Hindsight is Always 20/20 (or if I Knew Then What I Know Now)

There’s an old saying many of us turn to when we have to reflect on a past situation  we wish would have played out differently:  Hindsight is 20/20. 

Which means, looking back at what happened then, in the light of present circumstances, we would have made different choices.  At least we think we would.  However, we also have to realize different choices may not have yielded any better results than we got.

I decided to apply this little hindsight exercise to quilting.  For years, I was largely a self-taught quilter.  It was me, my sewing machine, and a few library books.  I learned what works (that whole ¼-inch seam allowance turned out to be pretty darned important) and what didn’t (you can’t always get pencil marks out of fabric).  And as opportunities arose for me to teach beginner quilters, I tried to let them in on all the “secrets” new quilters should know, but may not always find readily available in books or on the internet.  And that’s what my blog is about this week.  Some of you seasoned quilters may quickly scan through this, nod in agreement, and get on with your week.  Others of you who may not have been around the quilt block as long as I have may want to make a few notes.  So, without further ado, here’s my list of quilty things you really need to know now.

  •  Change your needle.  I know I’ve beat this topic to death, but it’s important.  I remember when brought home my very first sewing machine.  I read the manual through the first few pages to learn how to thread the thing and wind a bobbin.

Then promptly tossed it somewhere.  In my newbie mind, I had the information I needed and the rest I could pick up as I went along.  About a month later, my machine started making a weird popping sound.  A trip to the sewing machine tech yielded three important pieces of information:  You need to change the needle after approximately 8-hours of sewing time, there are different needles for different types of fabric, and from time to time, you need to clean your machine.  All of this information was in the manual, if I had taken the time to read the thing. Which I didn’t, which meant I had to fork over $50 (this was 1981) for the tech’s knowledge and cleaning ability. 

After you’ve accumulated about 8 hours of sewing time, change your needle.  Some people change their needle every time they complete a project.  Some roughly track their time.  I know the sounds my machine makes pretty well.  As soon as I hear an odd “pop”, it means I need to switch out the old needle for a new one.  If you sew with titanium needles, you can double your stitch time to 16 hours. 

Also be aware different types of fabric take different types of needles, and  different types of thread take different types of needles.  The very best resource for needles is  This site does sell thread and needles, but it also has an education tab.  Underneath this tab is tons of great information about what thread and needle to use with different fabric, as well as what kind of needle to use with different types of thread.  Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned quilting veteran like myself, time spent on this website is truly time well spent.  You may also find some quilting thread will offer needle suggestions on the spool.

  •  Don’t be afraid to cut the fabric.  Quilter come across some really beautiful fabric.  Our shopping habits run the gamut from on-line sales, to shop hops, to frequent visits to our LQS.  Keepsake Quilting and Pineapple Fabrics are literally within a few miles from my house.  When on vacation or other out-of-town excursions, visiting that location’s LQS generally gets written in the itinerary. 

Long story short, we have fabric.  And once in a while we purchase a piece of fabric we just love.  As a matter of fact, we love it so much, we don’t want to cut it.  I’ve had these types of fabric in my stash.  They made me happy just looking at them.  However, those few yards of fabric aren’t doing anyone a favor by just remaining in our stash.  Don’t be afraid to cut that piece of fabric and put it in a quilt.  I guarantee two outcomes from this.  First, you’ll have a quilt you will really love and use and will make you happy every time you look at it.  Second, you’ll always find another piece of fabric you’ll love just as much – I promise.

  •  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Honestly, there are very few mistakes you can make in quilting which can’t be rectified in some way.  As a matter of fact, don’t even call them “mistakes.”  Call them design choices.  Have a difficult time with keeping the beaks intact on your flying geese blocks?  Cut off all the tips.  If they’re all cut off, it looks as if this is the way the quilt was designed. 

Mistakes can be fixed, and we can learn from them.  Don’t let fear of messing up stop you from cutting a favorite piece of fabric or trying out a new pattern. 

  •  Realize it’s not a race.  Probably the biggest issue I have with YouTube quilting videos is that they’re sped up.  We see quilters and designers zipping through blocks and the quilting process at breakneck speeds.  And from our observation, we think this is the way we should be sewing – fast and perfect.  Allow me to let you in a little secret:  Most of the time, these videos are sped up during post-production.  Sew at a pace you’re comfortable with.  Be sure you can stop on a dime if you need to and you’re able to sew a (mostly) straight line.  I am not a fast sewer.  Sewing fast makes me uncomfortable – I feel I can’t control my fabric. 
  • It’s okay to toss the pattern.  Seriously. It’s fine to throw the pattern in the circular file if you want – part of the pattern or the entire kit and kaboodle.  Think about what the pattern tells you.  It lets you know how much fabric you need.  It makes you aware of any special notions.  It tells you how many squares, rectangles, triangles, and/or circles to cut out.  The pattern gives you a pretty good backbone to go by, but you’re not obligated to follow the whole pattern if you don’t want to.  You can always make the quilt larger or smaller than the instructions tell you.  It’s fine to take a block such as this:

And piece the center. 

Certainly read the pattern thoroughly and decide what you will have to change to alter the pattern (more fabric, less fabric, enlarge the blocks, or shrink them), but no one is obligated to follow the directions down to the very last detail.  The instructions didn’t come down from a mountain, written in stone, to be completely and utterly obeyed. 

  •  Remember to hydrate and take a break.  It’s easy to get caught up in anything you love to do and lose track of time.  Hours can click away and it’s often not until we get a twinge in the back or realize we have a dull headache we grasp how long we’ve sat at a sewing machine.  This type of behavior isn’t good for our mind or body.  It’s a good idea to stand up after an hour and move around.  Get a glass of water.  Stretch.  By taking this time to give our bodies a break, we’ll be able to stay at our task longer. 
  • Realize quilting is so much more than the machine.  Don’t get me wrong, sewing machines are great!  I have the new Janome Horizon M7 Continental.  I love that machine.  However, it’s important to understand using a sewing machine is just part of the quilting journey.  And technically, the only stitches a machine really needs to perform for quilting are a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch.  All the bells and whistles on the new machines aren’t even necessary.  Quilting involves accurate measuring and cutting.  It plays with color choice and texture.    It requires attention to detail and creativity.  A sewing machine – state of the art or otherwise – is only a small part of the process. 
  • You need to pin.  Seriously.  Personally, I don’t trust quilters who say they don’t pin.  Either they don’t care what their work looks like or they’re lying through their teeth.  Using pins and knowing the correct way to pin seams, corners, and intersections keeps tips intact, seams meeting perfectly, and maintains the ¼-seam allowance.  With this said, know there are dozens of different types of pins on any sewing notions aisle.  Understanding what each type of pin is used for is important.  Generally, quilters use glass head pins, the long pins with flat, plastic heads, and applique pins.  Pins aren’t one of those super-expensive sewing notions so please purchase good quality pins which don’t feel like small nails and ones that won’t rust.  And for the love of your sewing machine, don’t sew over them.  If your needle hits one, the pin can break your needle.  The pin can become lodged in your feed dogs, or if the pin is hit hard enough, it can throw the timing off on your machine.  Sew right up to the pin, slowing down as you approach it, stop sewing with the needle down, remove the pin, and then resume sewing.  This takes a bit longer than simply zooming down the seam sans pins, but your patience and attention to detail will show in the end.
  • Test everything.  This hint comes from an experienced, former chemistry teacher who has taught more beginning chemistry labs than she will ever admit to.  Test everything to make sure it works exactly the way you need it to.  Thread your machine and stitch out a few stitches on some scrap fabric.  Make a test block out of scrap fabric to be sure it will come out the correct size.  If any of your tools are new (such as the iron, pressing mat, or a new starch or starch substitute), test those, too.  Trust me – this is time well spent and can save you so much possible future frustration. 

