease. Turn and fold the other way, pressing lightly again.

Place the first triangle right sides together with the square. Line up the edges and make sure the point of the triangle is on the crease you just created.

Sew using a scant 1/4″ seam. Press and repeat with the opposite triangle.

Repeat with the other two triangles, pressing and lining up with the edge and crease each time.

When you sew these sides on, the triangles form a point that indicates where your 1/4″ seam should be. The needle should line up in this notch.

Repeat with the last side.

Almost done! You can see that the block is larger than it should be – notice how the space from the point of the diamond to the edge of the block is larger than 1/4″?

Trim to exactly 1/4″ past the point on each side. Be careful to keep your ruler straight on the block when trimming or you’ll end up with a crooked block.

Note how the 1/4″ line matches up with the point on the left and on the top, and the horizontal line is the same distance below the point all the way across. You can also cut one side at a time, lining up a horizontal mark on the ruler with opposite points and trimming to 1/4″, then turning and repeating on each side.

Repeat so all four sides have been trimmed.

And there’s your Diamond in a Square!

Traditionally pieced DinS units require annoyingly fiddly math. For those who’d rather skip all of the math bits, here’s a chart. The Finished Block column is the size it will be when sewn into the quilt. The Center and Corner Square measurements are the sizes you CUT the squares. These numbers are rounded to the nearest 1/8″.

Finished Block Center Square Corner Squares
3 2 5/8 2 3/8
3 1/2 3 2 5/8
4 3 3/8 2 7/8
4 1/2 3 5/8 3 1/8
5 4 3 3/8
5 1/2 4 3/8 3 5/8
6 4 3/4 3 7/8
6 1/2 5 1/8 4 1/8
7 5 1/2 4 3/8
7 1/2 5 3/4 4 5/8
8 6 1/8 4 7/8
8 1/2 6 1/2 5 1/8
9 6 7/8 5 3/8
9 1/2 7 1/4 5 5/8
10 7 5/8 5 7/8
10 1/2 7 7/8 6 1/8
11 8 1/4 6 3/8
11 1/2 8 5/8 6 5/8
12 9 6 7/8

Now for the math! (If you’re not interested, just skip to Method 2. I promise, it’s much easier!)

Here’s the formula when you know the size of the center square and need to calculate the corner squares:

Center square / 1.414, rounded up to the nearest 1/8 inch, + 7/8 inch (.875) = size of the outer squares.
For example, let’s say the center square is 3 1/2″.
3.5 / 1.414 = 2.475 rounded up to 2.5 + .875 = 3.375 (or 3 3/8″)

Blech. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to get around this. Believe me, I tried. That’s why this post has taken so long! The best suggestion I have if you’re going to use this method is to round up for the corner squares. In this example above, I rounded up to 3 1/2″. (Don’t let the fact that the center square and outer squares are the same size trick you into thinking this is always the case. For a 9″ center square you need 6 7/8″ outer squares.) This calculation also comes in handy when you’re cutting setting triangles.

Here’s the next problem: the math is backward. It tells you how to cut the triangles when you know the size of your center square. But most blocks are created at a specific size, so you need to know the measurements from the block in, not the center out.  If you knew the size of the center square, you’d be able to calculate the outer squares for cutting the triangles. But how do you figure that? Well, it’s that same “magic” number: 1.414.  This time the math is even more fiddly.  First, you need to start with the “finished” sizes of the pieces. For example, say you want to make a DinS that finishes at 12″. That means the block will be 12 1/2″ before you sew it into a quilt. Next, divide that finished size (12″) by 2. This gives you the finished length of the short sides of the triangles (in this case, 6″.) Next, you MULTIPLY by the magic number, 1.414. This tells you the approximate length of the long side of the triangles, which is the same as the measurement of the center square. In this case, that would be 8.484. That’s the finished size, so you need to add 1/2″ seam allowance for a total of 8.984. Round to 9″.  Here’s the short version of how to calculate the size of the center square:

Finished block size / 2 x 1.414  = Finished center square + .5 = Cut center square

Got all that? Good. Let’s move on to something easier.

Method 2 – Squares

This is the simplest method for creating the DinS component. You use only squares, so there’s no bias edge to worry about, and the measurements are pretty easy to calculate. It’s greatest drawback is that it wastes some fabric, but, as with the Flying Geese unit, you have the option of sewing a second seam and saving the HSTs created with the waste.

Measurements are based on your finished block size (not including seam allowances). Start with your center fabric. Cut a square that is 1/2″ larger than your finished block size. For example, if your finished block will be 6″, cut the center square at 6 1/2″.

Next cut four squares for the corners. The squares should measure half the finished block size plus 1/2″. So if you finished block is 6″, your squares should be cut at 3 1/2″ (half of 6 is 3, plus 1/2″ is 3 1/2″).

Draw a diagonal line from corner to corner on the wrong side of each of the small squares. If you use a seam guide on you machine, you may not need to draw the lines – just line up the point with the needle line and sew, keeping the point on the seam guide line.

If you want to reclaim your waste fabric, sew a second line 1/2″ outside first line. (Draw this line, too.) With smaller blocks you often don’t have enough excess fabric in the corners to create HSTs. Sew the squares onto opposite corners first.

Trim the excess fabric, saving the HSTs if you sewed the second seam.

Press the triangles (pressing to the side or open makes little different when assembling these into blocks, so do whichever you prefer). Sew the next two squares in the same manner.

Trim the corners off, again saving the HSTs if you sewed the extra seams.

