Simplifying Difficult Quilt Blocks

See this block?

Dear Jane H2

This is a block from the Dear Jane Quilt (if you don’t know what that is go here  Admittedly Dear Jane is not a beginner quilt.  While there are some pretty simple blocks in the quilt (thank goodness), most of the blocks are challenging.  And then there are few like the one above that are just plain hard.  In the traditional Dear Jane blocks, the unfinished size is 4 ½-inches, which complicates the construction process even more – small blocks, small seams, small workspace.

In short, this block was my nemesis.  There may have been a sizeable contribution to the family swear jar due to this block.  I worked and re-worked the block at least four times before I was satisfied with the results.  When I began Dear Jane, I wasn’t a novice quilter.  At this point, I had quilted almost 25 years.  And while I readily admit I didn’t quilt as much then as I do now, I had serious needle-and-thread experience under my belt. 

So, the entire process got me thinking…there are a lot of lovely quilts out there I want to make, but most of them are fairly challenging.  While I enjoy less complicated blocks, one of my quilting goals is to come away from a project having learned something new, and that’s what harder blocks offer.  But since I tend to do most of my quilting at night after a long day at work, I don’t want anything that completely taps out my mental resources by 9 p.m.  With these thoughts in mind, I began to come up with my strategies for simplifying the construction process of difficult quilt blocks. 

With any quilt – easy or hard, small or large – you need a plan of action.  And sometimes your plan of action may be different from the pattern’s directions.  This is why I always recommend everyone read the directions thoroughly before they cut one inch of fabric.  Take the directions, sit down with a cup or glass of your favorite beverage, and allow yourself to read through them completely and slowly.  Mark them up with a pencil and highlighter.  In particular, look for these items:

  1. Familiar Units

Look for readily identifiable block units such as Four-patches, Nine-patches, Half-Square Triangles, Flying Geese, and Quarter-Square Triangles.  This is an important step for a couple of reasons.  First, it makes a complicated quilt block less scary.  Seeing something familiar you know you can make and make well takes the intimidation out of the process.  Second, if this block unit is one you frequently make, chances are you know your favorite construction process – which may not be the one used in the pattern’s directions.  If the two are different, you could possibly need to re-estimate the yardage requirements.  This is another reason to read the pattern through before purchasing or cutting the fabric. 

  •  Clearness and Conciseness

As a former science teacher, I’m a stickler for clearness and conciseness because I taught chemistry.  And teaching chemistry meant having labs.  And having chemistry labs meant those lab directions had to be crystal clear – or else you could run into trouble.  As you read the pattern directions, underline or highlight the parts you don’t understand, but don’t dwell on them too much until you read all of the directions through.  As you move through the pattern, the parts which aren’t too clear may become more understandable as you read the rest of the directions.  I ran into this issue when I made my first Judy Niemeyer quilt.  Judy has very detailed cutting and “bagging” directions.  I understood the directions, but I pondered at the detail, until I began actual construction.  Suddenly all that preparation made perfect sense as I could grab a bag of fabric pieces and the papers and just sew to my heart’s content. 

However, if the directions still aren’t understandable, I strongly advise you to Google the pattern.  Quite often, especially if the designer has an active web page, they will post clarifications and corrections on the site.  You may also find other quilters who have made the pattern and written about their construction process (this is how I survived my first Dear Jane Quilt).  Or you may find out that other quilters have attempted this pattern and decided the time and effort wasn’t worth it – which is also good to know before you purchase fabric and cut it up. 

The next step is to see if there’s any way you can simplify the difficult parts of construction. Determine if there’s an easier way to make those tricky units.  If there are Y-seams involved and you dislike those, could you re-draw the block and make half-square triangles do that work?  If there are partial seams, can you do a quick block re-graph and eliminate those?  Remember the pattern directions aren’t the 10 Commandments of Quilting.  They’re suggestions.  Good suggestions, but just like a GPS, there’s more than one way to get from point A to point B. 

Once you’ve read the directions and determined what you can simplify, you still may question the feasibility of making a bed quilt out of the pattern.  You may wonder if the time, effort, and expense are worth it.  If you’ve reached this point, I strongly suggest you make one block out of scrap fabric, constructing it the way you’ve now planned out.  If your plan of action works, then dive in and make that quilt!  If it “sort of” works or doesn’t go as planned at all, it’s time to re-group.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  1.  Would construction be easier if I make the blocks larger?

If you’re one of my regular readers, you certainly know how to do enlarge blocks  by now, with or without quilting software.  If you’ve missed by blogs on graphing, look through my June and July 2020 posts for more information.  By making some difficult blocks bigger, sometimes the tricky construction process becomes easier.  For me, if I have to make Y-seams, the larger seam area makes it easier to be accurate.  Same thing with partial seams.  Even enlarging some smaller blocks by as little as an inch can ease construction headaches. 

