Thursday, October 31, 2013

Half-Square Triangles: Ruler Method vs. Traditional Method

My current project, Busy Blocks, uses half-square triangle blocks to turn would-be squares into octagons. If I were doing this on my own, I probably wouldn't venture too far from the pattern's instructions, but since I have Kathy showing me the ropes, she did a little calculating and put Creative Grid's Multi-Size 45-Degree/90-Degree Triangle Ruler in my hand. The name's a bit of a mouthful, but, to put it simply, it's a two-in-one ruler that makes cutting (and sewing) half-square and quarter-square triangles easier and more accurate than the traditional draw-stitch-twice-cut method.

To fully appreciate the ruler method, I had a quick lesson on the traditional way of making half-square triangles. In the past, quilters cut squares instead of triangles, placed two of 'em right sides together, drew a line from corner to corner, and stitched a 1/4" to both the right and left of the drawn line.

Popular but prone to a variety of issues, the traditional way of making half-square triangles almost made Kathy herself, a quilting veteran, throw in the towel early in her quilting career. "I almost gave up on this shape. I couldn't EVER get them to consistently come out square and the correct size," says Kathy. "Then I found this tool and my whole life changed—cue the dramatic music and the footage of a sky clearing after a storm— because I could EASILY make an accurate half-square triangle!"

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If you'd rather watch than read, Kathy explains the pros and cons of both methods of making half-square triangles in this oh-so-handy YouTube video. I've referenced it a couple times since my latest lesson and it's a FANTASTIC resource:

To summarize, there are A LOT of ways to go wrong with the traditional method:
  1. First off, what's with the 1/8-inch measurements??! As a newbie, cutting is stressful enough without worrying about increments that are the width of my mouse pointer. 
  2. Even though I'm totally a pen person, Kathy has a point about dull pencils messing with measurements. As it dulls, your 1/4-inch stitching becomes more and more off as your pencil line gets fatter and fatter. However, it seems like mechanical pencils could fix this problem—in theory—if you're diligent about breaking off the tip of lead when it shows any signs of widening or dulling. (I didn't run that by Kathy, but I'll add it to my things-to-try list of quilt to-dos.)
  3. Unfortunately, the beloved Identi-pen marker isn't here to save the day this time. Thin markers easily catch on the fabric, making  it difficult to draw accurate line.
  4. To quote Kathy, it's "mind-numbingly boring to draw accurate lines over and over and over and over again!".  Sure, it's less of a problem if you're making four half-square triangles; but it becomes a HUGE issue when you're making a queen-sized quilt with an unearthly 200 half-square triangles or whatever. 
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With the half-square triangle tool, it's simple "quilt math"—add a 1/2-inch seam allowance (1/4-inch for both sides) to the finished size of the block. Expecting a catch? There's not one!

With one roll of the rotary cutter, half of the block is cut and ready to be paired up.

Continue down the strip, flipping the ruler and lining it up to the fabric before making quick and easy cuts.

In no time at all, I had four neat piles of half-square triangles, ready to be paired up and sewn!

Since Kathy changed up the directions, I had a little calculating to do to figure out just how many pairs I needed. It was ten minutes of work wasted, because I quickly abandoned my list and opted to just do it by sight, sewing together pairs to complete my design wall from the top down

Sewing just three pairs together made the quilt start to "appear"! I'm not gonna lie—it was pretty damn exciting to go from fabric squares clinging to batting to an "actual" quilt-in-progress on a design wall. 

I feel a sewing binge coming on!


Sunday, October 6, 2013

No Time to Sew ):

Apologies! Between adding new inventory to the online shop and trying (read: failing) to sleep train E, I haven't been able to devote much time to sewing. I'm hoping this shot of my little helper photobombing my makeshift photoshoot this afternoon will help make up for the lack of posts. c:

Copyright 2013 | See Teri Sew

I'm determined to figure out the half-square triangle ruler this week, so stay tuned!


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Busy Blocks: Beginner Cutting Tips

Soooo who thought sewing would be easier than cutting? *raises hand and looks around* Just me? Well, that figures. I find myself almost sweaty-nervous (sorry for the overshare) every time I even think about the next time I have to break out my rotary cutter. My hesitation stems from the idea that cutting is first step that has the potential to really screw you up. Yes, fabric selection is crazy-important, but that doesn't affect the more technical parts of quilting like matching seams and not "cutting off" (with a sewing machine) the points of every half-square triangle block (try as I might).

Sensing my nerves, Kathy assured me that this quilt and all of my future ones can "absorb a million small different errors." Taking her far too literally, I felt a sense of panic wash over me—if I'm freaking out about this one issue, how many millions am I ignoring?! I snapped back to reality when Kathy told me to focus on what'll absolutely drive me crazy. (Who guessed "Everything" was my reply? You know me too well.) Focus, she told me, on "perfecting" those things and take a proverbial chill pill instead of worrying about every detail. As long as the same error isn't made over and over and over again, the quilt will look perfectly fine. Here are a few other top tips from Kathy on cutting:

  • "Having the top of the ruler move a little each time a strip is cut is a really common error that has to be protected against. That's one big reason I love the anti-skid circles on Creative Grids' rulers, but it can still happen if you're not careful."
  • "Lots of beginners get overwhelmed when they have a large chunk of fabric. Just concentrate on what fits on the mat and then readjust when you've cut to end of the mat."
  • "Keep cutting, cutting, cutting! It WILL get easier and easier. Beginners are normally afraid to cut, but, with practice, I promise it will get easier."
  • "Strips are always cut on the width of fabric unless you're instructed to cut lengthwise. Patterns always make a big deal out of cutting lengthwise, so don't be scared of missing this step. Double check yourself early on by making sure the strips have selvage at the top and the bottom."

For Busy Blocks, cutting wise, I had it pretty easy (Kathy's words, not mine). After she altered the instructions a bit to include the half-square/quarter-square triangle ruler, she gave me a rundown on understanding the cutting instructions. All but a few pattern designers base their cutting charts on fabric being 40 inches wide (enough though high-quality, 100% cotton quilting fabric is typically 44/45 inches) to account for wiggle room. With that in mind, she gave me a quick rundown on squares. If, for example, a pattern wants us to cut two 5-inch strips (with the intent of squares being cut from said strips), you can get eight squares (40-inch wide fabric ÷ 5-inch squares) out of each strip for a total of sixteen squares (eight 5-inch squares × two strips). Yeesh, that's a lot of numbers. As a visual learner, I think this explains it a bit more clearly:

How to figure out the number of strips needed for squares | See Teri Sew

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After my lesson, I got to work. Over the course of two days, I managed to cut out all of my squares and develop a major backache. (No one warned me about quilting requiring stretching!) Now, even though I forgot to photograph this joyous occasion, I did, at least, think to snap a photo when I was halfway done.

The squares are destined to be the outside of the hexagons and the long bits of folded fabric will be the block centers.

Next up is tackling half-square triangles! Since I also record and edit all of The QP's YouTube videos, I have a general idea how to use the HST ruler. If you need a refresher—I know I will after my next class—watch our tutorial on making half-square triangles both the traditional way and with a handy ruler.