Blockheads 4 begins!

The first block, Square Wheel, caused some controversy in the Facebook group. As I’ve previously mentioned, samplers aren’t my aesthetic in general. This block wasn’t many participants’ aesthetic in particular. It certainly wasn’t mine, but that’s part of the challenge. But for anyone in need of suggestions for color layouts, Moda has provided us with alternatives on the instructions, and even grayscale, you can see how much playing with colors can change a design to meet your needs.

In this situation, Moda’s suggestions weren’t quite enough for me, and that’s okay. Again, it’s part of the challenge. And thankfully, I’ve been working on another BOM, Craftsy’s 2015 Summer Block of the Month. It’s set up to do four blocks per month, themed by the type of star, and each star in the monthly sets has a different center. So I already had it in my mind that changing the center square could have a major impact on the block.

That’s when I knew that the most important tool for BH4 was going to be a quadrille ruled notebook, a.k.a. graph paper.

See that ‘4 squares per inch’? Never trust that.

Once upon a time, I was a physics major. I love graph paper. It’s probably why I love quilting so much, too. I actually do love geometry, as long as I’m not memorizing theorems. But you don’t have to love geometry to use graph paper to plan out your quilt, and it really is fast and easy. So fast I drew the first block three times because I kept forgetting to take progress photos. 😅

If you’re going to sketch the blocks in advance, you probably won’t need to draw them full-sized (someday I’ll do a post about when to sketch to size). You do want them to be large enough that they’re comfortable to work with, though, so I’ve chosen to scale this at 2 squares per inch. As these blocks are 9″ finished (4.5″ if you’re doing the smaller blocks, which is a hell I have no interest in right now), my mock-ups for the project will be 18×18. I don’t need to worry about seam allowance for the most part, as unless I’m doing major modifications, I can refer to the original instructions to size the actual pieces.

I knew my problem here was with the center, so I sketched out the rest of the shape. This gave me a better idea of what I was working with: four corners out of square-in-a-square units connected by . . . whatever these rectangle units are called. I’m sure they have a name. (Drop it in the comments if you know!) I figured if I was going to be making four squares-in-squares, why not do five?

I admit, it’s got a bit of a public-restroom-floor vibe, but this is only the first step, right? As we saw in Moda’s sample, it’s all in the coloring.

I’m starting with the brightest stack of fat quarters, and I’ve been defining the colors as peach and raspberry, plus the pattern fabric. So I’m using orange and pink markers, plus a purple to squiggle in a vague pattern. Again, I’m not looking for anything exact, so I’ll be using these markers for all the squares, no matter which set of fabrics I’m using. I hemmed and hawed for a bit about how I wanted to do this before setting marker to paper, but if you’re going to try this method, I can’t stress enough that it takes hardly any time to draw the shape. If you start to scribble and don’t like it, scrap the page and start over!

Woo! Time for for-real fabric!

I didn’t take pictures of my construction process for square-in-a-square. I’ll probably dedicate a whole post to it someday because I’d rather finish this post with something more relevant to any quilter: making better points.

This was my first ever “fancy fabric” quilt. If you’re a budget quilter, you know what I mean. Everything up until now has been Joann Keepsake Calico or Walmart (who does have a couple reasonable lines of fabric, not knocking it at all). This was my first time with a name brand, and WOW this Kona cotton is sturdy! Because I spent the extra money for premium, I decided that I would care more than usual about my points.

I’m good with points in general. Not bragging, but I do have that STEM background that I think gives me some innate skill. I also do nested seams wherever possible to get lines to match (and seams to squash), and I just finished a log cabin quilt, which is good for building that skill of easing slightly wonky cuts and getting those 1/4″ seams aces. So when I started attaching the units that would make the block, the point of my square-in-a-square to the center seam of the rectangle unit was close.

It’s really only a smidge, that’s a tight zoom.

But I didn’t want close. I wanted perfect. And in this case, it’s all about ditching the 1/4″ for whatever the hell the square-in-a-square’s point actually was. To find this point, I found the intersection of the seams connecting the triangles to the center square. I then made sure I stitched straight through that intersection, thus ensuring that all points met here.

If you’re using a 1/4″ presser foot — and you really should be, this guy is $6 and fits most low shank machines — you can use that narrow space and then the hole for the needle to make sure that it’s lined up as you’re approaching, but I like to go an extra step when I can and pre-measure the seam allowance. To do this, I find the exact position I want my fabric to be in by lining that intersection up under the needle and dropping the foot. Once it’s perfect, I gauge the distance to the 1/4″ guide bar on the foot. You see here that it’s a good 1/16″ away, far enough that if I was estimating as I stitched, I’d likely miss the point.

Yes, this is a different unit. The pink fabric made for a better picture. It’s fine.

Once the stitch is complete, press it open, et voila! A perfect point.

. . . Oh, but not every time. Because sometimes, the sewing machine gets really mad about how much fabric is suddenly under the foot and randomly kicks it out, demolishing the straight line. If this is preventable with special equipment or an easy trick beyond “go slow,” please share! But in the meantime, I solve this problem by ripping out just the squirrelly section. I find that leaving the rest of the stitch in place makes it easier to really focus on keeping the fabric aligned through the bad patch and also makes it less frustrating. I’m more likely to do less frustrating things.

If it’s wonky and you know it,
remove it!

At the end of the day, I didn’t love this block. But I didn’t hate it, either. It’s an eyesore, certainly, but it’s part of a bigger picture. Every block in the first set is going to be an eyesore because these colors are just so bright, but we can’t see the forest for the trees here. I’m off to an okay start.

I’ll one day take a not-blurry photo of it maybe.

One thought on “BH4 Block 1: Square Wheel, which I immediately modify.

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