Press, and you have a Diamond in a Square!

As you can see, this method is great for special fabrics that you want to fussy cut, since the square doesn’t get turned on its point the way the first method does. You can fussy cut the other way, too, but this way is a little easier.

Method 3 – Square in a Square Ruler

If there’s a popular component in quilting, you can bet there’s a specialty ruler created to go with it – in this case it’s the Square in a Square Ruler by Jodi Barrows. As with most specialty rulers the additional cost of the ruler should be considered. This one is on the expensive side because it includes a book. I have the larger original ruler, but the “mini” ruler works the same way. There are certainly benefits – you work with squares and rectangles, never triangles, and you trim after sewing so it’s more accurate. It can be used to create other components such as HSTs and Flying Geese. However, there are also some drawbacks. There is unavoidable fabric waste, and unlike the squares method above, there is no way to recover the waste. It’s just scraps, usually too small to reuse. You end up with exposed bias edges that are prone to stretching. Finally, fiddly math is required to determine the size to cut the rectangles. Bottom line: It works, it’s a fun tool, but if you are able to create the component without it, do so. Since it’s a fairly specific ruler and most of you don’t have it, I haven’t included instructions on how to use it. If you’re interested, leave a comment. If there are enough people interested, I’ll demonstrate it in another post.

Method 4 – Foundation Piecing

I’m not going to go into great detail about this method because we haven’t covered foundation piecing (also called paper piecing) yet. Those posts are still down the road a ways, but if you are already familiar with foundation piecing, you can easily draw DinS foundations. The greatest advantage to foundation piecing this component is THERE IS NO MATH! Well, essentially no math. You need to know the finished size of the component, then draw it accordingly. But that’s just finding the halfway point on each side – folding the paper works as well as anything.

Using the DinS Components

The DinS component is different from many other block components in that you can keep adding to it as long as you can find fabric wide enough to create the triangles. Here it is with additional rounds of triangles.

A block with two rounds of triangles is called the Economy Patch, and is also used in the Storm at Sea block.

If you start with a four patch for your center square and continue adding rounds, you create the Monkey Wrench or Snails Trail block. Color placement is important to create the spiral effect.

Since you can create a Diamond in Square in any size, you can use a DinS as the center of a block…

…or even use pieced blocks as the center “square” and build one or more squares around them.

Whew! When I started this post I was going to make samples of the Snails Trail and Economy Patch, but I think I’m just going to post it with EQ7 illustrations. I’d like to post it before my next birthday!

Does anyone have any questions, or any suggestions for making the Diamond in Square component?

Fabric choices link

Jeanne and I will be adding two more Skill Builder Posts later this week (Diamond in Squares and 60 degree Triangles). I’m writing and sewing and photographing now, in fact. However, I wanted to share a link with you. Chrissy from Snappy Stitches just wrote a phenomenal post about color choices. She purchased a fat quarter bundle of Hullabaloo and felt that it needed something extra. In this post she explains how she divided the bundle into three groups and chose an additional solid to go with each. She includes photos of her evaluations and explains what she likes and what she doesn’t. It’s a great “hands on” example! It also illustrates something that I didn’t mention in the Skill Builder posts – value can be relative. The same fabric may appear dark in one group of fabric, medium in another group, and even light in a third group. It all depends on the fabrics it’s paired with.


Do solids make your heart go pitter pat?

Connecting Threads Clearance Solids

I’ve mentioned Connecting Threads’ fabric before and I just want to be clear – they have no idea who I am. I just love their fabric. Most of my Dear Jane fabrics are from there and they are my go-to source for solids. Reasons:

1. They’re often less expensive. They cost $4.96 a yard and unless I have a coupon, that’s more than I pay for comparable quality solids locally. If you spend $50 (contiguous US only), shipping is free. Even so, I watch for sales because I always like a deal.

2. The company has a strong commitment to ethical labor practices and works only with international manufacturers who meet their standards.

3. The fabric looks and feels wonderful! I haven’t yet had the opportunity to work with Moda’s Bella Solids, but I frequently use Kona Cotton. In comparison, Kona is heavier and thicker – qualities that I appreciate for some projects. Connecting Threads’ solids are a little lighter and silkier, and have a sheen that I find attractive. I like Connecting Threads better for smaller, more intricate piecing which is why I’m using it in the Dear Jane quilt.

4. Colors! Lots and lots of colors! While they do not come close to Kona’s range, they offer more than 50 different solids, primarily in clear, bright colors.

Here’s the thing: They’re having a sale. Thirty-three (33!!) solids (and several tone on tone mottled prints) are on clearance for just $2.96 a yard. I assume they’re re-vamping their colors, but whatever the reason I jumped on it.

Connecting Threads Clearance Solids

From left to right, the colors are:
Brick, Persimmon, Carrot, Apricot, Butter, Sprout, Kelly, Turquoise, Aqua, Teal, Cornflower, Cerulean, Bluebird, Persian Blue, Royal Purple, and Iris. In front are Sandstone (top) and Ash. You can click on the picture to see it on Flickr, where you can view it much larger.

Wackadoodle Quilters Wanted

Amy over at Domesticat is looking for adventurous quilters who are interested in beta testing some templates she’s creating. This is not an easy project – imagine a hexagon quilt with with different shapes that have to fit together in just the right combination. It would probably make a good hand piecing project since every seam is short. The finished product, however, is incredible. Seriously, blow your mind, INCREDIBLE. If you are – or want to be – a quilting rock star, go check it out: