This article is the first in a series of beginner's guides to patchwork and quilting written by Kerry Green http://verykerryberry.blogspot.co.uk/. If you have always wanted to make a quilt and don’t know where to start, this series of ten posts will include instructions to make basic quilt blocks, introduce simple techniques and combine the blocks to make a small sampler quilt.
The Nine-Patch Block
I am using a stack of fat quarters for this series and the Nine-Patch block is a great starting point. It uses techniques that are the foundation to many other quilt blocks, and this simple block provides many design possibilities for easy and appealing quilts. There are lots of ways to piece patchwork and rather than right and wrong methods, I am going to show you a range of methods to try with the belief that you will learn your preference as you sew and find what works best for you.
Finished block size, 12” square. Finished size does not include the seam allowance so the unfinished size is 12½” square.
Basic Equipment for Cutting and Piecing
- Quilt ruler. A good starting size is 6½”x 12½”. Inches are the measurement preference for most quilters although many tools and sewing machine stitches are measured in mm.
- Quarter inch foot for your machine.
- Good quality lightweight cotton thread. My preference is Aurfil 50wt.
- Sharp pins. There are different thicknesses and lengths of pins. Piecing is easiest with pins that are around 0.5mm thick.
- Size 80 sewing machine needles. Machine needles should be replaced frequently or they lose their sharpness and start to skip stitches. I like to use Superior needles that are made of titanium and last longer.
- Cutting Mat - invest in the largest that you can comfortably fit into your working space.
- Rotary cutter, either 45mm or 28mm.
- Fabric marker. Generally used on the wrong side of fabric or where it won’t be seen. This can be a soft pencil or a specific fabric marker. Sewline ceramic lead pencils are excellent.
- Seam ripper. We all make mistakes!
An accurate quarter-inch seam is essential for piecing. Sewing slightly wider or narrower seams can quickly add up and make your block smaller or larger than you intended so a quarter inch foot is a great help. Test it out on two straight cut fabric scraps and measure the seam. Is it a quarter-inch? If not, you may need to adjust your needle position and keep a sticker on your machine reminding you of the settings. If you don’t have a quarter inch foot, make a simple guide by sticking painter’s tape or washi tape on your seam plate and aligning the fabric with this as you sew. A stack of post it notes used in the same way makes a physical guide in addition to the visual cue. There are also magnetic seam guides that work in the same way, but these are not suitable for computerised machines!
You will need
Two fat quarters of contrasting quilt cotton fabrics. They can be solid or print, as long as there is contrast. I used Art Gallery Fabrics 'Recollection' by Katarina Roccella kindly provided by Hantex.
From each fat quarter, rotary cut two strips, 4½” x width of fabric. Fat quarters are usually 22” wide and 18” long.. Sub-cut each strip into 4½” squares. You need five squares in one colour and four in another. Keep the remaining fabric for future blocks. If you haven’t used a rotary cutter and quilt ruler before, check out this guide.
Arrange your squares into three rows of three with the colours alternating in a checkerboard style. This block is constructed in rows and the rows are then joined together to form the block.
Set your sewing machine stitch length to 2.0mm. You will not need to secure each seam with back stitches; the short stitch length and the way the seams cross over each other will be keeping the stitches secure. We are going to chain piece by continuously sewing pairs of squares together without stopping and cutting the thread. This is an efficient technique when lots of pairs of shapes need to be sewn together at the same time.
From the top row, take the first two squares, place them right sides together and position the start of the seam under your sewing machine foot. If you machine has a tendency to chew or eat fabric at the start of a seam, use a scrap of fabric to sew the first few stitches before moving on to the squares. You do not need pins. Instead, hold the end of the seam together using your thumb and first finger and a slight upwards tilt. This helps hold the fabrics together evenly towards the end of the seam.
You can pin if you prefer. Stitch the quarter-inch seam and sew a few more stitches beyond the end of the seam. Without lifting the foot or cutting the thread, place the next two squares from the second row just ahead of the foot and continue stitching. Finally, repeat with the first two squares of the third row. Snip the thread, not too close to the stitching; I like to leave a quarter-inch tail on all my threads to discourage unravelling. You should have a string of three pairs or squares that resembles scrappy bunting!
Add the final square to each pair of squares using chain piecing as before. Snip the threads holding the chains together to make three rows of three squares. On the wrong side, press each seam along the line of stitching then press the seams to one side so they lie towards the darker squares.
Place row one over row two, right sides together so that the bottom edge of row one lines up with the top edge of row two; row one should be uppermost. The seams will fit together or ‘nest’ so that the seam points align accurately. Pin where the seam points meet and sew the seams together. Press this seam open. Repeat with the third row.
Give the block a final press. It is now complete! The photo shows how your block should look from the right and wrong side.
This is just one method for a simple block. Some quilters prefer to press all seams open and if you chose to do that, you will need to pin more frequently. This block can also be made without pressing the seams in step 4 and instead using your fingers to encourage the seams in opposing directions (towards the darker squares) so that the rows nest together. The block is only pressed when the rows are joined together. I find the rows nest better this way.
Four Patch Block with Border
Finished block size, 12” square.
You will need
Three fat quarters of contrasting quilt cotton fabrics. They can be solid or print, as long as there is contrast.
From fabrics 1 and 2, cut two 4½” squares from each
From fabric 3, cut two strips, 2½” x width of fabric. From each strip: sub-cut one small rectangle 2½”x 8½” and one large rectangle 2½” x 12½”.
Arrange your squares into two rows of two with the colours alternating. Join each pair of squares using the chain piecing technique. Press the seams to opposite sides. Join the rows so that the seams nest in opposite directions in the centre. Press open.
Join a small rectangle to the right side edge of the four-square centre and press the seam towards the rectangle. Repeat on the left side edge. Add a large rectangle to the top and bottom edges of the block, pressing seams towards the rectangles. Your block is complete.
Nine-patch blocks can be used in many ways. A simple version of the classic Irish chain quilt is just nine-patch blocks alternating with a solid square as seen at Generation Quilt Patterns. A scrappy version of the same quilt can be seen at www.dorchesterlibrary.org. There is a beautiful example of a nineteenth century four-patch quilt here.
From handy techniques like chain piecing to nesting seams and even foundation paper piecing, I’ll cover it all in these posts!
See you next time when we’ll be looking at courthouse steps, log cabins blocks and some variations. You can find me and my sewing adventures including tips, quilt- alongs and tutorials at verykerryberry.blogspot.co.uk
Follow Kerry's quilt in progress with our 10-part series.