Half Square Triangles 101

Alternate Title: For Rachel and Colin’s Wedding Quilt

Alternate Title: How to make a quilt block when you’ve never sewn a quilt block before


IMPORTANT: Your quilt block must finish at exactly 9.5 inches. That’s a 9-inch block with 1/4 inch seam allowance all the way around. If it’s a touch bigger, that’s okay; it can be trimmed. If it’s too small, though, it cannot be easily incorporated into the quilt with the rest of the blocks.

**Tip: To achieve the above finished measurement, be sure to sew your block units together with a “scant 1/4 inch” seam allowance. That’s just a thread-width or two smaller than a 1/4 inch to account for the thread and pressing the block unit open

**Tip: You can make your quilt block with a sharp pair of sewing scissors and a needle and thread. Your kitchen shears or paper craft scissors or the scissors you’ve been using to trim your bangs will not be sharp enough to achieve a clean cut on fabric. For about $15, though, you can purchase a rotary cutter and a small rotary mat, which will make this much easier. (Something like this can be found at JoAnn Fabrics, Michael’s, or other craft stores. Bring a coupon to those big stores if the item is not on sale.)

Okay. Let’s get started.

Materials Needed:

Fabric: one light and one dark fabric was mailed to youcolor_pics
Sewing machine and thread OR sewing needle and thread
Sharp fabric scissors OR rotary cutter and mat
Ruler (see through ruler with a grid to square the block is best)
Iron and Ironing surface
Triangle template (optional. For method A only)

Part 1: Make the half square triangle units

If you’ve never made a quilt block before, a great easy place to start is with a half square triangle. This is just what it sounds like. It is a quilt block unit composed of two triangles of fabric, which, sewn together along the diagonal, make a square. These half square triangles (HSTs) can be arranged in a huge variety of layouts to create different quilt blocks.

For this 9-inch block (9.5 inches, unfinished, before it is sewn into the quilt), we will use a 4×4 grid of half square triangle units. Each of the 16 HSTs will be 2.75 inches, unfinished, and 2.25 inches when they are sewn into the block or quilt.

Did you notice the pattern of the seam allowance? We will always sew our seams together 1/4 inch (very slightly less) from the edge of the fabric. Thus, whatever the finished measurement of the block or block unit will be, you add a 1/2 inch to account for the seam allowance on all sides.

Method A: Triangle template

1. Using the triangle template (it should be 3-1/8 inches on a short side), cut out 16 triangles of light fabric and 16 triangles of dark fabric.

2. Place your triangles into pairs of light and dark. Stack each pair so the right side of the fabric is in the middle and the wrong side is facing out (note: with the type of fabric chosen for this quilt, there may not always be a difference between the right and wrong sides of the fabric. In that case, don’t worry about it. If there is a difference in the two sides, the brighter side goes in the middle).

3. Sew your HST together along the long side of the triangle, a scant 1/4 inch (remember: that’s just a thread width or two shy of 1/4 inch) from the longest edge.


Method B: Start with Squares

This is the method I prefer for making half square triangles. It goes a little bit faster and doesn’t involve fiddling with templates. Use whichever makes sense to you.

1. Cut out 8 squares of light fabric, and 8 squares of dark fabric, each measuring 3.25 inches (note: you could cut them at 3-1/8 inches, like the template, but I prefer to cut the squares slightly large and then trim the HST when it is complete).

2. Place one light square and one dark square with the right sides of the fabric in the middle and the wrong sides of the fabric facing the outside. Draw a diagonal line on the top square going from corner to corner. You can just use a regular pencil or pen for this. It will be hidden in the finished quilt block.

3. Sew two diagonal lines parallel with the line you drew, one a scant 1/4 inch to the left of the drawn line, the other, a scant 1/4 inch to the right of the drawn line.

4. Cut the square into two along the diagonal line you drew.


 Both Method A + Method B:

Tip: chain piecing

To speed the process of making your block units, try chain piecing. Cut out all your pieces and place your pairs together. Sew one pair. Rather than pulling that pair out of your machine and trimming the threads, leave it there and sew the next pair right behind. Trim when you have finished sewing all pairs.