  • Can I make my fabric choices do part of the work for me?

In some quilts, this is an obvious decision.  See this sweet little quilt? 

I’ve made two of these as Christmas gifts for my grand girls.  If you think I took the time to applique Minnie and Mickey and the Eiffel Tower, not to mention those pointy stars, you’re sadly mistaken.  The middle of the quilt is a panel. Panels can be great time savers and can work just as well, if not better, than a traditional quilting method.  And remember the Fish Quilt I’ve made for the hubs as part of his Christmas?  The fish are also from a panel.  Panels are a great way of working the focal point of the quilt without investing lots of time and fabric in teeny, tiny applique pieces.  Just make sure you don’t simply sew lots of plain border strips around the panel to make the quilt as large as you need it to be.  Throw in some great piecing to set that panel off and dazzle your viewers.

The ombre print family is another way to make the fabric take the brunt of the work.  For instance, take a look at this fabric:

Gray Ombre Fabric

It’s a nice print, but if used correctly, it becomes a stellar background choice and adds lots of character to a quilt without a lot of work:

Sometimes this idea can be so brilliantly executed that the viewer is none the wiser that you took this step.  The very best example of this is a Double-Wedding Ring quilt my friend Gail made.  She found a striped fabric that she used for all those curved ring pieces and it looked exactly as if she had taken tons of time to piece each ring.  Think outside the box with your material choice and see if you can make the fabric do at least part of the work in a complicated piecing or applique project.

  •  Would applique work better for part of the project instead of traditional piecing?  I will be upfront at this point and tell you that if you don’t like to applique, don’t even think about this suggestion.  It would only complicate matters even more.

But if you don’t mind applique (or are hopelessly addicted to it like I am), this may be an option.  With this suggestion, I’m thinking about blocks such as this:

And this:

These are blocks with lots of bias and lots of curves, which can be difficult to piece without stretching the bias totally out of shape.  Applique may be an easier and better way to handle the bias.

If you’ve read through the directions and exercised your construction options and still aren’t sure about committing to the project, make a few blocks out of scrap fabric.  In other words, take the pattern for a test drive before handing out the cash for a down payment (the fabric).  Be sure to use the construction methods you’ve decided on.  At this point, you will probably decide if the changes you’ve made will work for the entire quilt top.  And if you decide a bed-sized quilt would just be too much of a headache, but you still love the pattern, try a wall handing or throw quilt.  That would be the best of both worlds – you have the quilt pattern you love in a size that won’t drive you nuts.

And last but not least, count the expense the complexity may cost you.  If you’ve made construction changes and are happy with those outcomes, go for it.  But if you’re not, and you plan on making the quilt as the pattern directs you, be sure it’s worth your time, patience, and cash.  And sometimes the time and patience exact a higher cost than any fabric.  Be aware you may have to put the quilt in “time out” for a few days at a time just to clear your quilting mind.  Have something easy waiting in the wings you can work on while you’re taking a few days off from the harder quilt.  One of my favorite coping mechanisms is asking a quilting friend to make the same quilt with me.  It’s really good to have another quilter to bounce ideas off of, not to mention it’s a lot of fun.

Complex blocks and quilts are worth the time and effort.  Both can teach you a lot if you let them.  Just be aware there are coping mechanisms which can be used to make the progress easier.  Don’t be afraid to utilize them.

Until next week, Level Up Your Quilting!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Drafting Complicated Blocks

Today I’d like to address a top which isn’t discussed among quilters much any longer.  It’s kind of like the blog on graphing I did a few weeks ago  —  it’s one not heard much today, but once you know how to do it, it can really free up your creativity on so many levels.  What is this ancient, almost-lost quilting art?


If push came to shove, could you draw out your own quilt block and determine how much fabric you need and how to cut out the blocks?  We did this once before with Road to Oklahoma, which was an easy block with four patches and triangles.

However, what about a more complicated block like the LeMoyne Star?  Could you take this block and make it smaller or larger to fit your needs?  Right off the bat, I know lots of us (including me), would quickly open our Iphone to a quilting app or boot up EQ and resize it.  Quilters have a lot of options today, which makes our quilting experience easier.  There are tools like this available:

Quick and Easy Block Tool

This handy-dandy little catalog of quilt blocks has nearly every popular block in it plus the fabric and cutting requirements for several different sizes for each block. 

If you have an Iphone, Ipad, Android, or Android device, there are apps which can help.  My current favorite one is Quiltler2 Lite.  It has most of the popular blocks and you can resize them on your phone, as well as play with color placement and preview what they would look like set on-point. 

And of course, my favorite tool is this:

I use EQ 8 at least two or three times a week.  You can resize blocks to be larger or smaller, in 1/8-inch increments if needed.  You can import fabric lines or scan in your own fabrics.  It’s versatile and Electric Quilt updates the software consistently.  Add-ons (additional software, such as Dear Jane), are reasonably priced and are a point-and-click-and download away.  Plus, their customer service is stellar. 

However, as wonderful as all of these are, they do have some drawbacks.  The Quick and Easy Block Tool has only 102 quilt blocks in five sizes each – three, six, nine, twelve, and fifteen inches square.  If you fully rely on this tool, you’re limited in both size and type of block.  I’ll also be the first to tell you phone apps can be difficult to use.  I don’t think many are designed by quilters, because they’re either extremely limited with what you can do with them or all the technical bugs haven’t been worked out of them yet.   They don’t update often, either.  And as much as I love EQ, it is CAD based, which means there’s a learning curve involved.  I will give EQ this – they have wonderful tutorials and it doesn’t take you long to get it up, running and working for you.  However, as of this blog, it doesn’t run on an Ipad or Android tablet, which means you’re tied to your laptop or desktop when you use it.   

Most disturbing about all of these is I’ve found errors. Not so much in EQ, but I have found erroneous data in other block tools – especially the phone apps.  If you’re relying on any of these tools for fabric requirements and cutting directions, you need to have the ability to check behind them if something doesn’t look right.  And that’s one of the tools this blog will give you – the know-how to check behind them if something doesn’t seem correct. 

While drafting blocks which have basic units in them is fairly easy, those with Y- or partial seams can be a little daunting.  Block units such as a four-patch, half-square and quarter-square triangles, log cabins, and flying geese can be drafted out quickly and without too much thought.  Other units, such as 45-degree diamonds, are more challenging.  Since the LeMoyne Star has those diamonds, plus some squares and triangles, coupled with the fact if I’ve used this block in previous blogs for construction purposes, I  decided this would be the block we’d play with to shrink it down and then enlarge it.  And unlike the tools listed in the first part of this blog, the items you need to do this manually should be ones you have around the house:  pencil, graph paper, ruler, and eraser. 

Let me be a little specific about the graph paper.  I use graph paper that has eight squares to an inch because it makes it easier for fabric cutting (you can get the needed measurements down to the nearest 1/8th of an inch, so it will match up with your rotary ruler and mat), as well as make it easy to allow for ¼-inch seam allowances.  This type of graph paper doesn’t require a trip to an office supply store.  You can jump on the internet and go to  This site has any type of graph paper you need, and it’s a download, point, click, and print away.  This particular site has almost any kind of quilting or craft graph you need. 

Let me show you how to do this.

Step One

Draw a square of the finished size block you need.  If the block you’re drafting is larger than 8 ½-inches you will have to tape a few sheets of graph paper together to accommodate the size of the square.  For this blog, I will draft a 7 ½-inch finished LeMoyne Star block.

Step Two

Draw diagonal lines from corner to corner in both directions.

Step Three

Find the measurement from the center point of the diagonal to one corner.  In my block, this measures 5 ¼-inches.  Now take this measurement and measure both vertically and horizontally from each corner.  Mark with dots or tick lines.

Step Four

Connect the dots as shown in the diagram. 

At this point, I erase the diagonal lines.  It makes things less confusing.

Step Five

Now connect the dots like this:

Step Six

And finally, connect the dots like this:

Believe it or not, in all those lines, lies my 7 ½-inch finished LeMoyne Star.    Look at this diagram where I’ve outlined it with a black Sharpie. 

Now I can measure the three block units used (45-degree diamond, triangle, and square), add the appropriate seam allowances and know that for each block I’ll need:

Four 2 ½-inch squares (the size of the square, plus ½-inch for seam allowances)

One 4 ¼-inch square cut twice on the diagonal for the triangles (the triangle would work best cut as a quarter-square triangle, so we add 1 ¼-inches to the longest diagonal side, cut a square this size, and then cut it twice on the diagonal – this allows the straight of grain to fall on the outside edges so the triangle won’t stretch). 

Eight 2 5/8-inch diamonds.  For this we cut a strip of fabric the width needed and add ½-inch for the seam allowance.  Then use the 45-degree markings on our ruler to cut the diamonds. 

You use this same process to enlarge or shrink an 8-pointed star. 

Okay, okay, I can hear the groans and the questions from here…with everything techie out there for quilters, why is this important?

