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?

Drafting.

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 printablepaper.net.  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? 

None.

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

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