TYSS: Fifty-Four Forty or Fight

The skill you are exercising in this block is the 60 degree triangle.

The sampler shows the block in the traditional three fabrics (two colors and the background). If you’re following the White & Bright layout, it is orange and blue.

Option 1: Tri Recs Tool

Jeanne at Grey Cat Quilts wrote a Skill Builder post for both the triangles and this exact block, so pop over there for all the details, including block instructions and measurements. Her instructions use the Tri-Recs tool to cut the triangle shapes. I agree with Jeanne – if you’re going to buy one specialty ruler, the Tri-Recs set is the one to go with. It makes this component much easier because it cuts off the points for you so everything lines up perfectly. If you don’t have a Tri-Recs ruler, you can foundation piece it. (You can also make your own templates, but we haven’t talked about templates yet so I’m not including that option here.)

Option 2: Foundation Piecing

If you’d like to foundation piece the triangle component, download this PDF (click on the image to download it) and check out the Skill Builder Posts 14A and 14B on foundation piecing.

Option 3: Regular Ruler

Another option is to cut the triangles using a regular ruler. Here’s a little secret, though – It isn’t actually a 60 degree angle. I know, I know, the Skill Builder is all about 60 degree angles, but in actual fact, the block uses a 63 degree angle, which means the 60 degree line on your ruler is useless. However, we know that the two bottom angles are the same, so we can find the center point and work from there. I added a little wiggle room to the side triangles, as always, so you can trim it to size.

From your background (center triangle) fabric, cut four squares that are 3 7/8″ square. Find the center point and mark it either on your fabric or on the cutting mat. If you mark it on the cutting mat, be careful not to shift the fabric as you’re cutting.

Cut from one bottom corner to the center point at the top of the square, then repeat with the other side.

From your star point (side triangles) fabric, cut four 2 1/2″ x 4 3/4″ rectangles. Place two rectangles wrong sides together before cutting your diagonal lines. This is important! If you do this, you’ll be able to cut both sides of the triangles at the same time. If you cut one rectangle at a time, you’ll need to cut two in one direction and two in the other direction.  Cut the rectangles corner to corner.

One pair of rectangles produces four triangles. Repeat with the second pair of rectangles.

Lay out your pieces – two small rectangles and one large rectangle.

Place the fabric pieces right sides together. As you can see, the white rectangle corners extend far beyond the edges of the center triangle. You don’t need to be so precise when sewing these because there is extra fabric that you can trim later. Just make sure the skinny point crosses the center triangle at least 1/4″ from the edge of the center triangle.

Sew 1/4″ from the edge, then press. Place the next small triangle, again making sure you have plenty of room on both sides. See the little point at the top that extends past the edge?

That comes in handy if you have a seam guide on your machine, because it help you maintain the 1/4″ seam. Sew and press.

Your section looks a little funny because of the excess (and probably crooked) star points, so trim it to size. It’s important to measure and cut accurately when you trim this!

You’ll trim the unit to 3 1/2″ square. Measure 3 1/2″ and keep the line on your ruler even with the bottom edge of the triangle. The point should be exactly 1/4″ from the top where you will cut. Trim the excess fabric (sorry for the backwards photo – remember, I’m left handed!).

Flip it around and trim the bottom edge, using your new straight edge at the top as a guide and measuring 3 1/2″. Probably you’ll just be cutting off the long points of the side triangles. Sorry, no photo!

To trim the sides, line up the center point at 1 3/4″ and keep the bottom edge of the center triangle even with a line on the ruler.

Repeat with the other side, making sure that you’re cutting it to 3 1/2″. The center point should still be at the 1 3/4″ mark.

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see that the 1/4″ mark on the ruler lines up with the point where the two fabrics meet at all three corners of the triangle. In the photo below of the finished, trimmed unit, look at the stitch marks around the edge of the unit. When sewn into a block, the triangle will go exactly to the corners.

So that’s the “60 Degree” Triangle Unit! In order to complete the Fifty-Four Forty or Fight block, you can follow Jeanne’s instructions in her Skill Builder post.