Because math is important.  And the knowing how to do the math correctly may just save your quilting sanity.  Apps and software – as good as they are (especially the software) – can’t do everything.  If you’re putting together a quilt top from orphan blocks which are all different sizes, you may just need blocks that are say … 11 1/16-inches finished.  Know what kind of software can get that kind of exact measurements? 


Not even EQ8.  It will  round it to the next 1/8th of an inch.  Which doesn’t sound a lot for one block – and it isn’t.  But if you have six  11 1/16-inch blocks in a row, that means that your row will end up being ¾-inch off when you go to attach it to the next row.  That’s nearly an entire inch.  It may take a little while to work out the math when you start, but by the time you get to the end, your row will be even and your sanity will be intact.

It’s also important to have the ability to check behind the software or app.  We’ve become so accustomed to accepting whatever a computer or phone app tells us is correct, we seldom check behind it to make sure it’s right.  The longer you quilt, the more you will cultivate an instinct…an ability to know when some pattern or measurement just isn’t going to work correctly.  I call it the “Hinky Instinct.”  You just know when something doesn’t seem as if it will work correctly – it’s “hinky”.  And the longer you quilt, the stronger this instinct grows.  So, if an app or software measurement doesn’t seem correct, it’s far better to check it at the beginning than to get 10 blocks made and then determine they’re the wrong size.  Knowing how to do the math just helps you keep your quilting sanity, as well as be good stewards of fabric, time, and stitches. 

That said, the formula and diagrams I’ve given you aren’t the only way to draft a block.  Back in the early 1980’s when I was taught how to draft a block, we used protractors and compasses.  Before I proceeded to teach you how to use those, I put in a text to my wonderful sister-in-love, Deanne, who happens to be a high school math teacher.  I asked her if those tools are still used in high school geometry.  I assumed that if they were, the protractor and compass would still be something you could pick up at Walmart or Office Depo.

The answer was no.  They are no longer used in high school geometry.  Not knowing if those were readily available, I opted not to show you how to draft with those tools. 

I also want to leave this with you:  If you’re either constantly re-sizing blocks or having to come up with filler blocks, then go ahead and plan to purchase EQ 8.  This isn’t a perfect software program by any means, but it’s a really, really good one and will save you a great deal of time.  That, coupled with the fact you can print templates, foundation piecing, or rotary cutting instructions, will make your quilting life so much easier.  Yes, it’s a bit expensive starting out, (it’s $239.95 on their website for the full EQ 8 version, however, there’s also an mini-EQ that’s $89.85), but it comes with automatic software upgrades.  And if they ever develop an EQ 9, you simply pay for the upgrade, not the entire software program.  Trust me – you won’t regret the purchase.

Standard disclaimer applies here:  I’m not in EQ’s payroll and I don’t get free merch for recommending them.  I’ve used the program for years and love it to death.

Until next week, Level Up Your Quilting!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


Give Me an Inch….

In a previous blog, I mentioned I have been receiving email from my readers at a pretty good pace this year.  Most of the time I do try to respond to each person who takes the time to write me, or follow up on the comments left at the bottom of my blog.  However, there are times when I get asked the same question several times, and then I decide it’s blog worthy.  This is one of those times and today the topic is rulers.

Which on the surface, seems like a pretty … well… boring subject.  But hear me out.  There’s more to rulers than inches and centimeters.  But before we get started, I want to throw out this disclaimer:  I do not receive any type of sponsorship from any of the brands I’m discussing today.  I’m not on their payroll.  They don’t send me free merch for mentioning them in my blog.  I pay for these products just like you do, so my endorsement for any particular brand comes from the fact  I use the products and really do love them.  It’s an honest appraisal.  I also don’t spend an enormous amount of money on rulers, so their prices should be accommodating to the average quilter’s wallet.  In addition to those disclaimers, let me also tell you for the most part, I don’t purchase specialty rulers.  There are a couple of exceptions to this, and yes, those rulers are in the following list, as well as the reasons I feel they’re worth the money.  But in all truthfulness, this:

Is the only single-task tool in my studio.  Everything else is a multitasker.  Especially rulers.

One the questions asked is what brand of ruler I use the most.  My favorite brand of ruler is Creative Grids for five reasons.  First, they’re manufactured from clear plastic, which makes them really easy to see through.  And this plastic is durable and tough.  If you’ve used a rotary cutter long enough, you know at some point in time, you’ll  nick your ruler.  Creative Grids rulers  don’t scratch or nick easily.  Second, they’re extremely accurate.  I know you’ve seen this picture:

None of these rulers match the inch increments on the mat, and for the most part, each other – even if they’re the same brand.  I’ve never found this to be the case with Creative Grids.  They have always been consistently accurate. 

The third reason I like them are these little dots:

These are fabric grippers built into the ruler.  No need to apply Ruler Magic, sandpaper dots, or those clear, plastic disks. 

