60-Degrees of Separation

What does this:

And this:

And these:

Have to do with this?

Hang with me on this blog and I’ll explain.  When we think about quilt blocks, generally we think about squares.  When we talk about units within those blocks, we also tend to think about squares, but add in half-square triangles, rectangles, and triangles (you know… the big triangle in a flying geese unit).  But there other types of block units.  When we constructed the Lemoyne Star block a few blogs ago, we were working with diamonds.  I taught you how to sew the units together, but threw out two different ways of cutting out the diamonds:  rotary cutting or templates.  Templates are wonderful things to have, and if you find yourself repeatedly cutting out the same non-square block unit, you may want to invest in a good set.  I make too many types of blocks to justify the investment.  I can count on one had the times I’ve made a Hunter’s Star or Lemoyne Star quilt and have fingers left over.  So, I learned how to cut the units out with a rotary cutter. 

At this point, let me drop in a little personal quilting philosophy:

I don’t – for the most part – buy specialty rulers. 

Quite frankly, I consider them a waste of money.  Unless it’s a specialty ruler I use nearly every day, such as Eleanor Burns Square Up Triangle Ruler or Creative Grids 60/90 ruler, I don’t purchase them.  The two I mentioned I feel are worth every red cent because I use them all the time.  I’ve gotten my money’s worth several times over out of each.  Specialty rulers, as a whole, are rulers geared for one purpose and one purpose only.  There are rulers out there specifically for the Lemoyne Star.  And for the Hunter’s Star.  But you know the only thing you can make with each?  A Lemoyne Star or a Hunter’s Star.  See why I consider them a waste of money?  Unless every other quilt you’re making is one of those designs, chances are good those rulers will sit in your studio and gather dust. 

I would much rather take the time to teach you how to use what you already have.  Chances are, even if your quilting supplies are limited, you have a ruler with these lines:

Or a cutting mat with these lines. 

If you have one or both, you’re golden.  You can cut angles all day long, and they’ll be accurate and beautiful.  But first, let’s go back to geometry class.

In geometry, we study angles.  And from this study of angles, we begin to understand triangles.  Tri- comes from Greek and Latin roots meaning “three.”  So, the word triangle literally means three angles.  In quilting, generally we use 60-, 90-, and 45-degree angles. There are some exceptions, but since in this blog we’re only working with diamonds and triangles, we’ll stick with these three angles.  Two of these angles you’ve already worked with – the 90-degree angle and the 45-degree angle.  Don’t believe me? 

This is a 90-degree angle.

This is a 45-degree angle.

Know what block unit has both of these?

That’s right, a half-square triangle.  You know how to cut these and you know how to draw these.  We will work a little more with those 45-degree angles in a bit, but for right now let’s move on to that 60-degree angle, which looks like this:

Wedged in between the completely vertical line on your ruler (the 90-degree angle), and the 45-degree angle, is the 60-degree angle. You’re probably wondering where these particular angles show up in quilts.  Take a look at this one:

This quilt is called A Thousand Pyramids or Sugarloaf.  Every triangle in this quilt is an equilateral triangle – a triangle in which all the sides measure exactly the same.  An equilateral triangle is also equiangular, meaning that all three of the inside angles have the same angle measurement, which for these triangles means 60-degrees.  There are specialty rulers which will allow you to cut these triangles out.  I inherited one from a friend who had to stop quilting due to some health issues.  This is the ruler, and here’s how you use it:

Cut a strip of fabric the height needed for the triangle the pattern requires.  With this example, we’re using 6-inch wide fabric.  Put the ruler on the fabric strip, using the markings on the ruler to make sure you have the right size.  In this instance, we’re making 6-inch tall triangles.  I want to make sure that six-inch mark on the base (lower part of the triangle) rests on the edge of the fabric. 

Then I use my rotary cutter and cut around the sides of the triangle.  Once I’ve cut out this triangle, I rotate it, matching the newly cut fabric edge with the edge of the ruler and cut the next triangle out with only one cut. 


If, at this point, you’re wondering about seam allowances, most specialty triangle rulers already have that built into them.  In other words, the 6-inch triangle I just cut out exactly on the six-inch markings on the ruler already has the ¼-inch seam allowances already built into the ruler. 

Truthfully, if you find yourself making a lot of equilateral triangles, you may want to invest in this ruler.  If I hadn’t received one as a gift, I most likely would have purchased one when I found it on sale or had a coupon.  One word of caution here, unless the ruler is from Creative Grids, some ruler grippers or Ruler Magic applied to the wrong side of the ruler is a good idea – it’s easy for the ruler to slip.  Creative Grid rulers have grippers built in them.

However, if you find yourself making 60-degree triangles only rarely, you may want to opt out of the specialty ruler purchase and learn how to use your rotary mat or ruler.  If I’m using this option, after I find the 60-degree line on my ruler, I mark it with a piece of masking tape or painter’s tape. 

