October 5, 2015

Chart 3: Cutting HSTs, Swirl Pressing and Betty, Block #14 in the Farmer's Wife 1930s Sew-along

Cut Half-Square Triangles Right Sides Together

This method will save time and increase accuracy.

The half-square right angle triangle is probably the most frequently used piece in patchwork. Learn to cut the triangle pairs at the same time by putting the fabrics that are to be sewn together right sides together before cutting strips on the lengthwise grain. Here is a short video on Why I cut Strips on the Lengthwise Grain.

Then cut the triangles. Never forget to nip off the corners. Do not separate the triangles, they are ready to chain piece. Sew an accurate 1/4-inch seam. Press toward the dark- most frequently.

If you haven't watched our short video Introduction to Set A, Video 2 Cutting Tips, we really recommend it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2Tf8ImWYYg

I'd like to reiterate something I said in the video -- start with smaller pieces of fabric,  the size of a piece of computer paper is good, but no bigger than a fat quarter. Then, if you are using a fat quarter, don’t be afraid to cut a strip the full 18-inch length. Just use what you need and put any leftover strip in your basket of fabrics because the same widths are used repeatedly and that strip will be pre-cut.

Quarter-inch or 6mm Seam Allowances

All of our templates and tools include a 1/4-inch (6mm) seam allowance. That means, for your blocks to finish at 6-inch (6-1/2 inches including seam allowance), you must sew an accurate 1/4-inch seam. The smaller the pieces, the more important that is. A 1/16 inch error on two sides of a 1-inch square makes a big difference, but on a 4-inch square that discrepancy would hardly be noticed.

Some people say that making these 6-inch blocks is great for perfecting a 1/4-inch seam allowance! We have a short video on our website with a quick seam allowance tip:

Or you can read a short article here (there's a PDF you can download, too!):

Another way to make a seam guide is using sticky notes and our Deluxe Corner Trimmer #8217. In the photos below, I used red wool thread in the machine so you can see it. It looks like the corner trimmer is floating! It's not; there is a clear table insert around my machine. Remove the sewing machine foot and put the needle into the hole in the template.

Tear off a stack of 8-12 sticky notes (keep them together) and align your ruler on the sticky side at about 3/4-inch. Trim off the excess and discard the loose papers. Align the sticky stack with the trimmer template and stick it to your sewing machine.

Remove the template and begin sewing perfect 1/4-inch seam allowances!

We Love Swirl Pressing

Well, actually we love a well-pressed block and we reject any inference that it is a mental problem for someone to take pleasure in a well-pressed quilt block! LOL That said, one of our favorite pressing tricks is swirl pressing, detailed in this block.

In the right hand column of the conversion chart, you will also see some extra notes about pressing. “Press to the dark” is just the first rule most people learn in patchwork pressing.

The reason we are showing both the front and backs of the blocks is so you can see the pressing. Betty has wonderful swirl pressing examples in the units with the smaller triangles:

And it also has a perfect example of a block that just doesn’t have a “perfect” way to press every seam! You can see where we “twisted” the center seam just beyond the bulky center area to prevent piling up seam allowances and creating a bumpy, bulky spot in the quilt.

P.S. I use steam all the time - the more the better! But remember, I am very grainline conscious, which means I rarely have a stretchy edge, which can be disastrous with steam.

And Here's Betty! 

This is my Betty block, front and back to show you how we pressed. Click the photo for a larger view):

Click to download your next PDF: 

for Block 14, Betty

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

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. I just finished cutting pieces for a pattern published by someone else and the directions called for WOF strips. Of course I was converting to FMM method of cutting LOF strips, and was using up fabric rapidly. I had a good laugh at myself after I realized that while I was cutting on the lengthwise grain, I was cutting two strips instead of one. Guess I'll have to make two quilts instead of one!

    1. Two quilts are better than one! LOL (Actually, sometimes it's a great idea to cut twice as many pieces of everything so you CAN make 2 quilts -- make one now and one later on when you want that graduation gift, no cutting time required because it's already done!)

  2. Marti - THANKs for your (as always) great tute! A couple of things I'd really like to see you elaborate on in the future. Like you, I'm a bit of an old timer in quilting, and would like to see you opine a bit on why it is stil better (in today's machine oriented quilting world) to press your seams to the side. I'm with you on this. I've seen many an old quilt, obviously made by a wayward dressmaker, who pressed her seams open.So sad to see those wisps of cotton batting creeping out of the now loose aging seam! And how do you really quilt "in the ditch" is you open the seam? You're really only stitching the stitching, rather than the fabric layers together! And there are more reasons too...Anyway... as always you are still a real "Silver Star" of my quilting world. GREAT videos! See ya next week!

    1. Thanks, Karen! Two great minds -- coincidentally, I am going to discuss why pressing to one side is good in a future post about one of the blocks! :-)

  3. I have a problem viewing the videos on your site but not your youtube videos can I find these videos on youtube also?

    1. Hi Lisa -- Yes, all our videos are on our YouTube channel. Thanks for asking! :)