Fourth, Creative Grid rulers are made in the USA, which is important to me.  I’m supporting an American-made product.  And lastly, the versatility of the company is wonderful.  They were the first (and I think the only) company to come out with an acrylic mask template during COVID.  And besides making rotary cutting rulers and templates, they also make long-arm rulers, which is pretty important to folks like myself who own a long arm. 

I’ve broken this blog into two sections.  The first section deals with the five rulers I think every quilter should have in his or her studio.  The second section deals with rulers I use nearly every day, but aren’t necessarily…necessary. 

The Rulers Every Quilter Needs

  •  The Square-Up Ruler(s)

Every quilter needs at least one really good square ruler.  These rulers are used to trim your blocks to the accurate unfinished size.  Ideally, in a perfect quilting world, I would have one in each size block I construct.  But it’s not a perfect quilting world and purchasing a square ruler in every size block made  would be outrageously expensive.  What I suggest is that you buy a square-up ruler in the size block you make most often.  If you make a lot of different sized blocks, a 9 ½-inch square ruler is a good one to keep on hand, as it lends itself to a lot of different sized blocks.  Whatever brand you decide to buy, make sure it has the diagonal line that runs through the center of the ruler.  This helps you accurately trim your block.   And here’s a heads-up for those of you who see T-shirt quilts in your future – the 12- or 16-inch (or even larger) square up ruler is completely worth the cash.  Trust me. 

  •  A Long Ruler

This ruler should measure at least 18-24-inches long.  And in my opinion, since this ruler is used to cut borders, narrow strips, and square-up quilt sandwiches before binding, the longer the ruler is the better. 

My favorite long ruler is this one:

It has all the diagonal lines I need if I want to cut 60-degree triangles or 45-degree diamonds.  But my favorite part about this ruler is the lip at one end. The lip allows me to lock the ruler against the edge of my cutting mat.  This keeps the ruler from slipping as I make long cuts.  It’s  4 ½-inches wide and one of the few non-Creative Grids rulers in my studio.  I make a lot of 4 ½-inch fabric strips, so this ruler gets utilized a great deal – you can tell by the way the markings are finally wearing off.  However, I also have a 24-inch ruler in a 2 ½-inch width which also gets used a lot.  My advice is think about how wide you’re cutting most of your fabric strips and see if you can purchase a 18- 24-inch ruler in that width. 

  •  A Really Wide Ruler for Cutting Really Wide Strips

Let me insert a point of clarification right here.  The longer you quilt, the more you’ll be faced with fabric strips in different widths.  The most common widths are 2 ½-inches, 4 ½-incshes, and 6 ½-inches.  So, while this may be a ruler you can put off purchasing immediately, eventually you will want one to cut borders accurately.  And if you’re like me and prefer to cut your borders on the lengthwise grain, a long 6 ½-inch ruler is perfect.  However, I also have this short, wide Creative Grids ruler I use every day. 

It’s perfect for working with Fat Quarters and making diamonds or 60-degree triangles. 

  •  A Small Ruler

These come in different lengths, but my two favorites are these:

The longer ruler is 3-inches wide and the shorter ruler is 4-inches in width.  I won the longer ruler and purchased the shorter ruler at a guild yard sale (it was $1.00 – and had the sandpaper dots on the wrong side!).  They’re both the perfect size for trimming up the edge of a unit or block when a larger ruler would just be too bulky to deal with.  Creative Grids has the Itty Bitty Eighths Ruler. 

This ruler is great because the 1/8-inch markings are clearly printed.  This may not sound like a major selling point if you’re a beginner quilter, but after you’ve made a few quilts, you begin to encounter directions such as “Make forty 3 5/8-inch squares.”  Those eighth-of-an-inch markings suddenly become super-important for accuracy.  The Itty Bitty rulers come in varying lengths (the one pictured is the long one), but the small one, coming in at 3 x 7-inches, is the perfect small ruler. 

  •  A Half-Square/Quarter Ruler

I realize some folks may want to throw this into the specialty rulers section of this blog, but hear me out.  Quilters make so many HST units, a ruler which aids in this construction is one of the basics IMHO.  Creative Grids offers two HST rulers, but those are in my specialty rulers section, because they can perform other tasks than HSTs.  The ruler I’m putting in this list of Rulers Every Quilter Needs is Eleanor Burns’ 9 ½-inch Square Up Ruler. 

I use this tool every week.  It’s clearly marked and made of heavy duty acrylic.  What I absolutely love about this ruler is you square up the HST before you press it open, which is so much easier than the traditional method of trimming.  I’ve also used it to square up 9 ½ blocks on occasion.  I  like the way they handled marking this ruler, too.  The half-inch increments are on one side and the 1-inch increments are on the other, thus eliminating any point of confusion when trimming down HSTS.  You simply make your HSTs by the Sew and Slice method or traditional method, and while they’re still like this:

You trim them down to the correct size.  So easy!

Now on to the second part of this blog:

Rulers Quilters Will Probably Want at Some Point in Their Quilting Career

This list is comprised of six rulers and one ruler tool.  The rulers I mentioned in the first part of this blog are ones I would encourage anyone to purchase as soon as they realize they really love to quilt.  Those rulers are pretty essential and are definitely multi-taskers.  The rulers in this list can also perform more than one job, but aren’t as essential as the ones in the first list.  These are the rulers you use your coupons for, wait until they’re on sale, or ask for at Christmas or your birthday.  Will you use them a lot?  YES.  Do you have to have them the minute you decide you’re a quilt enthusiast?  No.  These simply make your quilting life easier and your piecing more accurate. 

  •  The Binding Tool Ruler

There are several different binding tools/rulers in the marketplace, but this by far is my favorite.  It’s made by Creative Grids and comes with the wonderful grippers already built it.  You will love those fabric grippers if you cut your binding strips across the width of fabric, and you will really love the grippers if bias binding is in your future.  As an added bonus, the instructions for bias binding are printed on the ruler, so there’s no mad search for directions.  It’s also marked for cutting 2 ½-inch strips and 2 ¼-inch strips. No matter what your binding width preference is, it’s here.  And since it’s 20-inches long, it can easily double for a long 2 ½-inch ruler in the first list (it’s a multi-tasker).  Another added plus:  It has how many inches of each width of binding you can cut from different yardages.  This specialty ruler is listed on the Creative Grids website at a suggested retail price of $21.49.

  •  One-half Inch Ruler(s)

My ½-inch rulers are Omnigrid and came from Amazon for a very reasonable price of $14.16 (I’m a Prime member, so I pay tax, but not shipping).  I also chose the pack of three instead of the single ruler, which was a little over $8.00.  In my pack there was one 12-inch ruler and two 6-inch rulers.  The primary reason I purchased this narrow ruler was it made it super-easy to see if my ¼-seam allowances were consistent.  Press the seam open, lay the ruler on it, and if the seam edges match up with the ruler, the seam has  perfect ¼-inch seam allowances (1/4 + 1/4 = 1/2).  Quick, easy, and accurate.  I find these indispensable for making accurate 45-degree diamonds or 60-degree triangles.  Consistent seam allowances are a must for those, and these little rulers are just the perfect tool to have. And while this is how I primarily use the ½-inch rulers, I’ve also used them for trimming small blocks, block units, and drafting quilt blocks on graph paper.  The 6-inch size is perfect to keep with your hand sewing for drawing ¼-inch seam allowances or measuring the seam’s accuracy.  These always stay in a container near my sewing machine – except for the one that’s in my hand sewing project box.

  •  Add-a-Quarter Ruler

This handy-dandy tool is by CM Designs and retails for roughly $11.00 – $12.00.  It comes in three sizes:  6-inch, 12-inch, and 18-inch.  I don’t have the 18-inch – as a matter of fact, I didn’t know one existed until I began writing this blog – but I do have the 6-inch and 12-inch.  And I can tell you I reach for the 12-inch Add-a-Quarter far more often than I do the 6-inch one.  It’s just the perfect size for just about any paper piecing you desire – both traditional and English paper-piecing.  The ¼-inch lip is perfect for adding the margin to the fabric for EPP.   I’ve used it for adding seam allowances to applique pieces, traditional paper piecing templates, and as a straight edge for cutting or drawing.  It also has the inches marked along one side, so it doubles as a ruler.  My Add-a-Quarter stays on my small cutting mat near my sewing machine.  I use it that often. 

  •  Fons and Porter Triangle Trimmers

I introduced these little tools a couple of blogs ago, and while technically they’re not rulers (no inches or centimeters are marked on either of them), I use them so often they’re never off my large cutting mat.  These are essential for trimming the points off of triangles or diamonds before you sew them together or to another block unit.  The blunted edges of the triangles allow you to join the patches together accurately and effortlessly.  Bonus:  You can use them as templates and the grain lines are printed on the triangles.  I currently have Twinkling, Twinkling under my needle and it has thousands lots of tri-rec blocks.  These trimmers have saved my sanity.  So, not only can you use these to make 45-degree triangles and 60-degree triangles, you can trim the dog-ears off any triangle and make piecing them together much easier. 