This may sound silly, but if you look closely at any ruler you’re using, there are a several diagonal lines marked on them.  It’s easy to use the wrong line (ask me how I know…) and really mess up your cutting.  That visual indicator is a huge help, especially if you’re cutting late at night. 

Seriously.  Use the tape. 

The first step is cut your fabric strip the same width as the desired triangle.  Then cut off the selvages.  Fold the fabric in half, with the selvages to the left and the fold to your right.

Then line the 60-degree mark up with the bottom edge of your fabric and the left-hand side of the ruler should line up with the top of your fabric strip.  Now make the first cut with your rotary cutter.  

 At this point, move the scrap out of the way.  If you think you can use it somewhere in your quilt, lay it aside.  If you don’t, just file it away in the circular file (trashcan). 

Now turn your ruler so the 60-degree line is against the cut edge.  Make the next cut.  Continue this way until, turning your ruler, until you’ve cut all the triangles you can out of the strip of fabric. 

Using the angled lines on your cutting mat is similar, but in all honesty, this is my least favorite way of cutting out equilateral triangles.  You’ll see why in a minute.  The process begins the same – cut your strips of fabric the same width as the triangles needed.  Cut the selvages off and fold the fabric in half with the cut ends to your left and the fold to your right. 

Line the strip of fabric up with the 60-degree line and the corner of your cutting mat.

Make your first cut.

Then flip your fabric over.  Line the edge of the fabric up with the corner and the 60-degree mark and cut again.  This will give you your first set of triangles.  The issue I have with this method is the fabric flipping.  It’s easy to get the fabric uneven and then the triangles will come out wonky.  To me, it’s a whole lot easier simply to flip the ruler. 

I will also throw this in here:  If you have an Accuquilt cutter, Sizzix  or a ScanNCut, those can cut equilateral triangles out, too.  I know the Accuquilt has to have a die to make the cuts, and the ScanNCut has several triangles already programmed into it – you just adjust the size.  So, if you have one of these gadgets and you don’t care for any type of ruler cutting, this may be your ticket. 

Sewing these triangles together isn’t hard at all, but like a lot of things in quilting, there are few handy-dandy hacks that can make it so much easier.  This is how I do it and what works for me, but there are other methods out there.  If this technique doesn’t work for you, try others until you find a good fit. 

Step One – I lay my triangles out.  You will notice I cut the tops off of mine.  Many specialty rulers have the blunt top, so while your rotary cutting, you can just cut the tops of the triangles off.  If you’re not using a specialty ruler, simply measure down ¼-inch from the top of the triangle and cut.  This blunt end makes piecing easier and reduces bulk – which is always a good thing.  If the end is not blunted, you have to make sure the tip of the triangle hangs off ¼-inch from the triangle beneath it so everything lines up and comes out even when it’s sewn.  Just trust me…blunt the top of the triangle. 

Step Two – Alignment is the key to success.  Make sure the triangles are exactly on top of each other and the edges are even.  Sew a ¼-inch seam and press open.  Check to make sure your seam allowances are exact.  I realize that this sounds really exacting, but with these triangles, accuracy is everything.  It’s far better to realize any errors here and correct them.  If you wait until you get to the end of a row of triangles and things are off, it’s difficult to rip out stitches and keep the bias from stretching.  And if the bias makes you nervous, just remember to hit it with a shot of spray starch and a hot iron before sewing. 

Step Three – Repeat the steps in pairs.  If you have an odd number of triangles, leave one triangle solo. 

Step Four – Now we’ll sew two sets together.  Flip the right set over the left set.  Align the point of the third triangle with the dog ear created from sewing the first set together. Align the top right corner point of the second triangle with the dog ear created from sewing the second set together.  Sew, using a ¼-inch seam and press the seam open.  Check for accuracy.  Add the last triangle using the same method, and then repeat for the other row of triangles.

Step Five – Now we’ll sew two rows together. Like the Flying Geese Units, you want ¼-inch of margin from the tips of the triangles.  This will keep the points from being lopped off.  So, before you start pinning and sewing, look at both rows to make sure each triangle tip has at least ¼-inch margin.  Then pin the rows, right sides together, placing a pin exactly where the tips meet.  I find it easiest to place a pin through the triangle tip on one row and then bring the other row up to meet the first row and push the pin through the corresponding tip.  This way, both tips will meet perfectly.  Repeat this for all the tips, then sew the two rows together with a ¼-inch seam allowance.

Press the seam open on the back.

Now that we’ve mastered the 60-degree triangle, let’s take a look at more 45-degree angles.  Typically, when a quilter works with 45-degree angles, we’re dealing with triangles.  But remember those diamonds we sewed together on the Lemoyne Star block?  Those diamonds have 45-degree angles.  And again, if you find yourself making a lot of 45-degree diamonds, you may want to invest in a good set of templates.  But if you’re like me and those are only once-in-awhile projects, it’s just as easy to use the diagonal markings on your ruler or mat to make them.  We’re going over the steps to making successful 45-degree diamonds, but sometimes quilt patterns will call for 30-degree diamonds or 60-degree diamonds. It’s good to know that no matter what degree the pattern calls for the method used for cutting these out is the same no matter what the angle.  So, let’s get started. 