  • Pressing with an iron is important.  I realize part of that sentence seems redundant – “with an iron.”  I mean, what else do you press with?  Well, when it comes to quilting there are a couple of tools which can sometimes be substituted for an iron.  If the idea is to move the seam allowance over and out of the way, quilters have been known to use a tool such as this:

When the flat, wooden part is rubbed over the seam allowance, the fabric will lay to one side.  Then there is this:

Which does the same thing.

However, neither of these tools work as well as a regular, hot iron.  Pressing with an iron ensures seam and stitches stay put and greatly improves the look of the block. 

  •  Grainlines are important.  There are three grainlines in all fabric – the crosswise grain (from selvedge to selvedge), the lengthwise grain (from cut end to cut end), and the bias, which is a 45-degree cut across both the lengthwise and crosswise grains.  Most patches which are sewn into block units are cut on the crosswise grain.  Borders work really well when cut on the lengthwise grain.  Bias cuts are great for applique pieces or when true bias binding is needed.  Usually quilt block pieces are so small that that if some grainlines are compromised in block construction, you can get away with it.  However, if the block units are large (such as the background blocks for applique) you want to make sure all of the blocks are cut on the crosswise grain.  Don’t mix them and have part of the blocks cut on the lengthwise and part cut on the crosswise – the quilt will hang cattywampus.  Likewise, cut all the borders on the same grain.  Don’t mix the grainlines or the borders will not lie flat. 

  •   Don’t expect the sewing machine to do all the work for you.  I know this sounds kind of obvious.  The machine can’t cut out the quilt or pick out the fabric or chose the pattern.  However, this isn’t what I’m getting out.  Realize, as much as you perhaps dislike handwork, some parts of quilting require some hand stitching.  I have close quilting friends who despise any hand sewing and have figured out how to do 99 percent of quilt construction via sewing machine.  However, there’s still the one percent which needs a bit of hand work.  It may be sewing the binding closed on the miters at the corners on the front of the quilt, or adding beads, or stitching a label.  Learn how to hand stitch well, keep good hand sewing needles in your stash (they’re not expensive, so buy some good ones), and have some beeswax around to keep the thread from tangling.  If you know how to hand stitch and have the right tools, the process will at least go quickly and then you can return to your machine.
  •  Learn the best way for you to sew a curve.  Generally, when we think about quilts, pictures of blocks, columns, and rows come to mind.  All of these are on the square-ish side of things.  However, it’s important to realize quilts do have their fair share of curves – whether it’s applique pieces such as circles…

Or curves in the blocks themselves. 

At some point, you may face the dilemma of sewing curves.  The great – no, wonderful thing – about quilting is there is more than one way to accomplish a task and the internet is FULL of different techniques you can try in order to find which method works best for you.  I promise I will have a blog on curves up before very long so you can try the techniques I use and see if those work for you or if you need to view other methods.

  •  As you’re sewing, focus on the seam allowance, points, and intersections.  I’ll be the first quilter to admit to you there are some parts about quilting which are boring.  Those long seams around borders are one of the less interesting parts of the process.  However, if you’re mind doesn’t stay in the game, it’s easy for the seam to be sewn crooked, or the fabric to slip out of place and suddenly the borders aren’t attached correctly at all. Which inevitably leads to quality time with your seam ripper (which is really no fun at all).  Pin long seams, focus on keeping both pieces of fabric together as you sew a consistent seam allowance, sew as fast or slow as you feel comfortable with, and take out the pins before you sew over them.  When you come to a point, make sure the seam intersects correctly so the points won’t get cut off.  Make sure the intersections stay nested as you sew over them, so the seams won’t be off.  In other words, even though Netflix may be blaring in the background with the latest true-crime drama, pay attention to what’s literally under the needle.

I hope my “hindsight” glasses are definitely 20/20 for you.  I think these 14 items are good to keep in mind no matter how long you’ve been quilting. 

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,



Regular Stems and Skinny Stems

It’s a fact of life. If you like to applique, at some point, you’ll have to deal with stems and vines.  In a world of thousands of applique patterns, it’s overwhelming floral.  And flowers denote the use of stems and sometimes vines.  Even some pieced blocks such as the Carolina Lily have appliqued stems. 

Quilt, pieced, Carolina Lily pattern, detail view.

Stems can stand straight and tall, while others are curvy.  Depending on the type of applique quilt under construction, stems may even form a circle – especially if you’re undertaking a Rose of Sharon type of quilt.  They vary in width, with some stems being wider than an inch and others as narrow as an eighth of an inch.  So, in an applique world where flowers seem to rule, how to you handle all these stems?

Like circles, there are multitudes of ways to make stems.  This blog deals with finished edged stems – raw edged ones can be cut to size and stitched down.  Finished-edged stems take a little more work.  And the way I construct them depends on the width of the stem and in some cases, the type of applique block.  But before we undertake stem construction, let’s talk fabric, bias, crosswise grain, straight-of-grain, starch, and non-starch.


In my opinion, stems (even more so than circles) go through some pretty rough prep work.  For this reason, tightly woven cotton fabrics or batiks work best.  Loosely woven fabrics such as Homespun or Peppered Cottons could fray extensively during the process. If I find myself in a situation where I absolutely must use a loosely woven fabric for stems, I pre-shrink the material in a hot water bath (do this by hand and not in the washing machine – you’ll have a ton of fraying to deal with if you throw it in a washing machine) and allow to air dry.  This process seems to pull the threads closer together and stop some of the fraying.  After the fabric is dry, I also press it with some starch, which adds an additional layer of fray prevention. 

Stretchy fabrics may also give you issues if used for stems.  They can stretch hopelessly out of shape during construction.  I avoid any type of knit, jersey, or fabric with rayon and/or spandex for use in stems, and this includes today’s quilting flannels.  If I am constructing a flannel applique quilt and the pattern calls for stems, I’ve found pressing some starch or starch substitute into the wrong side of the fabric before stem construction helps tremendously. 