  •  Jinny Beyer Perfect Piecer

You may remember this ruler/tool from my blogs on 8-pointed stars.  Since I found this little jewel some years ago, I have loved it and every time I use it, I find something else to  can do.  You can accurately mark the stopping and starting points of any angled diamond, triangle, square, or rectangle seam.  You can mark ¼-inch seams for hand or machine piecing.  You can use it to draw any angle you need to.  I have two of these – one stays near my large cutting mat and the other in my hand sewing box.  And while Jinny has closed her brick-and-mortar store, you can still purchase one of these in her on-line shop.  It’s truly worth every red cent. 

  •  The 45-degree and 90-degree Triangle Quilting Ruler

This wonderful ruler is by Creative Grids, and this is the half-square triangle ruler I told you earlier I am putting in the “Rulers Quilts Will Probably Want at Some Point in Their Quilting Career” category.   As much as I love Creative Grids, I did not know this ruler existed until a couple of years ago when I read the book Jelly Roll Quilts by Pam and Nancy Lintott.  This exemplary tool lets you make 45-degree half-square triangles and 90-degree quarter triangles out of jelly roll strips!!!  Talk about opening a whole new box of quilting options!  To test this ruler, I made a Seven Sisters Quilt out of a half a jelly roll and this ruler, and the thing went together like nobody’s business.  The math required for this is built into the ruler, and of course it comes with directions.  However…if you scan the QR code on the ruler, you get the video tutorial from Creative Grids.  The suggested retail price is $25.99, which makes it on the pricier end of my ruler recommendations.  But if you like jelly rolls and are a little frustrated at the current options, this ruler is what you need to get yourself out of the jelly doldrums.  It can be used with non-jelly roll fabric, too.  Like all Creative Grids rulers, it has the fabric grippers. 

  •  Ruler Magic

Okay, this  is not a ruler but  it is something you can use on all your non-Creative Grid Rulers.  While there’s always sandpaper dots or the clear, plastic disks you can put on your rulers to keep them from slipping, Ruler Magic does the same thing, but it’s not permanent.  It is an adhesive, and you put a few drops of this on the wrong side of your ruler and wait until it dries clear.  After that, you can use any ruler without fear of it slipping and sliding out of place.  To clean, it rinses off with warm water and a bit of scrubbing.  I have a bottle of this  and it stays on my cutting table.

Okay, so I was given an inch and I’ve taken almost 3,000 words to tell you about my must-have rulers and the rulers I really like.  Once the quilt bug has bitten you hard, I’d encourage you to get the basic rulers mentioned first, and then look into the others.  Other than this:

I encourage you to never buy any quilt ruler or tool that can only do one task.  Quilting notions aren’t cheap.  They need to be well constructed and offer several options for use. 

Until next week, measure twice, cut once, and Level Up Your Quilting!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


How to Sew An Almost-Perfect Quilt Block

Writing this year’s blog has been so much fun!  I’ve gotten emails from readers who are asking questions about topics and that just thrills my soul!  Keep them coming!  If you have a question, please feel free to email me at, but be sure to send me a message in the comment section of the blog so I know to be on the lookout for it, or search my spam file if it doesn’t show up in a timely manner.

After I posted the blog about gridding out quilt blocks, I had some readers throw me some questions about piecing blocks and how do I work through that process.  So, this is what I will address today.  Let me state up front, that each quilt block is a little different.  How you approach constructing the same block under different circumstances will vary, and learning which approach works best takes time and experience.  For instance, how I approach constructing some blocks out of batiks may be different than how I would with quilter’s cottons.  Often how I press the block depends on the size of the block and how I plan to quilt it.  Since I now quilt 99 percent of my own quilt tops, I try my best to reduce bulk as much as I can.  How I decide to piece my quilt’s rows together gets thrown into the mix, too, as well as which sewing machine I’m using to piece.

This makes the following guidelines more generalizations than hard, fast rules.  These are the steps I nearly always take as I piece quilt blocks.  And hopefully, as you read through them, you’ll see why I have thoroughly discussed some techniques to nearly ad nauseum. 