Step One – First determine how big your diamond needs to be.  For the sake of illustration, we’re working with 3-inch finished diamonds.  Unlike templates that will have the seam allowance built in, we need to add the seam allowance to the finished patch if we’re using a ruler and mat.  We need to add a ½-inch seam allowance to the 3-inch finished patch, making the unfinished diamond measure 3 ½-inches.  This means we need to cut a strip of fabric 3 ½-inches wide on the WOF. 


Step Two – I mark the 45-degree angle with a piece of masking tape or painter’s tape, just like I did when I was constructing the equilateral triangles.  Then I place the tape at the bottom of the strip of fabric and make my first cut.  This piece of fabric can be discarded unless you have plans for it.  But with that first cut, we’ve established the first angle of the diamond.  From the tip of the angle, measure down 3 ½-inches, and line the edge of the ruler with that measurement, keeping the 45-degree taped mark at the bottom of the strip of fabric.  Make the second cut, and you’ve got your first diamond.  Repeat until you’ve cut all your diamonds out. 


You use this process whether you’re making 45-, 60-, or 30-degree diamonds. 

We looked at how to join the diamonds in a Lemoyne Block, where the edges of the diamond are joined to other triangles or squares.   But let’s look at something like this:

Isn’t it lovely?  It’s a harlequin design and it’s perfectly beautiful.  So how do you sew the edges together?  I’ll explain it and then I’ll introduce you to one of the few specialty rulers I own – which can be used for more than just 45-degree (or any other the other degree) diamonds. 

Like the 60-degree triangles, the first thing I do is lay my diamonds out.  And at this point, let me throw in the standard disclaimers.  There is bias.  Handle it carefully.  Give it a shot of starch and press it with a hot iron before sewing.  Now let’s flip the diamonds, so that the right sides of the fabric are facing each other.  There is a trick to making them line up correctly so that they sew together perfectly.  You would think with all the straight edges and corners, you’d just line everything up and sew. However, if you do that, the seams will not line up in the front.

Instead, lay the diamonds out so one end of the pieces overhangs the other by ¼-inch.  You’ll need to see “dog ears” at the bottom and at the top. Once you have those, you can sew them together with  ¼-inch seam allowance and they’ll look perfect.

Here’s where I want to introduce one of the few specialty rulers I use.  It really isn’t a ruler, so much as it is a tool.  And it’s this:

Fons’ and Porter’s Triangle Trimmer.  Remember in the earlier part of the blog when we were working with 60-degree triangles and I told you to blunt the tips, so they piece together easier?  This is the tool I use to cut the tips off the triangles.  They’re super-easy to use.  Place the diagonal edge of the ruler along the diagonal edge of the diamonds and push it until the trimmer’s cut away corner is touching the two adjoining edges of fabric.  Then trim away the triangle ear that’s still visible.

Your diamonds will now have blunted ends and are super easy to sew  together.  Match the points and edges and carefully sew with an ¼-inch seam allowance.  You don’t have to worry about the ¼-inch overhang.

Once you’ve joined the diamonds together, now you have to sew the rows together.  And once again, you need to work with an overhang.  If you line the corners and edges up evenly, when you sew the rows together, the seams won’t match up.  I use a method similar to the one I used with the 60-degree triangles.

Working with one of the rows, push a seam through one of the seams in the diamond.  Pick up the second row and push that same pin through the corresponding seam in that second row.  Continue to match seams this way, pinning through one seam and then the corresponding seam of the second row.  When all the seams are pinned, I go back and add a few more pins to make sure everything matches.

Then I baste.  I lengthen my stitch length to about 3 on Big Red and baste the two rows together.  I do this for two reasons.  First, once I baste the rows together, I can open the piece out and make sure my seams match up – which is really the primary goal in sewing diamonds in rows.  Second, if the rows don’t match up, and adjustments have to be made, basting stitches are a lot easier on the bias to remove.  Once everything lines up nicely, sew using a regular stitch length, and then remove the basting stitches.  If the basting stitches don’t show, you may opt to leave them in, just to avoid handling the bias anymore than you have to. 

One more design option I want to throw in here before we leave triangles and diamonds behind us, and that is the strip of fabric you cut them out of.  In this blog, I’ve just mentioned the width the strip of fabric should be.  But you can make that strip out of other pieces of fabric.  You can join strips of fabric together to create the strip size you need.  This is a terrific way to pull all your colors together.  I’m thinking particularly of jelly roll strips.  The sky is literally the limit with this design choice.

Always think out-of-the-box as much as you can.  And don’t be afraid of triangles or diamonds.  They’re simply another patch and another tool you can stow away in your quilting toolbox to pull out and dazzle your quilts.  Handle the bias carefully and remember to match tips and seams as your constructing your rows. 

Until next week, level up your quilting!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

2 replies on “60-Degrees of Separation”

As always, such great information! Thanks for sharing. And Sam couldn’t be any cuter.

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