So, any questions?


A finish… and a start

I finally finished my Coin Toss quilt, which I think should be subtitled “Turning Point” because that finish seemed to reset my quilting mojo. I’ve been sewing! It’s wonderful!

Coin Toss is a bed quilt – too big, really, for my full size bed, but that hasn’t stopped me from using it. It’s six and a half feet wide and eight feet long (80″ x 96″, or 203cm x 244cm) and I love it. It was an incredibly easy quilt, perfect as a stash buster, and I finished the top in about three days. It sat on the quilting frame for 6 months. I finished quilting it on Christmas Day, and hand sewed the last of the binding at 12:50 am on New Year’s Day. Here are far too many photos:

Roll of Coins

Coin Toss quilt again

As soon as I hung it over the quilting frame, the cats headed into their fort…

The fort

…but Buttercup had to come out and look at the front.

Coin Toss quilt

As I quilted it, I wrote words that had special meaning to me. Here are a few:

Christmas 2011

Christmas 2011





















… I do wear white cotton socks and Birkenstocks…

As I was quilting, my aunt noticed I was writing things and asked me about it. I was making a pass from right to left at that point, and I told her I could write something backward. She laughed – and I wrote “backward” – backward. Mirror image.

Backward, backward

Backward, backward

Here’s the back of the quilt, where you can see “backward” forward.

Backward, forward

Backward, forward

And here’s the entire back of the quilt. Because if I have to piece the backing, I’m going to piece the backing.

Back of the Coin Toss quilt

As for the start, we pulled fabrics for the Birds in the Air quilt.

Fabrics for Birds in the Air

Mom is sewing the first of the 672 HST units.

Skill Builder Series: Part 14A – Foundation Piecing

Woohoo! It’s finally here! There are so many blocks that become easier with (or are just plain impossible without) foundation piecing. I call it foundation piecing, although it’s also called paper piecing because the most common foundation used is paper. I took a class with Jane Hall (one of the masters of foundation piecing) and she was very adamant about the word “foundation,” so it kind of stuck.

There are several different ways to foundation piece. Check out Jeanne’s post on foundation piecing with regular paper. If you decide that foundation piecing is your new favorite method, also check out a fantastic book called The Expert’s Guide to Foundation Piecing. It contains variations on foundation piecing from fourteen different quilters, all putting their own spin on the process.

Mini Kayaks String blocks

Foundation piecing comes in many forms. Any block where you sew fabric to a piece of paper or other fabric used as a stabilizer is foundation piecing. String quilts, crazy quilts and even some log cabins are foundation pieced. If you see an antique log cabin quilt with teeny tiny quarter-inch logs, it was foundation pieced. Many quilts were pieced to use up every scrap of fabric, and those scraps were often cut on the bias, or were so small that it was difficult to piece with them. By sewing the scraps to a foundation, you created stability and allowed smaller pieces to be used. Foundations can be used to create geometric designs, as in the Crossed Kayaks mini quilt above, or to create “pictures” as in the flower mini quilt below.

Spring Flowers

Paper is the most common foundation today, whether it’s regular copy paper, special foundation paper made to go through a printer, or leftover newsprint. If you can get your hands on unprinted newspaper paper (?!) I hear that’s fantastic for foundation piecing.

Another option, and my preference, is freezer paper. With regular paper you sew through the paper, which is more stabilizing but also means that you have to print, copy or draw a separate foundation for every block or component you make. With the freezer paper method, you fold the paper back and sew along the fold. Because you never sew the fabric directly onto the paper, you can peel off the foundation and use it again and again.

I first saw this method on an episode of Simply Quilts (a show that unfortunately is no longer airing on television). Judy Mathieson demonstrated a Mariner’s Compass block using this technique, and I immediately had to go try it. This was my first experience with foundation piecing, and it’s still my favorite.

