October 19, 2015

Chart 7: Cutting Efficiently and Old Maid Block, Farmer's Wife 1930s Sew Along

What fun! Here is a block where you sew the same size triangle 3 different ways.

Great Cutting Idea

Which would you rather do…cut 5 pieces or 20?

Look how much easier and quicker it is to cut 5 stacks of pieces from 4 strips of fabric and trim the corners of each stack than it is to cut 20 pieces and trim 60 corners from a single layer of fabric.

It's funny, but I always feel like a stack of four strips of fabric behaves better than just one strip, too. The catch is that you can only take advantage of these cutting techniques if you actually do it. Keep reading for some great tips!

This is My Old Maid Block

Click the photo for a bigger image.

Click the link to download the Template Conversion Chart:

for Block #78, Old Maid

In addition to our template conversion PDF download, you will want to read Gnome Angel's tutorials for these blocks.

If you haven’t watched this short video Introduction to Set A, Video 2,  Cutting, please do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2Tf8ImWYYg

Top Tips to Improve Your Rotary Cutting Skills

I have had people in my classes who insist they can only cut one layer of fabric at a time. If you feel that way and don't like the feeling, here are some tips to improve your rotary cutting skills.

1. Learn to cut the “Marti Way”. We always cut strips this way, no matter what template set or From Marti Michell tool we're using. Set A is illustrated below.

  • Generally you will want to cut with strips on the lengthwise grain, so that the longest straight dimension of a piece is on lengthwise grain—less raveling, less stretch, and firm, flat patchwork
  • Measure with a second tool in the dominant hand. Cut against your standard ruler.
  • To more easily cut the exact-size template shapes, place a small mat or rotating mat under the strips.
  • If you don’t use our tools, at least sample the benefits with our corner trimmers.
  • Download a PDF on cutting the Marti Way. 

Stack fabric advantageously. Fabrics for half-square triangles or any matching shapes that will immediately be sewn together along one edge should be placed right sides together.

3. Take advantage of cutting multiple layers. When cutting a quilt, for example, cut by the block, not the piece. If the pattern says you need 100 triangles, and you can see there are 4 triangles in each block, stack 4 strips and make 25 cuts to yield 100 triangles = one stack for each block.

4. Start each cut with the blade next to the acrylic and near the edge, pierce the fabric and pull the cutter back off the edge, then go forward.

5. Keep your blade perpendicular to the mat and touching the acrylic.

6. Determine your personal slip-proofing needs—but don’t overdo it. For slip resistance, we recommend the Ruler Betty strips (available on our website) or Omnigrip™.

7. After cutting strips, start sub-cuts from the end opposite your dominant hand. Don’t forget to put a rotating mat or small mat under the strips. Sometimes the tool will be half on, half off, the strip for the first cut.

Respect Your Rotary Cutter!

Rotary cutter blades are very sharp. Cut away from your body. Keep the guard closed when not in use. Keep rotary cutter(s) out of children’s reach. Understand different cutters. Some ergonomic cutters can only cut left or right-handed.

Change your blade frequently and properly. Make sure you only have one blade in your tool at a time, as blades in multi-packs often stick together!

Practice Makes Perfect

Of course, the #1 thing you have to do is practice! Practice on a couple of fat quarters. It would be better if you use two fabrics that contrast with each other and look okay together -- After all, this practice exercise may end up as a pillow for your cat!

1. Put the fabrics right sides together and trim off the selvages.

Then cut 2 strip sets on the lengthwise grain (parallel to the freshly trimmed edges) 18 inches long and as wide as square 1 in Set A (see the Marti Way strip cutting diagrams above). Stack the two strip sets.

2. Start cutting #2 triangles at left end if you are right handed or the right end if you are left-handed. Cut the first stack and nip off the dog ears. Do not separate the triangles.

Cut 8 stacks of 4 triangles, rotating the template on the strip to cut the next stack.

3. Chain piece pairs of triangles to make 16 3-1/2 inch half-square triangle (HST) units.

4. With the HSTs still chained together, press the seams in one direction (usually the darker fabric).  Here's a neat trick for perfectly pressed units:

5. Confirm the 3-1/2 inch size of your HSTs using template A-1.

If the pieced squares don't look so hot, do it again. If they look great, practice again with smaller triangles. Use triangle A-4 and measure the strips with square A-3.

Want to Try 8 Layers?

You don't need 2 full 18-inch strips to cut the squares.  After the first 6 stacks of 4 triangles, cut the remainder of the strip sets in half.

Stack them and you will have 8 layers.

As long as your rotary cutter blade is sharp, I think you will agree, there is very little difference between cutting 4 layers and 8!

When you're happy with your HST units, arrange them as desired and make a pillow top 4 units across by 4 down.

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; RRP $28.99. 
Click here to purchase.


  1. Thanks Marti for this good review of strip cutting with straight of grain. I'm going ot start paying more attention to that!

  2. Now I'm wondering...when I cut squares does it matter that they are put together with straight of grain all alike? If so, how do you keep track of which way to turn a square?

    1. Hi Tammy -- Squares will generally have all 4 sides on straight grain (2 on lengthwise grain and 2 on crosswise grain), unless you're fussy cutting and you want a printed motif to look or point "this way" -- which could happen with the Farmer's Wife blocks, since the quilt layout has them all set on point. If you are fussy cutting, lay out the pieces so you have the little girl or balloon on a string or whatever it is pointing "up" so you won't get them mixed up at the sewing machine. You can sew a seam, open the pieces and put them back in place, and then pick up 2 more pieces to sew. Etc.

      For triangles, if you want some of them with the hypotenuse on straight grain (say if they are on the outside edges of the unit or outside edges of the block) but you also want some of them with the legs on straight grain (because they are used somewhere else in the block and you still want the outside edges of a unit to be on straight grain)... Cut the triangles with straight grain on legs (like you would want corner triangles to be) and put a pin in them or a sticky note. Then you don't have to think about which triangles are going where, you know the ones with the pins are for the corners of the block.

      I hope that helps. :)

  3. Yes this does help, and as I read over how I posed my question, it is a marvel you figured out what I meant! So for squares, it doesn't matter unless it's a directional/fussy cut, because all sides are straight of grain, either H or V, which is good enough. And I think I will try pins as I sticky notes seem to fly around on me! Thank you again!

    1. I often safety pin a sticky note to a block, lol.

      Yes, by default 2 sides of a square will be on lengthwise grain and 2 on crosswise grain, and it doesn't matter which is where, except when it affects how the block looks because of the printed motifs on the fabric.

      If you place the square template on the fabric so it's a little bit tilted, none of the sides would be on straight grain; in that instance, all 4 sides of the cut square will be a lot or a little on the bias, which can mean a lot or a little stretch if you're not careful when you sew and press.

      Sometimes a block demands that we deal with a few bias edges ("Design overrides grainline"). Jjust be careful sewing and pressing and don't over-handle the block (which can also cause bias to stretch a bit).