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2 tips for pressing seams that save the day and a lot of bulk

 

It’s time to sew together the pieces we cut out yesterday to make the tabletopper. Using the 4 essential cutting tips for cutting any quilt pieces truly eliminate all hassles. My version of the tabletopper uses Northcott ColorWorks Premium Solids for the blue fabrics and the white background is from Northcott Toscana collection.

I’ve got a couple of tricks to make those points perfect, the seams lie flat, and those intersections match up!

Follow along as I sew the tabletopper together.

Half Square Triangles

There are many ways to make half square triangles. I did touch on this topic briefly the other day so you can go back to review how I determine what size of squares to cut. I like to keep things simple and to make good use of my existing tools.

I use a regular ruler and a pencil to draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of all the lighter squares or whichever square is easiest to mark.

Sew a scant ¼” on either side of that drawn line and cut the unit in half on the drawn line. I press to the light or the dark depending on what’s around the unit in the project. In this case, it doesn’t matter so I pressed the units to the blue.

 

Some of the prep work for the half square triangle units
Some of the prep work for the half square triangle units

 

My personal preference is to make the half square units slightly larger than necessary so I can trim them down to the exact size. Trimming ensures that the diagonal line ends up in the corners which will help to get nice sharp points.

See how I’ve placed the diagonal line on a regular ruler parallel to the seam line and right into both corners. Next, I check to make sure that I’ve positioned the ruler so that I get the correct unfinished size – in this case, that’s 2″. Then I trim up the right side of the ruler and along the top.

Rotate the half square triangle unit 180° and line up the two freshly cut edges with the 2″ line (for this particular one) and then trim up the right side of the ruler and along the top.

 

Lining up the ruler to make the first cuts to trim the half square triangle unit
Lining up the ruler to make the first cuts to trim the half square triangle unit

 

The end result is a perfect half square triangle with the diagonal seam running from corner to corner.

 

Truly it is, I just happened to be in a weird spot when I took a photo of it - A perfect half square triangle unit
Truly it is, I just happened to be in a weird spot when I took a photo of it – A perfect half square triangle unit

 

Over the years and after trimming thousands of half square triangles, I’ve found that the best ruler to use is a regular 6½” ruler. This ruler is large enough that I can position my entire hand on the surface of the ruler to prevent it from slipping. I’ve found that smaller rulers have a tendency to slip as there is less surface to support my entire hand which makes them harder to stabilize.

 

A 6 ½" ruler is perfect for trimming half square triangles
A 6 ½” ruler is perfect for trimming half square triangles

 

Although we cut the units from the largest pieces to the smallest, it makes sense to sew it from the center out or the smallest pieces to the largest.

Start by making all the half square triangle units following my directions above or your favorite method.

Pair the 2½” squares of the light blue with the 2½” squares of background. Make four (4) HST that measure 2″ square.

Pair the 4″ squares of the medium blue with the 4″ squares of background. Make four (4) HST that measure 3½” square.

Pair the 7″ squares of the dark blue with the 7″ squares of background. Make four (4) HST that measure 6½” square.

Make the side sections either by using the strip piecing method discussed yesterday or by simply matching the appropriate sizes of the blue and white rectangles and sewing them together. You’ll need four sections for each round of the churn dash block.

Lay out the center of the block. You’ll need four 2″ half square triangles, four side sections of blue/white that measure 2″ x 3½” and the 3½” square of background for the center.

 

The block center is laid out and ready to sew
The block center is laid out and ready to sew

 

Sew the units together like you would a nine-patch. I pressed the seams in the two side columns away from the half square triangles. The seams in the middle section were pressed away from the center of the block.

The seams are going in opposite directions so when you sew the three columns together, the seams at the intersections will be going in opposite directions which will help to reduce bulk and make it easier to match up the seams at the corners (with NO pins required) to give you crisp intersections. While pressing seams open is an option, it takes much longer to press the seams open and do a good job. Should you want to do some stitch in the ditch quilting, you really shouldn’t if you’ve pressed your seams open.

 

Seams have been pressed in alternating directions to reduce bulk
Seams have been pressed in alternating directions to reduce bulk

 

Before you press those last two seams, we’re going to spin the seam in the intersections to help distribute the bulk.

In the photo below, you can see where I’ve loosened, but NOT cut the thread from the seam allowance. I do this on both sides of the seam allowance and this allows me to spin those seam allowances on the back so the bulk is now distributed on four sides, not two and the front looks a lot smoother and it’s much easier to quilt.

 

Loosen the threads in the seam allowance to allow the seam allowance to spin
Loosen the threads in the seam allowance to allow the seam allowance to spin

 

After completing the first churn dash, the block should measure 6½”. Notice that I have a ¼” seam allowance beyond all the points of the half square triangles and notice how nicely the intersections matched up because of the seams being nested to each other. And I didn’t use one single pin.

 

Center block is sewn and unfinished size is 6½"
Center block is sewn and unfinished size is 6½”

 

On the reverse side of the block, you can see how the seams have been pressed to reduce the bulk. Technically, there’s no right or wrong way to press the seams. I do try to be consistent and rather than press to the dark, I press in whatever direction to reduce the most bulk.

Notice how flat the seam allowances are. I use my fingers and thumb to manipulate the fabric as I’m pressing. It’s almost like I’m finger pressing and using the heat and the steam of the iron to set the seam in place. And a very critical point – always press (or set) the seam before you do anything by placing the iron on the seam allowance which makes the seam way easier to manipulate with your fingers. I always press from the right side.

 

Nicely pressed seams on the wrong side of the center block
Nicely pressed seams on the wrong side of the center block

 

This 6½” block becomes the center of the next round. Lay out the next round using the four 3½” half square triangles and the blue/white sections that measure 3½” x 6½”.

 

Lay out the pieces for the next churn dash - the first block is the center of the second block
Lay out the pieces for the next churn dash – the first block is the center of the second block

 

Sew together and press the outer columns away from the half square triangle units and the middle section is pressed towards the blue. Exactly the same way we did the center block.

When you get to the last two seams, you’ll notice that if you twirl those intersections, that you’ll be pressing two of those seams towards the points of the center churn dash. This will create a lot of bulk, so I chose to press all the seams away from the center.

 

Seams on the second round of the block are all pressed away from the center
Seams on the second round of the block are all pressed away from the center

 

Repeat with the last pieces. Your finished unit should measure 24½”.

As mentioned earlier, I use my fingers when pressing to manipulate the fabric to go where I want it to and to prevent stretching. I also use steam – carefully.

 

Lay out the last row and sew together as for the middle row
Lay out the last row and sew together as for the middle row

 

Just like that, we have a fast little tabletopper. I love how the colors move from light to dark.

Tomorrow, I’ll show you the finished topper, a bonus project I made with some leftover blocks and a couple more ideas on what you can make using this block or combinations of this block.

Think back to the first day when we looked at all those Northcott basics. What colors would you use to make your tabletopper? The possibilities are endless.

Have a great day!

Ciao!

 

This is part 4 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 3: 4 essential tips for cutting fabric for your quilt

Elaine Theriault is a teacher, writer and pattern designer who is completely obsessed with quilting. Elaine’s Tech Tips column (originally published in A Needle Pulling Thread magazine) is now available online in e-book format at QUILTsocial.com. When not quilting, she enjoys spending time with her two dogs, Lexi and Murphy, or can be found cycling across the country. Her blog is crazyquilteronabike.blogspot.com.

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