Create Your Foundation

First you need to get your design onto your foundation. I use freezer paper sheets that are made to go through your inkjet (NOT laser because of the heat) printer, such as Quilter’s Freezer Paper Sheets from C&T Publishing or C. Jenkins Freezer Paper Sheets. You can find it at some quilt shops or JoAnn Fabrics, or you can buy it online. Sometimes the design is too big to fit onto 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, so I’ll draw it on regular freezer paper. For now, print it on regular paper and trace it onto regular freezer paper. If you like the method you can look into other options later.


Regardless of the foundation you use, most foundation piecing (except string or crazy quilts) requires you to first print, draw or copy the design onto the foundation. It is absolutely essential that you do this at the correct scale! If you print it from a PDF, make sure that the Page Scaling is set to None (it might default to Fit to Printer Margins – this is wrong). You’ll see this option in the Print window.

Some patterns have a 1″ test box right on the pattern. After printing or copying, measure this to be sure it’s still exactly one inch. Don’t skip measuring it. Trust me, you’ll regret it eventually.


Simple foundation pieced designs can be created with a single foundation, but sometimes you need to join multiple sections together to create the finished block. For example, this block can be made from one foundation:

Foundation T block

While this block requires two separate sections that are joined together later:

Foundation 2 Piece block

When I print the foundations from EQ7, it automatically numbers the segments so I know what order to add fabrics. There’s room for a little change on some blocks, but some must be done in the exact order shown. Here’s the first, single foundation block with numbering:

Foundation T block screenshot

Here’s the second, two-piece foundation with numbering:

Foundation 2 Piece block screenshot

Notice how this one has two separate sections, one numbered A1, A2, etc. and the other B1, B2, etc. (You may need to click it to view it larger.) Also, it shows the quarter inch seam allowance for the outer edges. You can see where you would cut the foundations apart for individual piecing.

By the way, these are screenshots, NOT accurate foundation patterns. You do not want to print the photos and try piecing them because scale and sizing may be off. If you want to try either of these, here are downloadable PDFs for 6″ blocks:

Foundation T Block PDF

Foundation 2 Piece Block PDF

They’re not “real” blocks, just things I sketched up quickly to illustrate the points. Although the second one does make kind of an interesting pattern when blocks are rotated:

Foundation 2 Piece layout

Freezer Paper Method

Once you’ve printed or traced your foundation onto freezer paper, trim the excess paper away. It’s okay to leave a little extra around the edges, but you don’t want a lot of paper getting in your way.

Next, crease the fold lines – the “sewing” lines. The best way is with a paper or rotary cutter with a scoring blade, which looks like a regular rotary blade but has a dull edge. An old pizza cutter would probably work. You can also use the edge of your acrylic ruler – place it flat with the edge along the line, pull the paper up along the edge, and use your fingernail to crease along the underside of the paper. Remove the ruler and fold it the rest of the way over, creasing to make it sharp. Having a sharp edge makes the fold crisper and more accurate.

1 Crease Foundation

Repeat with all of the fold lines (not the outside edge).

3 Foundation with Creases

Some people like to cut their fabrics into the approximate shapes they need, only slightly larger. Sometimes I do that, as in my Icicles quilt, but mostly I just grab a scrap and go. Choose your first piece of fabric and iron the freezer paper to the WRONG side of the fabric so it covers the entire section plus about 1/4″ all the way around. In the photo below, I’m placing fabric for the tumbler shaped piece in the center. (This method works best if you have an iron right next to your sewing machine so you don’t have to get up every time you sew a new piece on.)

3 First Piece

A strong light, a light box or a window are all helpful because you need to see both the lines on the paper and the fabric placement through the paper.

Some people prefer to trim after sewing the seam, but I like to do it before. Fold the paper back along the crease to reveal the excess fabric. Use a rotary cutter and ruler to trim 1/4″ beyond the edge of the paper.

4 Fold Back Trim Edge

You can also use scissors if you like – the seam line is determined by the foundation, so it doesn’t have to be a perfect 1/4″.