Finish the HST: 

Whether you have used template or started with squares that were cut apart, you should now have a stack of 16 triangle pairs that are sewn together along their longest edge.

With the dark side up, nudge your hot iron between the two triangles and press the block unit open. This will press the seam allowance toward the darker fabric.

Trim each HST to 2.75 inches.


 Part 2: Construct the Quilt Block

Now that you have  your 16 finished HSTs, it’s time to decide on a pattern for your block. There were several included with your fabric. There are several more here. (Fun side story. The man who generated these 72 patterns is a Perl programmer who was dating a quilter. He developed the program to generate rotationally symmetric HST blocks.)


But these are just the “rotationally symmetric” choices, you are welcome to explore beyond that. I really had a lot of fun playing with my HSTs before I finally settled on the pattern I wanted to use.


Now you have 16 finished HSTs and you’ve decided on a pattern for your block, let’s finish up!

1. Beginning with the first row, place two adjacent HSTs together with the right sides in the middle, and their common edge aligned. Sew together using a scant 1/4 inch seam allowance. Sew the next pair of HSTs together the same way. Attach these two pairs using a scant 1/4 inch seam allowance to form your first row. Press your seams open.

2. Repeat for the remaining three rows of HSTs.

3. Flip the top row down onto the second row so the right sides are together in the middle. Align each of the seams between HSTs and pin in place. Sew the rows together using a scant 1/4 inch seam allowance.

4. Continue in this manner until you have sewn all four rows together. Press your seam open. Flip the block to the right side and press flat.

5. Trim to 9.5 inches square.


All done!


Mail your block off to be include in Rachel and Colin’s wedding quilt.

E-mail me if you have questions. Or call. Or we can Skype and I’ll help (this offer valid for Rachel and Colin quilt makers only)!


Another way to baste: craft foam

Hello, hello! Welcome to the Monday Link Up at Plum and June. Please share your link below and remember:

1. Link up any recent sewing/quilting post.
2. In your post or on your blog, please include either a text link or a button letting people know about this link up.
3. Visit at least the two bloggers who link up before you and everyone who visits you from this post.

Monday link up

If you’re looking for some fun blocks to add to your sewing list, I’d love it you would join me in the Road Trip Quilt Along, going on right now! If you’d like to see the plan, you can find it here. You can see what’s already happening by checking out the tutorials for Virginia Reel and Maryland Beauty. I’d love it if you wanted to make a couple of these lovelies and share in the Road Trip Quilt Along Flickr group.

Road Trip Quilt Along: Virginia Reel tutorial  Road Trip Quilt Along: Maryland quilt block tutorial

Today, I wanted to show you the method I use for basting. There are many ways to get this done of course: spray basting, bent safety pins, needle and thread. But I prefer to baste with straight pins. In fact, I’ve always basted with straight pins. When I made my first quilt, that was all I had, but then I just never got around to buying the bent safety pins that are preferred by many.

Problem 1: the pins can fall out and then the quilt sandwich is not secure.
Problem 2: Maneuvering the quilt through the machine means you will get jabbed once or twice. Ouch!

I took a Leah Day class on Craftsy and was thrilled to learn that she prefers straight pins, too. But Leah has it all figured out. She secured the pointy pin tips with a product called a pinmoor. Brilliant! Solves both of the problem. But, now a new problem: pinmoors are expensive!! Almost $20 for a pack of 50.

However, I bought this 12×18 inch sheet of 5mm craft foam for $1.27.

baste a quilt with craft foam

With a  straight edge, a utility knife and a little bit of time, I had 192 anchors to use with my straight pins to baste a quilt. The craft foam is not as thick as the pinmoor, but I found it worked just fine. I wouldn’t go thinner than 5mm, but if you could find thicker craft foam, that would be great, too.

baste a quilt with craft foam

I cut the craft foam into 1.5 inch strips.

baste a quilt with craft foam

Then I sliced each strip into a 3/4 inch rectangle. If you want to be precise, you could mark the foam before cutting, but I just aligned my ruler with the edge and dove in.

baste a quilt with craft foam

Now, use straight pins to baste and cap each pin tip with a piece of craft foam. They are quick to put in, stay put, come out easily, and don’t make your fingers hurt with opening and closing all those safety pins.

baste a quilt with craft foam

Hope this helps with the next quilt you have to baste.

