April 25, 2016

Chart 48: Setting Triangles and Iris, Block #44 in the Farmer's Wife Sew Along

Iris is another block to which I made many construction technique adaptations. A little applique eliminated a lot of pieces. The methods I used are detailed on the PDF. I hope you will download it and find the instructions useful.

Looking for More 6-inch Blocks?

Someone emailed that she needs 126 blocks for the quilt size she is making and then she asked how many more alternate blocks I would be including. I thanked her for the compliment. The question implied that she thinks I am done! In fact, other than having determined the order of the blocks, I’m only a few blocks ahead of all of you!

But I’m guessing 8 or 10 maybe even 12 major modifications of blocks or complete substitutes are in my future. If you are also looking for substitutions or additions to make a bigger quilt, don’t forget that the instruction booklet that comes with Set S has 6 additional blocks included. I also checked the Index of Volume 1 of the Encyclopedia of Patchwork Blocks and it has 26 six-inch blocks, mostly made with Set A.

Don’t forget, it is your quilt. There is a certain interesting discipline to making a quilt stitch for stitch like someone else, but there is also a charm to personalizing the same quilt with some of your own choices.

Looking Ahead to the Setting Triangles

If you are using the setting included in the book, it is REALLY important to cut those large right triangles with the hypotenuse or long side on straight grain and preferably on straight lengthwise grain. That means you will cut strips parallel to the selvage and then cut the triangles.

There are three really easy and accurate ways to cut the setting triangles with From Marti Michell specialty rulers.

Pick from Three Tools for Cutting the Setting Triangles!
You may even already own one of them!

Click photo for a larger view.

Cut 12 or 15 and put them up on your design wall to make sure you like your fabric selection. Then you can start sewing the triangles in place as you finish each block. You'll be ready to arrange the blocks into a pleasing layout when you want to.

1. Back in August 2015 when I wrote the first list of potential tools, I recommended the Small No-flip Diagonal Set Triangle Ruler #8105 for cutting the setting triangles. It was the obvious tool to recommend — it is designed specifically for cutting setting triangles for blocks from 2-1/2  to 10 inches square.  (Click the diagrams for larger views.)

2. Later, I realized the Flying Geese Ruler also has a line that is perfect for the triangle. The line to align with the fabric is actually the seam line of the largest triangle. It has nothing to do with setting triangles, it just happens to be the right size triangle needed for setting this quilt.

3. Just recently I discovered that the outside dimension of one of our newest tools, the Multi-size Half-Square Triangle Ruler, is also the exact size needed for the setting triangle. Ignore the printed lines and place the hypotenuse on the straight edge of the strip to cut full size triangles.

No matter how you cut the triangles, remember to cut the strips on the lengthwise grain parallel to the selvage. The strips should be 4-3/4 inches wide when you cut the triangles with any of these tools. The engineered corners create a “dog-ear free zone” and make lining setting triangles up with 6-1/2 inch squares so easy. Just like this:

Both the Diagonal Set Setting Triangle and the Flying Geese Triangle also have instructions for the setting corner triangles that you need at the top and bottom of rows.

See directions in the book starting on page 260 for joining the blocks and making rows. Press seams toward the setting triangles.

Planning to Cut Triangles with Your Standard Ruler?

Please, please! Read the following carefully if you are using the quilt layout in the book and planning to ruler-cut the setting triangles.

It would be easy to just start cutting half-square right triangles from squares. BUT, if you do that both long edges of every strip will be on true bias, which means it will be almost impossible to get a nice flat quilt top.

 Some people recommend stay stitching the bias edges, but if the edge stretches while sewing (due to presser foot and feed dog pressure and/or finger resistance), the stay stitching will set the stretch. (Click the diagrams for larger views.)

You can cut a larger square and cut across it diagonally in both directions. In this case you would need to cut 9-3/4 inch squares. The reason I don’t recommend this method is that you end up with two setting triangles that have crosswise grain on the hypotenuse and two that have lengthwise grain, which results in varying amounts of stretch on those long seams.

Even more important to me is that if your background fabric has even the slightest directional design, some of the design "lines" will be horizontal and some vertical, which can be very disruptive visually. Sometimes even triangles of solid white fabric look different when cut that way and the quilt is assembled! Directional designs are obvious when they are stripes but many floral prints, etc., are also directional.

Testing is always good. If you plan to cut this way, cut a few and put them up on your design wall for a closer examination before you cut and sew all the triangles.

The goal is to always have the longest side of the triangle, or the hypotenuse, on the outside edges of your quilt rows on straight lengthwise grain.  It's not hard to do -- it just requires a little planning before you begin to cut them.  Your triangles won't stretch as they're added to the blocks.  Your rows won't stretch as they are joined so your quilt will be "square".  And the length of your quilt top will match from side to side and top to bottom.

P. S. All of the above suggestions also apply to setting triangles for any diagonal set quilt design, not just the zig-zag layout for the 1930s Farmer's Wife Sampler Quilt.

My Iris Block

Click the links below to download the Chart for cutting and making Iris:

The Farmer’s Wife 1930s Sampler Quilt: Inspiring Letters from Farm Women of the Great Depression and 99 Quilt Blocks That Honor Them by Laurie Aaron Hird for Fons & Porter/F+W.


  1. Marti, thank you for this tutorial about cutting those set pieces, that is invaluable information, and not just for this quilt, but any project! Your ideas for the construction of the Iris is so clever! Thank you for all you do.

    1. Thanks, Margaret! I appreciate your support. :)