Place the second piece of fabric right sides together with the piece ironed to the foundation. If possible, line up the straight edge of the new fabric with the edge that you just trimmed. With the foundation still folded back, make sure the new fabric completely covers the area on the foundation. Here you can see green lines that show the edges of the new piece of fabric. There is a lot of extra space on the left, but the right side is very close to the line. There was just barely enough room – I should have moved the fabric to the right before sewing.

5 Check for Coverage

Sew along the edge of the foundation, as close as you can without perforating the paper.

6 Sew Along Edge of Paper

Flip the fabric and the paper back into place and check that the fabric covers the area. Do this BEFORE you iron it in place and trim it! The green arrows show the corners of the section – remember, you need 1/4″ extra fabric all the way around the section. I cut it very close.

7 Verify Coverage

Press to adhere the fabric to the freezer paper, fold back the next section, and repeat. Continue until the block is complete. It doesn’t look all that nice at first – there’s a lot of excess fabric.

8 Sewn

9 Cutting Lines

You can see the darker square around the outside of the block that indicates the sewing line, with a lighter cutting line 1/4″ outside of that. Use your rotary cutter and ruler to trim on the outer cutting lines. Be careful – it’s easy to accidentally cut on the wrong line! Also, since you’re cutting through paper, don’t use a cutter with a brand new blade if you can avoid it.

After you’ve trimmed it you can peel the freezer paper off and use it again!

11 Done and Reuse

If you’re doing a block with multiple pieces, leave the freezer paper on and fold back the 1/4″ seams, then use the paper as a guide when sewing the two pieces together.

So that’s freezer paper foundation piecing! Any questions? Do you have another way of doing it that you’d like to share?

If you’d like to practice a few different, but fairly basic, foundation pieced blocks, check out the series of heart blocks on my Patterns page. When you’re feeling really adventurous, try the cow! There’s also a short PDF of an earlier version a Freezer Paper Piecing tutorial.

Community quilting

Skill Builder post tomorrow, I promise!

In the meantime, this is the next project that Mom and I will be working on:

Birds in the Air

There’s a story behind this. It will almost certainly be a raffle prize in a fundraiser on behalf of my uncle, who is dealing with a rare form of cancer. He is a hunter who trains bird dogs, and is active in the local bird hunting community. Hunting friends approached him about doing a fundraiser hunt and he suggested that they raise money for a local cancer support organization instead, since he didn’t need the financial assistance. Mom and I volunteered to make a quilt for the raffle that will be part of the event, and this is what I came up with.

I knew from the beginning I was going to use the Birds in the Air block. What else could I use? I also wanted to use the Barn Raising setting, which is the diamonds formed by the gold blocks. A Barn Raising is a traditional event where a community comes together to build (or “raise”) a barn for one of its members. Community coming together to help? Most definitely. The Barn Raising portion is a little off center because, well, so is my uncle. The gold color represents the fields where they hunt. The blue section is the dogs and hunters approaching the hunt area, and the green, red and gold in the corners are the birds flying away as they’re flushed.

This is a generous bed sized quilt, about 85″ x 97″ (220 cm x 250 cm). It’s made entirely of half square triangles – 2,240 of them, to be exact. The small triangle units finish at 2″, and the block is 6″. That is 672 half square triangle units, plus 672 small half square triangles, plus 224 large half square triangles. But who’s counting.

We’ll use Triangle Papers to construct the HST units, but the rest of the triangles will have to be cut and sewn individually. I’ll be honest – most likely Mom will be doing the majority of the sewing on this. She is retired and has the free time, and I’m still (happily) working on the Double Wedding Ring. I have a goal to finish it before the next Stitch & Bitch on February 11, just two weeks away. The Birds in the Air quilt needs to be finished by early March, so we have some time.