Now, link up below with what you’ve been up to this week! Don’t forget to visit a couple other links and maybe make a new sewing friend.


FINISHING something new

I’m so happy to have progressed all the way through trying something new to actually finishing something new.

The result of my first ever attempt at embroidery, the hoop I made for the Bee a {Modern} Swapper swap was sent off in the mail early this week.  It took me most of the month to actually finish it, but much of that was simply because I was having a stare-down with the partially completed hoop, not progressing only because I hadn’t done it before.  Once I actually achieved some forward momentum, it actually went pretty smoothly with just a few snafus that resulted in me cutting out my stitches and starting again.

The first part went pretty well because it was essentially quilting at the base, and I’ve done that before.  I traced the inside of my hoop and drew a hexagon.  I divided it so that I was left with six triangles, what I’m calling a split hexagon.

I used osnaburg for the base because it has a nice, natural color and a slightly nubby texture that I thought would work great with the bright colors I used for the triangles.

I matched a similarly colored embroidery floss with each of the triangles and this is where my project sat for a couple week.  I was paralyzed by what I didn’t know how to do next.  I got a tremendous amount of help from the embroidery picture tutorials at Rocksea when I finally started hand stitching.

I started out with a very basic running stitch around each of the triangles.  Above each triangle, I added a lazy daisy with 6 petals.  I wanted to use some French knots in the center and this is where things went awry.  My French knots were all weird and messy looking and coming out cleanly at all.  Frustrating.  I debated whether just to make it work, but eventually, cut them all out, reviewed the French knot tutorial, and tried again.

Much better!

Next up: leaves.  I decided to try a raised fishbone stitch, which resulted in a cute, fat little leaf on each side of my flowers.

To finish off the design, I drew some freehand swirls with my disappearing ink pen on each side of my flowers and used a back stitch to go over them in the color of the adjacent triangle.

Here, you can see all the stitches that I used for this project.

I finished the back with a piece of cardboard covered with batting and fabric.

Hope my partner likes it; I really put a lot of effort into this one!

Trial and ERROR (and error) and try again!

I’ve been teaching myself some embroidery for that hoopie swap I’m doing.  One of my fellow hoopie swappers linked to this great online source for embroidery stitches, which has been incredibly helpful.

I started out by making that paper pieced split hexagon in six different colors and had embroidery floss to coordinate with each one.  Then it was time to start the embroidery.  And the project just sat there staring at me for well over a week without being touched because … well, I was scared of messing it up.  This was totally new for me!!

Finally, I decided I might as well just give it a go.  The thing certainly wasn’t going to stitch itself.  I started out by just outlining each triangle of the split hexagon with a basic straight stitch.  It’s pretty difficult to screw that one up, and it looked pretty cute, so it gave me a little confidence.

Then I decided to create a little flower above each triangle using a chain stitch called the lazy daisy.  Not too tough, and really cute.  I’m feeling like I actually might be getting the hang of this!

I wanted a little something extra in the center of my flowers, so I thought I would move on and try a french knot.  And here is where things got a little dicey.

The first one actually seemed to work out okay, but I wrapped the thread around the needle too many times, so the knot ended up sticking out too much and looking a little bit phallic.  Eep!

The next two attempts, I wrapped the thread 3 times around the needle, but realize now that I had wrapped too far up the thread.  When I inserted the needle back into the fabric, it resulted in this weird knotting thing with loose threads sticking out.  I tried to remedy the situation by just stitching over it a few times.  Bad idea.  It looked a mess!

Finally, I went back and reviewed the French knot directions one more time.  And the 4th attempt was a success!  Hooray!

