In 2018, I wrote a series of blogs about the Golden Ratio and how to use it when you quilt. These “math heavy” blogs remain some of my most read and most liked columns of all time. In several of those blogs, I began with the scenario something like this: You’re at an estate sale…you’re at a yard sale…you’re at some kind of function where you walk away with a stack of quilt blocks, and you need to know how to set them with sashings and borders.
Well, this blog is not a drill and I have in my possession 24 hexie blocks.
First, let me tell you how I acquired the blocks. My wonderful mother is 83 years young. Prior to COVID, she was extremely active. She taught stained glass, went out with her friends, and generally lived a grand semi-retired lifestyle. When COVID hit, she seriously hunkered down, but there was only so much TV and so many puzzles she could work before she went crazy. Once I was vaxxed, I went to see her and took my handwork with me. At that particular time, I was using Cindy Blackberg’s stamps to make a Grandmother’s Flower Garden. As my mother watched me hand piece, she decided she wanted to try it. I gave her a stack of hexies and she started her own handwork journey. After I went back home, I stamped out a bunch of hexies and mailed those and the needed supplies to her. This new hobby helped get her through the stark loneliness COVID brought to so many senior citizens.
She still likes to hand piece, so about a year or so ago I used my hexie stamp to make her some more hexie flower kits and a few weeks ago she handed me back 24 completed hexie flowers. My original idea was to make two applique quilts – one for each of my kids. I knew they would cherish a quilt put together by their Nana and their mom. In my mind I had the quilts drawn out – the hexies would be flowers and I’d add stems and leaves and make a cute wall hanging. That was my plan…but…things change. The design of flowers, stems, and leaves would be great for me or Mom, but my kids are thirty-somethings. A quilt like that wouldn’t fit their décor and while I knew they both would cherish the quilts because of the history behind them, I couldn’t see the quilts working anywhere in their homes. I needed to regroup and rethink this situation.
So, I turned to Pinterest and Google. After a bit of searching and looking, I decided to machine applique each hexie onto a block of fabric and set those into a quilt. This would definitely give the quilt a more “modern” than traditional vibe and work better on their walls. Plus, the hexies are made of bright modern fabrics and batiks and really don’t have much of a Grandmother’s Flower Garden feel to them. I also decided to set the blocks on point. Decisions were made, finalized, and then I made a rough sketch of the quilt.
Now here’s where the math comes in. In order for everything to look balanced, I don’t want the background blocks to be too small so the hexie flowers look crowded, or so big they look lost. There needs to be a balanced margin around them. Using the Golden Ratio formula took the guess work out of figuring out how big the background blocks needed to be.
The Golden Ratio is the extreme and mean ratio discovered by Euclid. It’s also called the Divine Proportion. It was developed by taking a line and dividing it into two parts – a long part (a) and a short part (b). The entire length (a + b) divided by (a) is equal to (a) divided by (b). And both of those numbers equal 1.618. This is an irrational number, yada, yada, yada….I could go on, but by now I know a few of you have glazed-over eyes and are having high school geometry class flashbacks. The main thing for quilters to remember is the number: 1.618. Put it in the note section of your phone, write it down in your quilting notes, or simply memorize it because this number will serve you well.
Now back to my hexies and my applique background squares. In order to make sure the blocks are proportional, I need one other measurement besides 1.618 – the width of the hexies. A quick measurement shows me the hexies are 6 ½-inches at their widest point. So now I take the width of the hexies and multiply it by 1.618:
6.5 x 1.618 = 10.517, which we will round down to 10.5 or 10 ½-inches.
