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!


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