I let the project sit for awhile, trying to decide if I was going to redo it or just let it go.  But ultimately, I cut out the three unsuccessful flowers and started over.  I got more practice at that lazy daisy stitch, too, because when I cut out the center knots, I also had to cut out the flowers since they were connected.  Boo hoo.  But I’m much happier with the second attempt.

Social media icons: little thing, big deal

I am so excited!!  My site now has social media icons (those little symbols under the navigation bar that link to Facebook, twitter, flickr, etc.).

They are customized to my blog’s them colors (see how the first one is the same blue as the owl and there is a color gradient to the last one, which is the same purple as the accents?!)!  They actually link out to those social media sites!  And I did it myself!

Perhaps this does not seem like a big deal.  They are, after all, just one small row of five very small icons.  However, I am an infant when it comes to technical computer-y stuff, a helpless newborn, I tell you.  So the fact that I managed to figure out not only how to get those there, but that they actually work, is HUGE.

I modified the icons in Photoshop, adding the rounded corners and changing the background color, and saved them as a .png file.  As far as actually getting them on my site and getting them to work, I owe a HUGE thanks to the author of this post, who made it seem really quite simple and without whom I wouldn’t have had clue what to do.  I also read a great tip in a WordPress forum regarding the white space between images.  To make those little images sit next to each other so that they all fit on a single line, I set the horizontal space to a negative five (-5).

And one more fun, technical tidbit: if you click on the “Contact” tab in the navigation bar, you will go to a page with an invitation to email me and my email address.  Clicking on that image will open the email client on your computer so you can just type in your email and hit send!

Go ahead; send me an email!  And while you’re at it, you can connect with me in other ways on the ‘net as well!  See you there!!

Skill Builder Sampler Catch up: Wonky blocks

When quilting (or making quilt blocks), when the lines and pieces are intentionally not straight and/or symmetrical as a design element, that’s a “wonky” block.  I had so much fun with these!

First up was the wonky log cabin.   I chose to construct a quarter wonky log cabin, building the block outward from one corner.  I used a lot of my scraps in this block, but I think I could have been more intentional with where I placed the strips within the block.  It’s completely random and I think that makes the block seems a little erratic.  I’m going to go with it, though.  I learned something, and that’s the whole point of the Skill Builder Sampler.  Like a couple other blocks that haven’t been my favorite, in this case, I”m just going to let it go an have faith that they will look great with the other block on the “whole quilt” scale.

Next up, the wonky star.  I have seen this type of block quite a bit in the various online communities of which I am a part, and I’ve been wanting to try one for quite some time.  I LOVE how it turned out.  And it came together really easily, which is just a bonus.

The final wonky block was the wonky fan.  This one threw me off a little bit because of the curve of the fan.  I was having trouble estimating how wide I needed to make the top and bottom of the fan blades to end up with a fan that was the correct size for my block with the right amount of arch.  The fan blades are sewn together and then appliquéd to the background before then appliquéing the center piece.

Be Free Bees: addition for Karen

I introduced the free form quilt bee I’m in when I showed you my starter piece.  Basically, each of the 8 ladies in my group send out a piece to get us going.  Each month, we pass the quilt along and whomever has it that month can add whatever she desires.  Then we pass it to the next person.  At the end of 8 months, you get your quilt back with the additions off all the group members.

For February, I was working on a block for Karen, who is from Wisconsin.

Karen was very prompt and sent her starter out well before the end of January.  I received it, looked at it, and thought about it.  And thought about it some more.  And drew some things on paper.  And scratched them out.  And finally, an entire month later, I actually began sewing (but finished and mailed before the February 29th deadline, so all is well!).

The block I received was this, the Wisconsin state block (sans the black sashing).  The reason the black sashing was added was because I made the first part of my addition without measuring the block first.  Doh!  Rookie mistake.  I assumed it was a standard 12.5-inch unfinished block.  Nope.  It was trimmed to 11.5 inches.  Anyway, I actually like how it looks with the added sashing, so all it well.