I have to say one more time how much I love EQ7. As I mentioned, I knew it was going to be a Birds in the Air block, and I had the Barn Raising setting in mind. I started rotating blocks in EQ7, building the diamonds, and when I got through the fourth ring I thought, “I kind of like the way it looks with some of the blocks unrotated.” I looked at the space at the bottom left and wondered what other patterns would happen if I rotated blocks differently. After just a few minutes of playing around, the squares developed. I built a sort of fence around that section to define it further, then started playing with colors. All in all, even including changing the colors in each individual block (two clicks per block – one for the black prints, one for the color), it took me less than 30 minutes start to finish to design the quilt. I attribute the design partly to serendipity, partly to the pure dumb luck that I was able to recognize an interesting pattern when it appeared in front of me, and partly to the ease with which you can change things in EQ7.

A Grown Up Kind of Pretty

It’s that time again, time to tell everyone about the release of my favorite author’s latest book. I think Joshilyn Jackson is the only author I’ve ever written about on this blog, other than quilting book authors.

Seriously, go get this book. (Click on the image above to read about it.) It’s available for Kindle for just $12.99, or you can do like I did and order an autographed copy AND buy the Kindle version. Because I want to read it NOW and I want a hardcover to add to the collection on the shelf.

Piecing pinless curves

I played a bit tonight to see if I could create a video of how I piece curves without pins. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of other videos out there, but I did it anyway. It was quite entertaining, and I’m pleased with the result (except for how I sound – I don’t lisp. Not that there’s anything wrong with having a lisp, but something went funky with the sound on this and my S’s sound thtrange.) Here’s the video:

So the funny part is, I managed this all by myself. Think about it – how do you hold a camera to record a video, and use both hands for the demonstration? Answer: You find the last remaining wire coat hanger in the house and bend it into an odd shape that both fits over your head so it hangs around your neck AND holds the camera in exactly the right position. Well, I’m nothing if not resourceful. I also created a YouTube account and uploaded a video for the first time. Isn’t that… thpecial?

Forward momentum

I have four half-written posts waiting to be finished and posted. One is a Skill Builder, which will be posted by next weekend (Foundation Piecing). Another is a Test Your Skills Sampler block, which will be posted shortly after the Foundation Piecing Skill Builder because I wanted to offer foundation piecing as an alternate method for that block. Two are about projects I’ve completed (!!).

Instead, I offer this photo:

Double Wedding Ring on design wall

Yes, I started working on the Double Wedding Ring again. I finally figured out what works for me for curved piecing, and since – FOR ME – it is completely pin-less, I made a lot of progress this weekend. I have to make 16 more footballs, which will take about an hour. The top row is completely assembled and the second row is mostly assembled, but needs to be attached to the top row. I got that far then decided I needed to lay it all out to be sure the distribution of fabrics looked good. I’m pretty happy with it so far. I’ve had a few “let it go” moments, and some seam intersections don’t line up as neatly as I’d like, but I’m trying to take a deep breath and move on.

I cut this using the Accuquilt Go Double Wedding Ring dies, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it’s very fast to cut and the little notches make it easy to line up the pieces. On the other, it just doesn’t go together well once you start assembling the footballs. Most (though not all) Double Wedding Ring templates have corner pieces with curved edges, but this one uses squares. I do a pretty good job with my quarter inch seams, and yet the footballs (aka melons) have, without exception, turned out either ruffly or with a puffy center. We also had trouble with one of the dies bending during the cutting process. It was replaced by the vendor, but the second die bent in the exact same place. I still think the AccuQuilt Go is a great tool for certain applications, but it’s far from perfect.

Anyway, I’m hoping to finish the top in the next couple of weeks. As long as the forward momentum continues, that’s a strong possibility.

I’ve also made very slight progress on the Dear Jane quilt. I completed three blocks – simple blocks, and they were cut out several months ago, but progress is progress.

Plain Jane blocks

In case you don’t remember, this is what it will eventually look like. (Whether it’s finished in my lifetime is another question.)

And for the gratuitous cat photo, here’s Buttercup sleeping on top of the entertainment center. When the fireplace is on, she goes to high ground and then melts into a boneless puddle. I couldn’t actually see anything but her ears because she’s so high up. I held the camera up and took several blind shots to get this:

Buttercup on the entertainment center