The finished quilt block needs to measure 10 ½-inches. However, I still need to add the seam allowance, which is another ½-inch. So our unfinished quilt block (the measurement of the block before it’s sewn in the quilt) is 11-inches (10 ½ + ½ = 11). But I’m still not quite finished with the block measurements yet. I will applique the hexie flowers onto the background. This process can draw the fabric up just a bit. I need to add a scootch more fabric margin to the background squares to make sure I can still have them safely at 10 ½-inches finished. In order to make sure I have enough scootch room, I’ll add another ½-inch to the unfinished 11-inches. So I will cut my background blocks out at 11 ½-inches. I will measure these before I begin to assemble the quilt top and if they’re larger than 11-inches, I’ll trim them down. It’s always so much easier to trim something down than it is to try to fit something that’s too small into a larger space.
Applique blocks decided, I still have to deal with eight side setting triangles and four corner triangles. “Sherri,” you may be asking at this point, “Is there more math for these?”
Why yes! And I’m so glad you asked! Bonus – there’s a new formula. But before I introduce the formula and the equation, let’s take a look at a drawing of the quilt.
I’ve highlighted the side setting triangles in pink and the corner triangles in green. The number of side setting triangles will vary in the quilts you make. That number depends on how large your quilt is and how many on-point blocks are in it. However, there will always be four corner triangles in any rectangular or square quilt. You will note the side setting triangles are larger than the corner ones. The math and cutting differs a little in each, but we begin with squares we sub-cut into triangles.
At this point, allow me to introduce you to “Quilter’s Cake” – 1.414. Okay…technically it’s really not called “Quilter’s Cake.” Throw out that term to any geometry teacher and all you’ll get is a blank stare. It is, however, the Root Mean Square and it’s used to determine 45-degree angles.
It’s also used to determine voltage, but that’s a different blog for a different day. Think of it as the Golden Ratio in Triangles (GRIT).
This formula is super-easy to use. For side setting triangles, simply take the size of the finished quilt blocks and multiply it by 1.414 and add 1 ¼-inches for the seam allowance. With this quilt, the finished measurement is 10 ½-inches. So we multiply it out like this:
1.414 x 10.5 = 14.847 or 14 7/8-inches.
Then we add the seam allowance:
14 7/8 + 1 ¼ = 16 1/8-inches.
We should cut the side setting triangle square out at 16 1/8-inches and then cut it twice on the diagonal to get four side setting triangles per square. Since we need eight, we only need to cut two 16 1/8-inch squares. Which you can do…but let’s have a Zone of Truth meeting right here.
I thoroughly dislike cutting anything at 1/8-inch increments. The 1/8 lines are difficult to see and line up on a cutting mat. When I cut my side setting triangle squares out, I’ll bump the measurement up to 16 ¼-inches and then trim down the long side of the triangle before I put the borders on.
The four corner triangles are mathed out a little differently. Since the corner triangles are generally always smaller than the side setting triangles, you divide by 1.414 and then add 7/8-inch for the seam allowances. Again, take the finished size of the block and divide by 1.414:
10.5 / 1.414 = 7.425743 or 7 3/8
7 3/8 + 7/8 = 8.25 or 8 ¼-inches.
Since these blocks will only be cut once on the diagonal and I need four of the corner triangles, I’ll cut out two 8 ¼-inch squares.
Whew. Now all the applique background blocks, the side setting, and the corner triangles are mathed out and cut out. You’d think we’d be ready to begin the machine applique process, right?
Not quite yet. There are two more steps I need to walk you through before I set up my machine for applique. The first step is choosing a stabilizer. A stabilizer is used on the wrong side of the background blocks. It keeps the fabric from getting “chewed” by the sewing machine and allows it to slip over the feed dogs without difficulty. It helps keep your stitches even and makes machine appliqueing curves and circles so much easier. There are literally hundreds of stabilizers on the market (go here: https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2022/04/27/stabilizers/ for some). The only cautionary characteristics I would remind you of are these:
- If it’s a tear-way stabilizer, make sure it pulls away easily from the stitches and fabric. If it doesn’t, it’s easy to stretch your block and stitches out of shape as you struggle to remove the stabilizer (for this reason, copy paper is not my favorite stabilizer, although it can be used).
- If it’s water soluble, make sure your fabric won’t fade or bleed when immersed in the sink or spritzed by a spray bottle filled with water. If a water-soluble stabilizer is your stabilizer of choice, you may want test your fabric to see how color-fast it is or pre-wash it.
- If it’s a leave-in stabilizer, make sure it’s light enough to quilt through without difficulty and it’s not too stiff.
My stabilizer of choice is Pellon’s Easy Knit.
Technically, this isn’t a “stabilizer.” It’s a lightweight interfacing. I was introduced to this product when I made my first T-shirt quilt years ago. It was used to stabilize the knit T-shirts before they were sewn into the quilt. It’s soft, easy to get a sewing machine or long arm needle through and since it’s an interfacing, it’s made to be left in. I really like it for machine applique because it does make the wrong side of the background fabric slippery, thus making the applique process much easier as you manipulate the fabric under the needle.
This product can be purchased by the yard or by the bolt. I have found JoAnn Fabric and Crafts has the best price in my area. If you don’t have a JoAnn’s near you, they do have a website. When JoAnn’s has Easy Knit on sale or has a 40% off coupon, I purchase it by the bolt, and a bolt lasts me a long time.
Choosing which fusible to use is the second step. There are just as many fusibles on the market as there are stabilizers, and like stabilizers, the fusible you like and use is a personal choice. I am not a one-size-fits-all stabilizer quilter. The one I use depends on what type of quilt I’m making. If a bed quilt is under my needle, I will opt for a softer fusible, such as Soft Fuse or Misty Fuse. However, these quilts are wall quilts, which means I can use something with a stiffer feel to it. I want the quilts to keep their shape as they will be hanging vertically and not laying horizontally on a bed. Because of this, I’ll use Steam-A-Seam Lite.
Once the background squares, side setting triangles, and corner triangles are cut out, the fun begins. I tend to work my way through each major step with every piece involved. This means I press the stabilizer to the wrong sides of all the applique background blocks.
Then I press the hexie flowers and add the fusible. Note I don’t remove the paper backing until I’m ready to fuse the flowers to the background.
Now I mark my background squares so I can center the hexie flowers. Once this is complete, I pull the paper backing off the flower, center it on the background fabric and press.
At this point, the fun begins. Since my hexies are every color of the rainbow, I get to pull out all my applique thread and make some decisions. It’s a good thing I’m a thread-a-holic. I have something to match anything. To cut down on the number of times I need to change my thread, I group the hexies according to color, instead of randomly pulling out blocks. My machine applique stitch of choice is the blanket or buttonhole stitch. I play with widths and lengths on a scrap until I’m happy with the result:
And I make of a note of the length and width settings in my phone. Since I currently am also quilting a small quilt on the same machine, I don’t want to get my settings confused.
A few days of steadily appliqueing adds up to 26 completed blocks. The following blogs can add more details about how to raw-edge applique: (https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2022/03/23/choosing-fabric-for-raw-edge-applique/, https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2022/03/30/raw-edge-applique-supplies/, https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2022/04/06/most-applique-is-like-ogres-it-involves-layers-or-how-to-begin-raw-edge-applique/, and https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2022/04/13/the-final-steps-in-raw-edge-applique/).
I assemble the quilt top, pressing well after each addition, and then measure it in three places across the width of the quilt. I average these three numbers together to know how long to cut the top and bottom border (the border are 2 ½-inches wide). I press the seams towards the borders and then repeat the process for the length of the quilt to make the side borders.
Now all I have to do is quilt it and add a sleeve for hanging and a label.
I hope you’ve enjoyed making this quilt with me. You don’t have to use a pattern to make a quilt. You don’t even need a computer program such as EQ (even though I can’t imagine my quilting life without EQ). You just need to remember the Golden Ratio (1.618) and GRIT (1.414). Math is simply numbers, and numbers will always tell us the truth.
Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference!
Love and Stitches,