Bias, Crosswise Grain, or Length of Grain

Those of you who are long-time readers of my blog may remember this little graph:

This illustration shows where the straight-of-grain, bias, and crosswise grain (also known as width of fabric) are located.  Most  of the time we cut material across the width of fabric on the crosswise grain – we fold the fabric in half length-wise, making sure the selvedges meet at the top, and then cut.  Fabric cut across the width of fabric has some stretch, but not a lot. 

Sometimes we cut along the length of the fabric, and this is called “straight -of-grain cuts.” Straight-of-grain cuts mean you are cutting parallel with selvedges and this type of cut has virtually no stretch at all. Hint: if the center of one of your quilts turns out a little wonky, try stabilizing the outer edges by cutting your binding along the straight-of-grain. Sometimes this will help a bit.

A bias cut is one made on the 45-degree angle across the width of the fabric.  Fabric which is cut on the bias has the most stretch and the least amount of fraying.  Bias cuts are frequently used in garment construction and also in quilting — both in quilt blocks and in some binding.

The individual attributes of each cut are important to keep in mind as you make stems and vines.  If the stems I need are straight, I have no problem cutting them on the length of the fabric.  Admittedly, length of fabric is my least favorite cut to make stems out of, but if I need a lot of straight stems and I have a piece of fabric which is longer than it is wide, I’ll cut them on the length of grain.  The ability to curve the stem isn’t needed, so the straight-of-grain works just fine.

If I need stems which curve just a bit, such as these:

I can cut my fabric on the crosswise grain.  This cut will give you some stretch, so you have the ability to curve your stems.  However, if the stems look something like this:

A bias cut is exactly what you need.  Cutting on the bias gives you the maximum amount of stretch needed to curve and twist the stem exactly how you need it.  Bias cuts also fray the least.  This is another important attribute to keep in mind if you’re constructing skinny stems.  Those stems can actually take the most needle-abuse, and if the fabric doesn’t fray, it will make your appliqueing life much easier.

Starch, Non-starch, and a Hot Iron

Two of these three items are vital to have on hand when constructing stems.  Starch or a starch substitute is needed in many of the stem techniques.  A hot iron is needed for all of them.  Steam is optional – whether you use a spray bottle or the steam mechanism on your iron. 

Let’s move onto making our stems.  I will go over six ways I make my stems, and the first two are the most common.

  1.  Bias Tape Makers

Bias tape makers look like this:

And depending on the bias tape maker used, can produce ¼-inch, 3/8-inch, ½-inch, ¾-inch, or 1-inch bias tape (and you have no idea how badly I wish they had an 1/8-inch bias tape maker).  These are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased individually or as a set.  You’ll see all kinds of fancy-smanzy kits of these available for purchase which will include pins and an awl and all kinds of other doo-dads, but seriously, the bias tape maker is all you need.  Everything else you have in your sewing studio.  Personally, I use the ¼-inch and 3/8-inch makers the most, but did find in my research it’s cheaper in the long run to purchase the entire set (Amazon had the set for $6.99 at the time of this blog’s publication).  Individually, they can sell from nearly $5.00 to over $7.00 apiece.

The bias tape makers include a small (oh, so small and so easy to lose) piece of paper with instructions on how wide to cut your fabric strips to feed through the maker.  Despite all my good intentions and attempts at organization, I always lose misplace my directions.  The rule of thumb is to cut your fabric strips twice as wide as the size needed.  So, if you need ¼-inch bias tape for stems, you will cut your fabric strips ½-inch wide, no matter if you’re cutting on the bias, crosswise grain, or lengthwise grain. 

There are a few guidelines to keep in mind during bias tape production.

  • Lightly starching the fabric before cutting out the strips really helps – especially if you’re a pre-washer.
  • Cut accurately.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Try to stay as true to the width needed as possible.  Otherwise, your fabric will “bobble” when it’s fed through the bias tape maker. 
  • There are two schools of thought when making bias tape.  One is to sew the strips together (the same way you do your quilting binding) and make one long piece of bias tape.  This way you can cut off  the lengths of stems you need as they are needed.  The other is not to sew the fabric together and make several strips of bias tape.  I fall somewhere between the two.  You have to keep in mind that if the strips are sewn together, there’s a seam.  The seam allowance can be trimmed away, and the seam pressed open, but this is still extra bulk which must be fed through the tape maker.  This can be problematic if you’re making the ¼-inch or 3/8-inch tape – the tape maker is narrow, and you may have issues with the seam feeding through smoothly.  If I’m making the narrower bias tape, generally I don’t sew the strips together.  However, if I’m constructing the ½-inch or larger strip, and I need a lot of the same color of stem, I’ll sew the strips together.  The larger sized makers seem to deal with the bulk of the seam better. 

Bias tape makers are easy to use.  The first step is to cut your strips twice the width needed.  For our example, I’m using the 1-inch bias tape maker because it’s easier for you to see.  Since I am making 1-inch bias tape, and my fabric strips need to be twice this width, I’ll cut my fabric strip at 2-inches.

Then I lightly spray the strip with starch and press.

The strip is much easier to feed through the wide end of the bias tape maker if you cut one of the fabric at an angle like this:

Insert the angled end into the back of the tape maker.  If you notice the top of the maker, you’ll see a slit:

Sometimes you’ll need to insert pin or stiletto here to help guide the fabric through the maker until the tip of the angle comes out.  Once I have about ¼-inch or so of the fabric exiting the narrow end of the maker, I pin it to the pressing surface.

My apologies….I didn’t take the time to clean off my wool mat before shooting pictures….

This holds the fabric in place while I take the handle on top of the maker and begin to guide it down the length of the fabric strip.  Don’t rush too fast and as more bias tape exits the narrow end of the maker, press it. 

After making a few inches of the bias tape, stop and take a good look at it.  The outer edges should be meeting in the middle and overall, the strip should look pretty straight and even.  If you find fabric sides which meet the in middle are not as flat as you’d like, lightly spray the strip with some additional starch (don’t soak it – mist it) before it’s fed through the wide end of the bias tape maker.  It will emerge from the narrow end of the maker still damp.  Once the moist fabric is hit with a hot iron, the edges should flatten out nicely. 

  •  Bias Bars/Perfect Stems

Bias bars (also known as Celtic Fabric Bias Bars) and Karen Kay Buckley’s Perfect Stems are another way to make stems.  These little gadgets are my preferred way of making stems.  This method is not as fast as the bias tape makers, but I think they make a prettier stem.  I also think it’s a little more forgiving – your cutting doesn’t have to be quite as accurate. 

Bias bars are made from heat resistant plastic or mylar or metal.  I prefer the metal ones because the heat from an iron is conducted better and the bars stay hotter longer, resulting in crisp edges.   

Normally fabric strips for the bias bars are cut either on the crosswise or bias grains.  If you need really curvy stems, cut on the bias.  To determine the width of the fabric strip, take the width of the bias bar, multiply it by 2, and add ½-inch (you can add a little more than ½-inch if needed).  So, if I were making stems from this ½-inch bias bar, my fabric strip width would be estimated like this:

(2 x ½ ) + ½ = 1 ½-inches.  I would cut my fabric strips 1 ½-inches wide.

After these are cut, lightly starch and press.

Then fold the fabric in half, wrong sides together and press again.

Insert the bias bar between the wrong sides of the fabric.

Zipper foot for my M7 Continrntal. Of all the zipper feet I’ve used in my sewing career, this is the best one.

Now using a zipper foot or edge foot, sew down open edge of the fabric strip, right along the side of the bias bar.  Since most bias bars are only a foot long, you’ll have to stop sewing (with the needle down) and gently push the bias bar further down the fabric strip.  Continue sewing and moving the bar until you get to the end of the strip. 

Once this process is complete, remove the bar and trim the seam allowance close to the stitching. 

Then roll the bias tape until the seam is at the back of the stem and press.  If I have difficulties getting the seam to lie as flat as I like, I starch and press the stem again. 

Bias tape makers and bias bars are the two most frequently used methods of stem-making.  Since the stems made from the bars have a seam allowance on the back, those add a little more dimension to your applique, as they stand up a bit off the background.  Which means they’re a welcome addition to almost any type of applique quilt except Baltimore Albums.  Traditionally, the applique on those blocks is completely flat.   

I use the next four types of stem construction for super-skinny stems.  While I would pay good money for Clover to produce a 1/8-inch bias tape maker or for a 1/8-inch bias bar, I don’t think they’re in the works any time soon.  Until then, I had to discover other ways to make super-skinny stems.  Disclaimer here before I get comments that Simplicity had a 1/8-inch bias tape maker.  Yes, years ago Simplicity did come out with a 1/8-inch bias tape maker.  However, this was a single-fold maker and it worked on their bias tape maker machine. And while this machine is still available in some places, the smallest tip it now has is ¼-inch.

Simplicity’s Bias Tape Maker. If you find yourself making miles of bias tape, you may want to invest in one of these.

Before we move into the methods of skinny stem applique, there are a couple of items to keep in mind before you start.  First, both the background and the stem fabric will be handled quite a bit.  For this reason, make sure your background fabric isn’t loosely woven, but a good quality quilting cotton.  For the skinny stems, in all honesty, batiks work best.  This fabric is firmly woven and doesn’t fray much at all.  Second, all skinny stems should be cut on the bias.  This minimizes fraying, and the fabric is much easier to manipulate when it’s a bias cut. 

  •  Needle Turn

The great thing about needle turned stems is you can cut the fabric strip a bit wider than needed and then trim it down as you sew.  Please also note, this is the way I handle needle turned skinny stems.  There are lots of other ways, so if my way doesn’t work for you, search YouTube and Google to find a method you’re comfortable with.

My first step is to lightly draw a line where the stem is supposed to be.  This mark will be covered by fabric, so a #2 pencil, water soluble pen, or a Frixion pen works just fine.

Next, from your stem fabric, cut a true bias strip roughly twice the needed width.  Finger press one length of the fabric so it folds over ¼-inch. 

Line up the fold of the stem fabric with the line drawn on the background fabric and pin in place.

At this point, a decision must be made.  You will need to stitch the stem fabric to the background fabric along the fold line.  This can be done by either hand or machine.  With me, this decision is made by the curve of the stem.  If the stem is straight or slightly curved, I’ll use my sewing machine to stitch along the fold.  I shorten my stitch length a little and sew it down.  If the stem has a lot of sharp curves or loops, I’ll hand stitch down the fold – it’s just easier and faster this way.

After the stem has been stitched down in the fold, finger press the remaining free edge ¼-inch.  Flip the stem over and begin to needle turn the stem.  If the ¼-inch seam allowance on the flipped over side is too bulky and makes it difficult to make the stem the width needed, trim it as you sew.

  •  Split Bias Tape

Admittedly, this is kind of like the needle turn technique, but the use of bias tape makers speeds up the process a little.  For this method, you’ll need the ¼-inch bias tape maker or 3/8-inch bias tape maker (depends on how “skinny” your stems need to be).

The first step is to make a strip of bias tape. 

This is 3/8-inch bias tape.

After the bias tape is constructed, using your rotary cutter or scissors, carefully trim off one folded side.

I find scissors work best for cutting off one of the folded sides.

Fold the remaining trimmed edge over to meet the other side in the middle, so it looks like normal bias tape made from a tape maker.

At this point, I use my glue stick and a hot iron.  I will run my glue stick along the trimmed edge and then fold it over to meet the other side in the middle.  Then I hit it with a hot iron.  Since the stem has been cut on the bias and glue and heat are used to set it, the fabric should cooperate fully with the process.  Always remember, you are the boss of the fabric – it is not the boss of you. Make it do what you want it to do!

After the stem has cooled and the glue has set, applique as normal.

  •   Apliquick

Skinny stems can be produced by the Apliquick method pretty quickly and easily.  Trace the stem shape onto the Apliquick interfacing (remember to reverse your pattern on the light box if needed). 

Cut out the stem along the drawn lines.

Press the interfacing to the wrong side of the stem fabric, remembering to place it on the bias.

Cut out, leaving ¼-inch margin.

Then using orange sticks or the Apliquick tools and a glue stick, turn the fabric edges over the interfacing.  Clipping the inner curves helps the fabric to hug the curves of the stem.  Helpful hint:  Apply the glue to the fabric first, then carefully clip. 

Helpful hint two:  A sheet of fine grit sandpaper on a clip board or a sandpaper applique board really comes in handy to hold the stem in place as you’re turning the fabric over the edge of the interfacing.

  •  Just Pretend There’s a Bias Bar in There

This method using the same steps as outlined in the section about Bias Bars, except you don’t use a bias bar.  First cut a strip of fabric twice as wide +  ½-inch.  For example, if you needed an 1/8-inch stem, your math would look like this: (1/8 x 2) + ½ = ¾.  Fold the strip in half, wrong sides together and lightly press.  Sew a ¼-inch seam along the long side, and trim off the seam allowance.  Roll the seam allowance to the back of the stem and press.

Now that you’ve made your stems, and you’re ready to applique them down, I’d like to share with you some of the techniques I use to curve and twist them as needed.

Because I taught Heirloom French Sewing, I am familiar with lace shaping, which looks a little like this:

All of this lace is shaped before it’s sewn into the garment.  A lace guide

Is placed on an ironing board, and the cotton lace is pinned in place on the guide.  The lace is then starched and pressed until it takes the needed shape.

I hadn’t appliqued very long until I began to wonder why couldn’t I handle my stems the same way?  I hypothesized I could draw the shape out, and then follow the same procedures I took with lace shaping, only just apply it to stems.

And it worked beautifully.  It worked with everything very well, even the bias strips I planned to needle turn.  I draw the curve needed on a piece of paper (use a pencil, the heat from the iron can transfer ink to your fabric), pin the stem into place, spray it with starch, and press it into the needed shape.

This process even works for stems with tight curves.

Before we end this rather lengthy blog on stems, I want to leave you with a few additional tips, which you may find helpful, especially if you applique a lot.

  •  If you decide you want to shape your stems “off the block” by starching them into the needed shape, you’ll need exactly that – starch or The “Other” Best Press Starch and Sizing Alternative (not the “regular” Best Press).  Either of these make the stems retain the desired shape in a way regular Best Press doesn’t. 
  •  All curvy stems – no matter how gradual or tight the curve is – work best if cut from a bias strip of fabric.
  • In my opinion, batiks make the best stems, followed distantly by firmly woven quilting cottons.
  • Store your shaped stems flat. 
  • If you are a fervent appliquer, don’t throw away left-over stems.  If you have five inches or more of stem length left, wrap it around a section of foam pool noodle and pin in place.  Don’t have a pool noodle?  An empty paper towel roll wrapped in a batting scrap works just as well.  I can’t tell you how handy it is to have some pre-made stems at your fingertips as you plan a project.  You immediately feel as if you’re halfway through your prep time.
  • I’m a quilt prepper – I like to have everything prepped before I start any quilt, either pieced or appliqued.  Which means I prep all my stems before I start.  Stems take a bit of time and care to make and make well.  However, once everything is prepped, the applique can be stitched down without having to stop and make more stems. 
  • If you are shaping your stems off the block, or pinning them to the background and ironing them down, be sure to use glass head pins.  Glass head pins are entirely heat resistant and unlike pins with plastic heads, they won’t melt and leave a sticky mess on your those stems you just spent hours making learned this the hard way with French Heirloom Sewing.
  • The narrowest stem I can successfully make is between 1/16 and 1/8-inch.  If I need anything narrower than this, I embroider it.
  • Always applique the inner curve first and then the outer curve.  Your stems will life flat and not pucker.
  • And finally – always, always remember – You’re the boss of the fabric.  The fabric is not the boss of you.  It may take a little coaxing and even some coercion, but eventually it will cooperate and do what you want it to do.  It just takes patience and good technique.

I hope you come away from this blog understanding how to make good stems and feel no intimidation about constructing skinny stems.   Try several of the methods to determine what works best in your quilting world.

Until Next Week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,



It’s Sew Time (or Finding Time to Quilt in an Increasingly Fast-Paced World)

I’ve quilted well over thirty years now.  Blogged about it for at least 12 years.  And as much as I’ve written about color choice, technique, and hints, there’s one question I get asked consistently:

How do you make time to sew?

Believe it or not, this is a difficult question to answer, because I’ve quilted throughout lots of stages in my life.  I began when my children were babies, continued through teaching and grad school, kept it up when I was running a school, and now as CFO of a company.  I’ve hardly missed a stitch no matter what stage of life I was at.  I’ve mentioned before quilting calms and centers me better than almost anything else, so I’ve always made time for it.

Someone else asked me this question again over the Fourth of July holiday week, and I kind of half-heartedly answered it:  I make time, it’s a priority, yada yada yada…  However, I really begin seriously considering this topic.  And I came to the conclusion no matter what stage of life I was in, there were always a few tricks I had up my sleeve which helped me  carve out a few minutes to sew.  I want to share these tips with you, because life seems to get busier and busier, and it’s easy to think a hobby such as quilting can be delayed or postponed – that in the long run of everything-else-is-more-important, it can wait.  However, if you’re passionate about the art, you know as well as I do, you gotta make time for it in order to keep your sanity.  So here are my tried-and-true ways to carve out some time to quilt.

  • Block out some time

This is way easier said than done, I know.  And since I don’t live your life, I can only offer suggestions via the way I do this, and you have to take these ideas and make them work for you.  I have made a commitment to myself to quilt a minimum of 20 minutes a day.  Twenty minutes is a workable amount of time and you’d be surprised how much you can get done in those few minutes.  When my kids were at home and I was “Mom’s Savings and Loan and Taxi Service,” I’d get up about a half an hour early, shower, and quilt.  Then I’d rouse the kids, pack the lunches, throw something in the crockpot for dinner, and herd everyone out the door for school.  This was a sure-fire way to get in my quilt time and it made me a much more pleasant person to live with the rest of the day.  Once everyone got home from school, we’d do homework, eat dinner, and then read and hang out as a family until time for bed.  At this point, the only person literally losing sleep over my quilting was me. 

And it was amazing how much I got done in those 20-30 minutes. 

Now, with my kids all grown up and gone, I’m more flexible.  I certainly don’t get up earlier now, but I do look at my day and plan when would be the best time.  If my mornings are super-busy with meetings and work, then I shoot for the afternoon or evening.  The first part of my week is always much busier than the later part of the week.  Weekends are really flexible.  Somedays I can get the entire 20 minutes or more in at one sitting.  Other days, I have to break it into several sessions. 

The important take-away is this:  Commit to a time block for your sewing.  Realize this isn’t written in stone – you may get sick or a loved one may be ill; you may have out-of-town company – and you can’t keep the commitment every day.  But carve out some time to put needle to thread.  Write it down.  Put it in your iPhone reminders.  And stick to it as much as you can. 

  • Turn off distractions

For those few minutes, ignore texts, Facebook messages, phone calls, emails, and anything else which may grab your attention.  Focus solely on your project.  I admit this is difficult for me, because I am of that generation who was raised to answer the phone, answer the mail, and do it as promptly as possible.  I learned to give myself permission not to do this – chances are, unless it’s a real emergency, these folks can wait for twenty minutes.  Another helpful hint here is to be choosy about what you watch while you quilt.  YouTube can be a big culprit.  This social medial platform has “snippets” of videos and often one of these “snips” can be shorter than your committed sewing time.  When this happens with me, I find myself searching for something else to watch, and wasting valuable sewing time.  If you’re YouTubing, make sure the video is long enough or bleeds into another video you’re interested in.  Personally, I’m Team Audible.  Recorded books can go on uninterrupted for hours

  • Organize your space

Most quilt studios are simply pictures of beautiful, colorful chaos.  We have two or three or more projects under construction and it’s near impossible for the untrained eye to understand that yes, we do know where everything is! And we do.  Most of the time. 

It does save a lot of time if you have a resting place for all the tools you use regularly:  Scissors, seam ripper, stiletto, needles (hand and machine), pins, thread, etc.  Always return these to your storage spot at the end of every sewing session so there won’t be a mad hunt for them during your next sewing session. 

Those of you who are long-time readers of my blog know I am a big proponent of project boxes.  I keep my cut-out quilts, thread, and any specialty notions in them.  This keeps everything together, so I don’t have to hunt them down.  If you’re not into boxes, or don’t have room for them, keep everything you need for a project in a bag or somewhere in your studio can access them.  This saves so much time!

  • Take advantage of margins

Remember this?

Notebook paper.  It comes in regular ruled and college ruled.  We use the center of it for lots of things – take notes, work equations, write letters – the list is endless, including making lists.  There are two red lines on the right and left side of the paper to denote left and right margins.  The left margin has the hole punches, and the right margins are blank.  In school, we were instructed not to write in the margins.  This empty space hung on either side of the center for teachers to write in or us to doodle in. 

Our lives are like notebook paper.  In the center are all the things we have to get done.  Work, chores, shopping, cooking.  But there are little snippets of time along the way which are completely blank – our time margins.  A few minutes while you’re waiting on a return call, a couple extra minutes  before dinner is done. Take advantage of those to put in a few stitches here and there.  I always keep handwork out and available.  It’s super-easy to grab this if I’m on a phone call or have a few minutes here or there.  A couple of minutes isn’t a lot of time, but you’ll be surprised how much you can get done in that space. 

  • Determine if you’re a morning person or evening person

Some people are “springers” and others are “creepers.”  Some are early birds, and some are night owls.  If you bounce out of bed at daylight like Tigger, chances are you’re a morning person.  If your disposition is more like Eeyore, more than likely you’re a night owl. 

I’m at my best in the morning (especially after a hot shower and a cup of hot coffee).  Anything which requires accuracy or is pretty complicated, I need to undertake it before lunch.  So, if I need to cut out a quilt, construct some Y-seams, or fussy cut, I am much better and more accurate with it in the mornings.  I save my “mindless” tasks, such as chain piecing or hand applique for the evenings. 

Examine what time of day you have the most clarity and plan your harder, more complicated quilting tasks then.  You’ll breeze through them with more accuracy and in less time than if you put them off and try to do them during a more low-focus period.

  • Breakdown projects into like tasks and groups of tasks

For me, this is the step which saves me the most time.  When I start a quilt, the first step I take is to read through all the directions.  Then I mark the directions up according to tasks – this is strip piecing, this is half-square triangles, this quilt needs so many circles, etc.  Since I’m not the type of quilter who only works on one quilt a time until it’s completed, it’s feasible I may have a couple of quilts which needs half-square triangles or strip piecing or circles. 

Then I decide which step will take the most time – in this instance, it’s the circles because I’ll either use Applipops or Perfect Circles. Now I look at my calendar.  The one night I have the most time is Monday.  Unless I have an executive board meeting with my guild, most Monday nights are wide open.  That would be the best time to work on all the circles, not just those for a specific quilt.  The next step which takes some time is half-square triangles.  Friday nights are generally always open, so I’ll schedule all of those for Friday.  The strip piecing takes the least time, and it’s something I can do at my Zoom and Sew on Tuesday night.  Wednesdays and Thursdays are held open for class work (I’m taking three classes right now) or quilting on Dolly or LeAnne. 

It may take a bit of time to organize your quilt week (this is something I do on the weekends), but I can’t tell you how effective this is.  If you come away with nothing from my blog but this step, you will save yourself massive amounts of time.

  • Use a timer

A timer was my best friend when I had little ones at home.  If they needed to read 30 minutes a night, I’d set the timer.  This eliminated being asked fiftyhundredmillionity times if reading time was over.  When the timer dinged, they were done.  Dentist said to brush your teeth for five minutes each night?  Timer employed.  Cake in the oven and I needed to pull weeds?  Timer in the apron pocket saved dessert from becoming a burnt offering. 

I also have discovered a timer is a good friend to keep in your quilt studio.  Of course, now most of us have Siri on our phones (or some other app) which will set a timer for us if we ask.  I generally set a timer for 15 minutes and during that time, I straighten and throw away.  When I begin my 20 minutes of concentrated, undisturbed sewing, I sometimes use a timer for this, too.  If I have a lot on my mind or there are other tasks which are stealing my attention, the timer helps me focus for 20 solid minutes.  If you’re easily distracted or are pulled in a thousand different directions, the timer may be a huge help.

  • If possible, make parts of your project portable

If you’re strictly a piecer (unless you’re piecing by hand), this may not be possible.  However, if you like hand applique or have a small-ish quilt to bind, try keeping those parts of your quilt together in a bag you can pick up and take with you.  My hand applique is always kept portable in a tote with all my supplies.  If I’m heading to my QBFF to sew, this bag is grabbed.  Likewise, if we’re heading out for a trip (I can sew while the hubs drives). 

When my children were younger, I kept handwork in the car.  I would work on it while waiting for them to get out of dance class, music lessons, or ball practice.  It was amazing how much I could get done in during this time. 

  • Be smart when it comes to your stash and supplies

In many ways, quilters have it easier than other sewing enthusiasts.  We tend to use beige, gray, black, or white thread.  We always need a neutral fabric.  And we don’t have to worry about someone outgrowing what’s under our needle before we get it done.  These characteristics of quilting allow us the awesome opportunity to keep standard supplies on hand in bulk, which means if we break a sewing machine needle at 8 p.m. on a Friday evening, we don’t have to wait for the LQS or a big box store to open the next morning.  We simply reach into our bulk supplies, pull out another needle, and keep sewing – saving time and in the long run, money (because it’s always cheaper to buy in bulk).

I think it’s good to purchase the following supplies bulk:

Thread (dark gray, light gray, white, ecru, and black)

Sewing machine needles

Rotary cutter blades

Marking pens/pencils

Pre-wound bobbins (if you use them)

Your favorite fusible

Starch and/or starch substitute

It’s always great to have these extra supplies on hand, and none of them take up a whole lot of room, even if they’re purchased in bulk. As a matter of fact, you could fit most of them into one drawer. 

Fabric stash is entirely personal and subjective.  I try to keep the basic neutrals (white, black, beige, and gray) on hand in three-yard cuts.  These may be tone-on-tone or low-volume prints. And three-yard cuts don’t take up a great deal of space.  However, those neutrals may be a great jumping off point for a quilt. 

The last item I keep on hand is a spare iron.  At this point, allow me to explain my iron issues.  I am hard on irons.  They invariably get knocked around or knocked off my pressing area.  For this reason, I don’t purchase expensive irons.  I make a Target, Walmart, or Goodwill/Thrift Store run and purchase two of the cheapest irons available.  I use one and store the other because invariably at some point, the iron I’m using will die an ignominious death and I will need another.  It’s so much easier just to pull out the spare iron and keep working.  I also don’t keep water in my iron.  This can cut down on the iron’s life span (even if it doesn’t get knocked off the ironing board).  If I need steam, I use a spray bottle and water. 

  • The freezer and a slow cooker or insta-pot are your BFF.

I still do most of the cooking around my house, which can seriously cut into my sewing time.  I try – to the best of my ability anyway – to have a few frozen meals stuck back in my freezer or have the supplies to make a crockpot or insta-pot dinner.  If there’s a day when I really have pull some serious time on a quilt, either a frozen lasagna or spaghetti comes out of the freezer, or I find some boneless chicken breasts and throw them in the slow cooker with a can of cream-of-something soup, a packet of onion soup mix or ranch dressing mix, and a half-a-cup of white wine.  Six hours later, dinner is done, and you have uninterrupted sewing time.

These are a few of the ways I make time to get in some stitching time.  Some days I feel like I’m constantly pulled in so many different directions, I never get anything substantive done.  However, a few stitches here and there really add up.  I hope you can use my suggestions in your own quilt studio!

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,



Half-Square Triangles: The Work Horse of Quilt Blocks

Today I’d like to talk about a quilt block I consider to be the backbone of most quilt blocks – the half-square triangle.

For the sake of argument, I realize the square and rectangle are also pretty solid contenders for the title of Quilting Backbone, but they’re simply just….squares and rectangles.  Depending on the fabric they’re comprised of, they can be …well…boring.  At least half-square triangles have a little more pizazz and they’re actually pieced.  I have quilted so long, I tend to overlook these blocks – which can be blocks all by themselves, or a block unit (part of a block).  I’ve made them as long as I can remember, and it wasn’t until I made this quilt:

That I realized just how versatile they are.  And while they’re not complicated to make, due to the bias the block employs, they can be tricky.  In this blog, I want to share some of my favorite ways to make half-square triangles (HSTs), how I handle the bias,  the mathematical formula to turn any square into an HST, and my sure-fire trick to making sure all my HSTs turn out the right size.

With the beginning of my research about HSTs, I wanted to fine out how many quilt blocks use half-square triangles as block units.  I searched Google, Bing, and Duck, Duck, Go and you know what I found?

None of the search engines would touch that question.  They would show me blocks with HSTs in them, but none of the three would even proffer a number. Not to be daunted, I searched Electric Quilt 8, hoping it would give me some sort of answer (keep in mind I have Dear Jane and Barbara Brackman’s Block Base in my EQ8).  It responded with only 50 blocks in it’s data base with HSTs.  To me that number seemed deceptively low, but it’s a starting point.

The next question I needed answered was how many quilts can be made from only HSTs – that is the half-square triangle is considered the block, and not a block unit.  I was little daunted on this one, too.  Google came back with the answer 999+.  It seems after 999 quilts, Google threw up its hands and just said, “A lot…a lot of quilts can be made out of half-square triangles.  Please don’t make me count anymore.”

To start, let’s take a look at the formula used to determine how big to cut your fabric patches in order to make a HST.  It’s super-easy math.  You take the size of the finished square and add 7/8-inch.  So, if you’re looking at this quilt block,

and you decide you want to make it, but you’re not sure how to manage the half-square triangles, the first thing to keep in mind is even though the until is made out of triangles, you must think about it as a single block, and not two triangles in order to get your measurements correct. Let’s say the HST is 3-inches, finished (the term finished  means you’re measuring the HST after it’s been sewn in the quilt block).  You simply add 7/8-inch to the finished measurement:

3-inches + 7/8-inch = 3 7/8-inches.

You would cut two blocks of fabric (one of each color of the half-square triangle) each 3 7/8-inches square.  Keep this formula in mind because it will work with most of the construction methods I will share with you.

The first HST method is the standard one – you cut two squares of fabric, slice them once on the diagonal to form triangles.  Then take one color triangle and a triangle of the other color, place them right sides together, and sew them together along the long side of the triangle (hypotenuse). 

The HST formula works with this construction method.  One helpful hint I’d give you at this point is to blunt the ends of the triangle. This helps you line up the triangles correctly and there are no dog ears to trim off at the end.  If you’re a little worried about blunting your triangles, there is always this little tool.

It’s the Marti Michell Corner Trimmer.  You can use it to trim up your ends. 

In the spirit of transparency, this is my least favorite way to make triangles for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s easy for the ends of the triangles to get chewed up by the feed dogs on your sewing machine.  Second (and usually most important in my world), it’s a super, super slow way of making half-square triangles.

The second construction method is one of my favorites, probably because this is the method I use the most, and I’m comfortable with it.  The reason I like this technique is you don’t have to worry about the bias so much when you’re sewing.  With the first method, the bias is exposed along the hypotenuse, and you have to be careful not to stretch it as you sew.  The bias is not exposed until the last minute with this approach. The half-square triangle formula works with this method just fine, so cut two squares the finished size plus 7/8-inch.

Draw a line diagonally across one of the squares, from one corner to another.  As this line will be cut away, feel free to use whatever marking tool you have nearby.  The idea with this method is to sew ¼-inch away from either side of this marked line.  If you have a quarter-inch foot, such as this one:

Use it on your machine to sew ¼-inch seam on either side of the drawn line.  If you don’t have a quarter-inch foot, don’t despair.  Use a ruler to draw a line ¼-inch on either side of the line or there’s this handy-dandy little tool called the Quick Quarter:

With this marking tool, you can draw a dashed line on the diagonal from corner to corner, and without moving anything, draw solid sewing lines ¼-inch away from the dashed line. 

Put the fabric squares right sides together and sew along the lines on either side of the true diagonal line, then cut the square apart on the diagonal line.  This will give you two half-square triangles.  Helpful hint for this method:  Mark the lightest color of fabric with the cutting and sewing lines.  By sewing with this fabric on top, it makes pressing towards the darker fabric much easier.

The third half-square triangle technique yields four HSTs at a time, and it is a bit tricky, because so much bias is exposed at once.  The half-square triangle formula does not work with this method.  In order to determine how big to cut your fabric, take the finished size of the HST block or unit and add ½-inch to 1-inch.  Due to all the exposed bias, it works better to make the half-square triangles a bit larger and then cut them down.  How large you make your squares is really up to you, but I will tell you it’s a lot easier to cut down larger squares than deal with any fiddly bias issues which result from squares you wish you would have cut at least a bit larger ask me how I know.

Let’s say we want our half-square triangles to finish at 4-inches.  In order to make this happen, we know we need to cut our squares out at 5-inches (which, by the way, means this size is perfect for charm packs).  Cut the squares out and press them well with starch or a starch substitute.  This will help stabilize the bias. With the right sides of the squares together, sew around all four sides of the square with a ¼-inch seam allowance.  Once again, place the lighter fabric on top to make pressing towards the darker fabric easier.

Using a rotary cutter and ruler, cut the sewn-together squares twice on the diagonal.This should produce four slightly over-sized HSTs.  I’ll talk about a couple of different ways to trim these down a little later in the blog. 

There are a couple of other ways to protect the bias.  Make sure your rotary cutter has a sharp blade in it.  A dull blade can drag across the bias and stretch it.  And if you don’t plan on using the half-square triangles right away, put off cutting them until you are ready.  Then, once they are cut, handle them as little as possible.

The next method is known as “Magic Eight.”  This technique makes eight HSTs at a time and note the half-square formula does not work for this method.  Magic Eight has its own mathematical equation.  You’ll need to cut two fabric squares for this, one light and one dark.  The math for Magic Eight works like this:

  1.  Take the finished size of the half-square triangle needed.
  2. Add 7/8-inch to the finished size.
  3. Multiply that by two.

Let’s say we need 3-inch finished half-square triangles.  The math would look like this:

3-inches + 7/8-inch =  3 7/8-inches

3 7/8 x 2 = 7 ¾-inches

We will need to cut two fabric squares, each 7 ¾-inches.

On the lighter fabric, draw an X, from corner to corner. Now, just like we did with second HST method, we will draw two additional lines, one on each side of the X, ¼-inch away from the X.  Right sides together, place the lighter fabric square on top of the darker one, and sew along the lines marked ¼-inch away from the X. 

Once that is done, we need to cut the half-square triangles apart by the following steps:

  1.  Locate the middle of the square and cut it in half along the middle, vertically.
  2. Locate the middle of the square along the right and left side, and cut it again in the middle, horizontally.
  3. Now cut the four squares apart on the drawn diagonal line on each square.

Press the seam allowance towards the darker fabric.

The next method uses 2 ½-inch strips or a jelly roll.  Since we’re using a pre-determined size (2 ½-inches), we know the largest finished size HST we can produce is 2-inches.  However, remember you can trim down these half-square triangles to the size needed.

The first step is to sew the 2 ½-inch strips, right sides together, along the long sides of the fabric, using a ¼-inch seam allowance.

Next, line the ruler with unfinished size marking of the HST needed on the ¼-inch stitch line.  So, in this case, the 2 ½-inch marking of the ruler will be on the ¼-inch seam.  The ruler will be at a 45-degree angle.  Then cut out the fabric around the ruler. Rotate the ruler around to the other side and repeat the same steps. Remember to keep the lighter fabric on top, to make pressing towards the dark a little easier.

The final way to make half-square triangles is to paper piece them.  While I don’t mind traditionally piecing larger HSTs, I consider anything much smaller than 2 ½-inch finished half square triangles trickier than I want to deal with.  However, paper piecing will produce perfect smaller HSTs and the bonus is paper piecing will help protect the bias.  Half-square triangle papers come in lots of forms.  There are these by Moda, which are super fun to make:

They also come on rolls:

And in traditional paper.

The very best thing about HST papers is most sizes are available for free on the internet!  Simply Google the size you need, and all kinds of options come up:

Some of these make two half-square triangles at a time, and others make several at once.  These papers are directional, so make sure you sew in the directions the arrows point, then cut them apart according to the directions (each set of papers may have their own instructions, so be sure to read before sewing and cutting).  Helpful hint one:  Place the lighter fabric on directly beneath the pattern.  Keeping the lighter fabric on top makes pressing towards the darker fabric easier.   Helpful hint two:  I keep the papers on until I’m ready to sew the half-square triangles together.  This seems to protect the bias a bit better.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a few tricks I employ to make sure my HSTs come out the correct size, with an unstretched bias.

  1.  You may get frustrated with your half-square triangles coming out different sizes, even though you’ve cut your squares out accurately.  Sometimes this happens.  I can tell you with all honesty, the more your make HSTs, the less this happens.  Until that day, here’s a couple of tricks I use to help.  First, let’s look at the sew lines on the square. 

I don’t sew exactly on the sew lines.  I sew one or two threads behind the line, towards the corners of the square.  This gives you a little more wiggle room.  Your thread will take up some space, and the fabric itself will occupy a little room in the seam when the half-square triangle is pressed.  Sewing a thread or two to the right of the sew line buys you a little extra wiggle-room space.

  •  Another technique I use is to make the HST larger and cut it down.  I know we do this automatically when we make four half-square triangles at a time, but for those we use the formula with, I add a full inch instead of the 7/8-inch.  This would apply to the first two methods, as well as the Magic Eight technique.

Once the larger-than-needed unfinished triangles are made, then you have to cut then down.  This can be done the traditional way with a square ruler:

You line the diagonal seam up with the diagonal line on a square ruler, and trim to the size needed.  Then rotate the HST and repeat on the next two sides.

My favorite half-square trimming ruler is Eleanor Burns Triangle Square Ruler.  It is extremely rare I have a ruler which can only serve one function, but this is the exception to my “it-must-be-a-multi-tasker” rule.  It’s super-easy and super-accurate and you don’t have to press your squares open to trim.  Seriously, if a lot of HSTs are in your future, you probably want this ruler.  It sells for $16.95 on Amazon, and slightly less on Eleanor’s website

  •  No matter which construction method used, the fact is you will deal with bias.  All of these HSTs have a hypotenuse (the base of the triangle).  And to get that long hypotenuse, the squares, at some point, have to be cut on the diagonal and this exposes the bias.  This bias must be carefully handled, so it won’t stretch out of shape and cause your half-square triangle to be wonky.  In order to keep the bias in shape, there are a few things you can do.
  • Starch your fabric with starch or a starch substitute.  Spray the fabric lightly and then with a hot iron, press the cloth until it’s dry.  Repeat this process several times until the fabric feels almost stiff.  This stabilizes the bias.
  • May sure your rotary cutter blade is sharp.  A dull blade can drag across the fabric and stretch the bias. 
  • Once they are constructed, press (use an up and down motion with the iron, not a back and forth one) toward the dark fabric.  Sliding the iron back and forth can stretch the bias.  Steam is a personal matter.  I don’t tend to use steam on any bias, as wet fabric will stretch more easily than dry.  If for some reason the HST is wrinkled to the point I feel like some steam is needed, I lightly mist the fabric with a spray bottle filled with water and then press it with a hot iron. 
  •  Handle the half square triangles as little as possible.  If you’re sewing them now and not planning on using them right away, you may want to hold off cutting them apart until you’re ready to sew.  Once they are sewn and cut apart, press them, and store them flat. 
  • If you are using any directional fabric such as stripes or plaids or material which has an obvious “up and down”, remember the orientation of these designs will change with HSTs.  You can see how the stripes in my green fabric rotated different ways in this little wreath quilt made from half-square triangles.  Care must be taken when using these in HSTs.  If I use these in a quilt and they absolutely must be oriented the same way, I use a template to cut the triangles out individually.  Yes, this does take a great deal of time, but when I do this, I’m guaranteed all my directional fabric will be correctly oriented. 

Between this blog and my blog on Charm Quilts, I hope you make a quilt from half-square triangles. Almost all quilters need to have a good grasp on how to make HSTs quickly and correctly  And really, what’s not to love about a good half-square triangle?  Mindless sewing and so many quilt options.

A couple of closing comments.  First, I’m not employed by any paper piecing publisher nor Eleanor Burn’s Quilt in a Day.  Any products I mention on the blog I use myself and pay for myself.  My bias, good or bad, is drawn from my experience with the product, not from any paid endorsement situation.

Second, thank you everyone who emailed, commented, or direct messaged me about the loss of my Sam.  Let me tell you, after 22 years of him being my constant companion, the loss is deeply felt.  I find myself looking for him without thinking and it’s the weirdest thing to completely ignore the cat food aisle in the grocery store.  Huge shout-out to Faithful Companions Pet Care in Greensboro.  They handled the situation of a sobbing cat owner who was completely incoherent with care and compassion throughout the entire process.  Sam was greatly loved and given the best life I could give him.  I miss him more than I can explain.

Will I get another cat?  Probably.  But not right now.

Again thank you all my quilting friends!

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,