The fish fabric that Karen used made me think of getting out to nature and fishing with my dad when I was kid, which we did along tree-lined lakes in (wouldn’t ya know it!) Wisconsin.  No joke.  Some improvisational trees were in order.

I kind of love them.  Aren’t they cute?

So, we’ve got fish and trees, water was the next obvious element in my mind.  {side track warning}  A couple years ago, I saw a wall hanging in a quilt shop in my home town.  It was really cool and had 3-dimentional water with fish in it.  It stood out to me so much that I asked my mom to go back to the shop and take some photos for me.  That idea has been simmering in my head for nearly two years, just waiting for the perfect application.  This was it!

I am so excited about how this turned out.  The background fabric is actually a water print I had in my fabric stash, and the 3-D elements were created with a blue tiny dot and a hand-dyed look green batik.

I added the black sashing across the entire side (Wisconsin block + trees) so that future members of the group can continue it elsewhere as a design element or not.  It is arranged so that the trees can be placed sideways with the water below, or the trees can be upright with the water to the side.  It just depends on how our other group members are inspired.

Oh, and Fiona had my starter this month.  She took my little birds and made them birds in a tree!  You can see them here.

Look how far I’ve come: comparing curtains

My opinion of my own sewing is pretty high.  I don’t say this to “brag” but just to acknowledge that’s I’ve worked really hard and put in a lot practice to get where I am in terms of skill with a sewing machine.  I think the stuff I make is good enough that someone else would want to buy it.

The other day I washed two sets of curtains that I’ve made.  I don’t normally go back and closely scrutinize something after I’ve made it, but when I pulled these two sets of curtains out of the dryer, I couldn’t help but notice some difference in the construction of them.

First up, we have our living room curtains, made for another house at some unknown date.  I can’t remember when these first appeared, but it was sometime prior to 5 years ago.

These are compared against the tab top curtains in the girls’ bedroom, made approximately 2-1/2 years ago.

Both are very similar in style with the different band of color at the bottom of the curtain, but when you look closer, you will see the differences.

Here’s the point where the band at the bottom joins the rest of curtain.  It’s a just a straight seam, which is fine when it’s on the inside of a garment (though serged seams are better there) or hidden between the layers of a lined bag.  I guess I figured that this was the back of a curtain so it didn’t matter how it was finished?  If I were to do it today, I would have done something called a french felled seam, which is like the seam on the outsides of jeans.  The raw edges are completely enclosed.

Another option is what I did here, on the improved model.  I made the entire curtain out of one piece of fabric and added the accent at the bottom, on top of the other fabric, to give it additional weight.  The only way you can tell from the back that this is where the band is attached is the single line of pink stitches.  Much neater, I say.

Also note the side seam on this curtain.  It’s folded under and then sewn down, so there is no raw edge sticking out.  This is how it should be done.

As for this next side seam, I cringe when I look at it!  Not only did I leave the raw edge exposed to fray and look sloppy, I increased the slop factor by failing to even trim up the accent band to the same width as the main part of the curtain.  It sticks out all weird and uneven.  And I left the selvedge (the edge of the fabric as it’s manufactured) on.  You don’t typically do that because it washes/wears differently than the rest of the fabric, but in this case, at least it doesn’t have additional fraying.  I guess that’s a plus?

Next up, the bottom hem.  First, notice the not-straight lines of stitching.  Okay, so they’re straight-ish.  You probably wouldn’t notice unless you are looking close (which we are).  When you look at it like this, it actually looks not-so-bad, right?  The two lines of stitching give it a nice finished look, and the raw edge is actually turned under.  Right?

Uh, no, actually, flip that hem down a touch and you will see that I sewed up the bottom hem, and then folded it over and sewed another line of stitches.  The problem here is that I put the second line of stitches below the first instead of enclosing the raw edge like I should have done.  Who does that?!  (me, apparently, several years ago!)

The bottom hem of the more recent curtains?  Lovely, right?

And that ends my self critique.  It’s nice to know I’ve learned something over the years, and I’m fairly certain that I’ve improved since the time the better curtains were made.  Practice makes perfect.