  •  I wash my fabric and dry it the same way I plan to dry my quilts.  I get that many quilters don’t do this any longer, and truthfully, I have about beat this topic to death.  And I realize that with Color Catchers, many quilters feel this step is unnecessary.  However, I still do this for two reasons. The first reason is the most obvious – washing the fabric before starting the piecing process just about guarantees no crocking or bleeding when the quilt top is washed.  It also guarantees no shrinking.  The second reason isn’t quite as obvious – I like sewing with clean fabric.  You never know how material is stored or how clean the manufacturing process is, especially if the fabric is made anywhere other than the good, ol’ United States of America. 
Faultless is my friend.
  • I starch all my fabric (pre-washed or not) before I cut it.  And I use spray starch, not Best Press or anything like it.  I do use Best Press for a few quilting techniques, but this is not one of them.   Even if you’re using fabric straight off the bolt, I think you still need to starch it.  Why?  The starch adds stability and control.  I really like to starch the fabric a couple of times, so that it almost takes on a paper-like feel.  This adds a great deal of accuracy to the cutting process – the fabric won’t shift as much as it normally would.  However, let me throw this fact in here – I don’t starch it before I store it, especially if I’m using traditional spray starch or sizing.  The starch or starch-like products tend to attract bugs (think moths and silverfish).  I pre-wash my fabric as soon as I bring it home, but I hold off starching it until I’m ready to cut out my quilt. 
  • I make sure my ¼-inch seam allowance is accurate.  Despite the simplicity of this statement,  this is often the hardest thing to get right.  And it’s usually the culprit if your blocks turn out too small or too big.  On top of that, every machine you own may be a little different, so what works on one machine may not work on the next.  I’ve written about this topic in the blog:  Check it out, and here’s a head’s up – the ¼-inch seam isn’t the holy grail of quilting.
  • I use pins.  Lots of them.  All the time.  I have never understood quilters who didn’t pin.   They wear that as almost a badge of honor – “I don’t pin.  I don’t have time.  Besides, if you press your seam allowances the right way, you don’t need to pin.”

Seriously?  May I examine your seam intersections?

I pin at the beginning of a seam.  I pin at the end of a seam.  And in between.  If you don’t have an integrated dual feed foot, the top piece will get pushed by the presser foot ahead of the bottom piece (think of snow and a snowplow).  This will shift your fabric and cause the top and bottom seam not to line up correctly.  Pinning the seam keeps everything even and matched up.  And if by chance you’re chain piecing, you may want to lift the presser foot just a bit and position the top edge with each unit.  Otherwise, the top fabric will scoot down at the very beginning, even though you pinned it ask me how I know. 

  • Use strip piecing methods whenever you can.  And with this technique, let me add, use the techniques that work best for you.  These quick and easy(ier) techniques are not only more efficient, but also tend to be more accurate.  This is why it’s so very, very important for you to discover which method works best for you when you make flying geese, four-patch units, nine-patch units, half-square triangles, etc.  When you know which technique works best for you, it’s easy to analyze the pattern to see how to alter it to make it faster and more accurate for you.
  • Make sure seam intersections are aligned and pin them well.  I pin most intersections with a pin inserted at an angle. 
  • This way I catch both sides of the seam allowance and I can keep the pin longer before the sewing machine needle approaches it.  If I have an intersection where there are diagonal seams that need to match, I use a setting pin and a pin on both sides of the seam allowance. 
  • I’ve also glue-basted difficult seams. 
  • As your seam allowance is approaching the needle, make sure it’s facing towards the needle.

Like this:

If the seam allowance is facing away from the needle, chances are you’ll have a gap at that intersection.  If the seam allowance is facing the needle, you’ll get a nice, snug intersection with no space because the presser foot is pushing the top seam allowance into the bottom seam allowance. 

  •  Use that seam ripper.  Don’t be in too much of a hurry or be too lazy to reach for the ripper.  If there’s a big mistake go ahead and unsew it, then sew it back correctly.  If I have some tiny mistakes, the rippage will depend on how much the blunders bother me.  If I can leave the quilt block alone overnight and then pick it up the next day and the goof doesn’t trouble me or look nearly as bad as it did yesterday, I leave it in.  Nothing is perfect – even the best-sewn quilt blocks. 
  • Trim each block unit to the exact size.    To me, accurate cutting is even more important than the ¼-inch seam allowance.  Cutting and trimming are the first steps in your blocks looking gorgeous.  So, when you’re cutting out your fabric, starch it, take your time, and cut as accurately as possible.  After you’ve sewn your block units, make sure they’re trimmed down to the required unfinished size.  Check each of these units before sewing them into your block.  If each block unit is the correct size, then the block will be the required size. 
  •   Press carefully and thoroughly as you go along.  Be sure to press (up and down movement) and not iron (back and forth movement).  Steam is a personal decision – but if you use it, be careful if the block or block unit contains a lot of bias.  Press seams open or to the side as you make them.  The flatter the seam is, the better (no tiny tucks at the seam).  This makes unit and block assembly trouble-free.  It also makes the block look better and be much easier to quilt.  Press each unit and then press the block when it’s assembled. 

These are my top ten guidelines for accurate quilt blocks.  While pretty basic, they all go a long way in making your quilt blocks look perfect and also make construction easier, too.  And don’t save these for just the complicated quilt blocks in your life.  Use them for all the quilt blocks you make. 

Until next week, Level Up Your Quilting!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam