March 21, 2017

Week 2: Long Time Gone Sew Along | Square Within a Square Blocks -- No Waste!

Square Within a Square is one of the units people who use our templates love to make because there is no waste. We actually cut the center square and 4 triangles instead of adding squares to every corner of a bigger square and creating so much scrap when cutting off the corners.

Our template sets for rotary cutting feature special engineered corners that automatically reduce bulk. No going back after sewing to trim excess bulk ~ it's trimmed away at the same time the pieces are cut. But even better than no waste, when you cut the pieces with the templates with the engineered corners, the pieces fit together perfectly!

For this 12-inch finished block, use Set A pieces 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6. If you are thinking that the template sizes are not even close to the piece sizes listed in the book you are correct. That is why we call it “No Waste.”

My block shows a slight modification where I cut 4 rectangles that replace 4 Flying Geese units.

If you are interested in some of my strategies for efficient cutting of scrap quilts, skip down and read "A Scrappy Cutting Strategy" before cutting. But first you need a list of the pieces required because our cut sizes are so much smaller than those in the book.

The 9 Square Within a Square units will require:
  • 5 dark A-3 squares with sides on straight grain 
  • 4 light A-3 squares with sides on straight grain

  • 16 dark A-6 triangles
  • 20 light A-6 triangles
The outside rows (using my variation**see below) will require:
  • 4 medium A-5 squares for the corners
  • 8 light A-4 triangles
  • 16 dark A-6 triangles
  • 4 light rectangles 2 x 3-1/2 inches (If you prefer making the outer edges of the block as shown in Jen’s book, replace these 4 rectangles with 8 light A-6 triangles and 4 dark A-4 triangles)

A Scrappy Cutting Strategy

Using Jen’s fabric selection as a cue, I decided to select 5 dark and 4 light fabrics for the block plus a contrasting fabric for the four corner squares. To cut as efficiently as possible, I wanted to press and stack the dark fabrics and cut all the necessary dark pieces and then repeat with the light fabrics.

Cutting the Dark Pieces

Four of the 5 dark fabrics I picked happened to be fat quarters or half yards – too big to work with easily. The fifth was 9 x 18 inches, so I arbitrarily stacked all 5 fabrics matching the right edge and top of each and putting the smallest piece on top. Then I cut the stack down to 9 x 18 inches.  I don’t know how much I actually need, but I know this size is both plenty of fabric and a convenient size.

Your fabric sizes will be different…the point is try to work with easy to handle sizes and then cut multiple layers at the same time, in this case 5 layers. Mix the pieces as you sew to give a random scrappy look. If you try to select and cut one piece at a time, this quilt will have to be called “Long Time Never Done” instead of Long Time Gone!

To determine how many pieces to cut from the stack of five fabrics, I divided the number of dark triangles and dark squares needed (see list above) by the number of dark fabrics and cut that number of pieces from each stack.

From the dark fabrics we need 5 dark A-3 squares and have 5 fabrics, so we will cut 1 stack of A-3 squares. We need a total of 32 dark A-6 triangles. 32 divided by 5 fabrics is more than 6 so cut 7 stacks of A-6 triangles from a 2-inch wide strip stack.

Cut extra strips for later -- After cutting the pieces I needed for this block, and while the fabrics were still neatly arranged, I cut several sets of strips 1, 1-1/2 and 2 inches wide by the length of the fabric and added another 20 strips to my stockpile of pre-cut strips. I will be able to sprinkle these 5 fabrics throughout the quilt without finding, pressing, layering and putting them away again!

Cutting the Light Pieces 

As it happened, my light fabrics were all small enough that I just pressed and layered them right side up aligning the upper right corner of all four pieces.

We need 4 A-3 squares and have 4 fabrics. Cut one A-3 square from the stack.

All of the remaining pieces to be cut from light fabrics are easily cut from 2-inch strips that are cut on the lengthwise grain. Cut stacks of strips 2 inches wide until you have four fabrics approximately 20 inches long. Cut extra strips for later -- Because these were smaller pieces of fabric to begin with, I cut the entire remaining stack of fabrics into 1-, 1 1/2- and 2-inch wide strips on the lengthwise grain.

We need 20 A-6 triangles and have 4 fabrics. Cut 5 A-6 triangles from the stacked strips. We need 8 A-4 triangles and have 4 fabrics. Cut 2 stacks of A-4 triangles. Align one edge of square A-1 on the edge of the strips and cut at both sides to cut a stack of four 2 x 3 1/2-inch rectangles.

From a contrasting medium fabric cut 4 A-5 squares for corners.

Making the Block

Make 9 Square Within a Square units, 4 with light centers and 5 with dark centers. 

1. Chain piece A-6 triangles to one side of the A-3 squares. Nip apart and press seams toward the triangles. Make 9:
2. Then chain piece triangles to the opposite side of the squares to complete the Square Within a Square units. They should be 3-1/2 inches square, including seam allowances. Isn’t it wonderful that there are no dog ears? Make 9.

Make 8 Flying Geese Units with light A-4 triangles and dark A-6 triangles. 

1. Place a small A-6 triangle and a large A-4 triangle right sides together and stitch. Chain piece additional pairs until all the large triangles are used. Press seam allowances toward small triangle; this makes it easier to stitch the other small triangle in place and reduces bulk at the point of the Flying Geese unit. Clip units apart. Make 8 (4 are illustrated).

2. Add the remaining A-6 triangles to the opposite side. You will now be sewing across the first seam allowance and it will be held in the position in which it is pressed. It is more likely to be smooth and flat if it is pointing in the same direction as the presser foot. The corners line up perfectly on every step. There are no dog ears, shadowing or extra bulk. Press toward small triangle and clip apart. Each Flying Geese unit should measure 2 by 3-1/2 inches, including seam allowances. Make 8.

Complete the block.

Arrange the units and join into rows, as shown. Then join rows to complete the block.

We call this block arrangement Evening Stars and it is one of our favorite scrap patterns. It is simply made by alternating positive/negative Square Within a Square units. That is, squares with light centers and dark corners alternate with squares with dark centers and light corners.

The stars occur when many rows of alternating light and dark centers are joined.

Click here for a downloadable PDF of a larger Evening Star wallhanging or lap quilt made with Set B. You can see that we feel that replacing some of the Flying Geese units on the outside edges with rectangles accentuates the star points. Once you see the star points on the edge, your eyes see them more clearly in the quilt or block.

Look Way Ahead in Long Time Gone!

In fact, look at the 5-inch finished size Pineapple block paper-piecing diagram on page 40 in Jen's book. (We, of course, will not be paper-piecing.) Look at the pieces numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in the center of the block. Sure enough, they make a Square Within a Square Unit. It is just smaller than the ones in this block.

In the last week of blocks in the Sew Along, right before we start putting the blocks together, we are going to need 16 of those Pineapple blocks. If you do the math -- 16 blocks times 37 pieces -- you will understand my next question. Why not get a head start on the 16 blocks needed and make the center units now?

Even if you don’t have your 1/2-inch Pineapple Ruler (#8262) yet, if you have Set N, you can use square N-79 and triangle N-81 to cut and make the center for the 16 five-inch Pineapple blocks needed later. In fact, in the Pineapple set, those shapes are part of a multi-sized template, so many people prefer the individual pieces in Set N. Instructions are given below.

As soon as you have the 1/2-inch Pineapple Ruler Set you will be so happy that you actually have both light and dark 1-inch strips. You can cut the exact size pieces and add a few rounds.

Making 16 Pineapple Center Units

1. Cut 16 N-79 squares. They should be either a medium or dark value. Nip off the corners. I made all 16 Square Within a Square centers from the same fabrics. I like to put a “drop” of consistency here and there in a scrap quilt, and it also makes it efficient to cut and chain piece.

2. Cut 64 N-81 corner triangles with legs on straight grain. Again, I chose to use one fabric for all of the triangles; it needs to be a light value. Cut 4 strips 1 1/4 inches wide by 18 inches long and stack them. Cut 16 sets of 4 triangles from the stacked strips. Nip off the corners. When the dog ears are gone, the triangle corners should line up perfectly with the corners on the square.

3. Join as in Making the Square Within a Square units, above.

4. True up and make sure you have a square. The finished size of the center unit should be just a sliver smaller than 2 inches square (1.914 inches exactly). It is worth it to make corrections, if necessary, as every strip is eventually added to this square. If it isn’t square, your finished block won’t be square.

I remember spending hours one weekend to cut the strips I would need for the 9 blocks (1-inch finished strip width) in this quilt.

Cut a few 1-inch strip sets every time you have fabric out and it will seem like you did it in minutes or spare time…You also need a lot of 1-1/2 and 2-inch strips in several blocks and when putting the quilt together. Part of the charm of a scrap quilt like this is that many of the same fabrics are sprinkled all over the quilt.

Visit these other Long Time Gone Sew Along blogs, too, for tutorials, contests and other info:

Use the hash tag #LongTimeGoneSAL to share photos on Instagram.

Long Time Gone by Jen Kingwell. Copyright 2016 by Jen Kingwell Designs. Available on the From Marti Michell website,

Long Time Gone by Jen Kingwell. Copyright 2016 by Jen Kingwell Designs. Available on the From Marti Michell website,


  1. I miss pressing advice.... I always struggle with goose points butting up against square in square points. Do we press all of those seams open?

    1. I always sew the triangles to opposite sides of the square and generally press toward the outside of the block. Stay open-minded! You can always study units a bit before sewing them together -- sometimes you don't know until you're at the machine. It doesn't happen often, but I'm okay with using a stitch ripper to take a bit out and stitch again so the seam allowances will fall in a better direction for a nicer, flatter finish.

  2. Marti, I've never used your templates before but am using them for the Long Time Gone Quilt, can I just say THANK YOU! These are wonderful all of my pieces went to gather perfectly for the Square in a Square Star block. Thanks again!
    Kim Bridgewater/Knobbyknits

    1. Thanks for taking the time to tell us! Keep them in mind when the sew along is done, as the templates can be used for many different quilt designs -- "more bang for the buck"!