Friday, May 29, 2020

Tips for Piecing Mississippi Mud Blocks

"Are you in" as they say?
If you don't want to start a new quilt, give my assembly technique a try using 16 squares, any size.
(Think potholder?)  If you are just going to experiment, you can skip "piecing the star points".
Let's go!! 
Piecing the star points -- you will need eight star point units for the main block.
The instructions on how to piece these are at the top of page 5 in the pattern if this technique is new to you.  Just do eight for now because as I piece a block, I make the star point units for the next block as my "leader and enders" while chain piecing.

If you are using one fabric for all the stars, piece eight star point units using the small squares you've cut and eight different "background" squares.
If you want to use two different star fabrics, piece four of each color on different "background" squares.
If you want to use lots of different star fabrics, piece four points of one color, two of a second color and one of a third and fourth color.

Layout a block as below next to your machine -- if this is the beginning of a quilt, try to use fourteen different "background" prints in the block.  The star points in the upper right corner and lower left corner will complete stars in adjacent blocks as you set the blocks together.  If you are using two star fabrics, both of those corners and the partial star in the lower right corner will be fabric #2 while the complete star will be fabric #1.

TIP:  Laying the complete star out first is the quickest way to begin -- and double check that all the star points are angled as in this photo.  It's easy to get one rotated 90 degrees (wrong!!) so stop and look before you start to sew.
I always hung a sample block in front of my classroom when teaching this quilt so students could look up and quickly check the star points positions!
Assembling a block -- Flip the squares in the second vertical row (from the left side of the photo) right side down on top of the first row squares.
This sets up each pair of squares with the seam edge on the same side as you will stitch, so no need to twist or rotate the pair as you align the edges.
Chain piece the four sets starting with the top set and working down to the bottom set. 
Don't cut anything apart yet!!
Before clipping off this string of squares, piece a star point unit for the next block as your "ender". 
This star point unit will stay under your needle and you'll clip the complete chain off the back of it and head to the ironing board.
No clipping of the thread chains yet!!
Lay it on the ironing board with each pair's open side facing toward you.
Clip off that star point unit (which was my "leader) and set it aside.   The "ender" is still under the needle at my machine!
Flip the second and fourth units (counting from the right) up.
Press the seams flat to set the stitching. 
Then work along the chain and flip the top piece up (away from yourself), press the seam to one side.
Flip the second one down (towards yourself) and press the seam to one side.
Continue alternating along the chain. 
I know lots of quilters these days are pressing seams open but I prefer pressing to one side for a couple reasons.  The most important reason to me is that when the seams oppose each other, 
I can feel when they are matching up more accurately.  
To understand this better -- lay two pairs right sides together.
Manipulate the seams back and forth between your fingers and feel the alignment.
If you feel a gap or a lump where the seams lines intersect, it's not quite right yet.
It should feel smooth on both sides of the stitching line when the seams are snug against each other.
I also believe the quilt top is weaker when the seams are pressed open plus it's just too much work to press them open.  
(I've tried the open seam approach and frankly my matching stinks when I do it.)

Repeat the process for the third/fourth vertical rows remembering to start at the top of the block and work down.  At first this may not seem intuitive to you but it's a common mistake during workshops.  If you start at the bottom and work up -- everything gets twisted around and you'll get frustrated.
Don't forget to "ender" with another star point.
Now you have eight pairs of squares. 
At this point, I clip the thread chain between the second and third pairs in each column. 
Flip the top pair face down on the lower pair
until you have four sets as below. 
The sewing begins with the upper left pair -- still chain piecing -- and move to the 
 upper right pair, then the lower left pair, then the lower right pair.
Do another star point unit as your "ender".
Back to the ironing board with the complete chain in tact -- see that "leader" on the left? 
The pressing is the same -- first set down, second set up, third set down, fourth set up. 
Head back to the machine, layout the block, cutting the thread chains as needed -- 
the block is now four 4-patch units. 
Flip the right side units onto the left side units and chain piece to assemble. 
One reason I leave the thread chains is that it makes it easier to be sure which edges I want to stitch together -- it there is a chain, I know to seam those two edges together.
No chain, no stitching! 
Last trip to the ironing board -- I forgot to take a picture of the second part of this step but again, the first one on the right stays down and the left one is flipped up before pressing the seams to one side.
Two halves, ready for the final seam!! 
As you prepare to stitch the two halves together,  notice this is the first time you've had more than one seam intersection to match!   In the previous step when I laid one 4-patch on top of the other to sew the seam, I actually matched the seams all the way around so the two units are centered on top of each other -- then when I stitched the seam, I measured the 1/4" from the raw edge of the largest 4-patch, consistently.
What this achieves is that any slight size variations are adjusted consistently so when I put the two halves together, all three seam intersections align correctly. 
 My blocks are perfect from the right side and fit together well with the rest of my blocks.
 (I never trim blocks to the "correct" size, but that's a sermon for another day.)
Often times, I don't press this final seam until I begin to layout the blocks since I don't know if it should go up or down at this point.  Once I lay the blocks out, I pick up a row of blocks and press all the final seams in the same direction.  The next row is pressed in the opposite direction.
This has saved me lots of annoyed frustration when setting the blocks together.
With this new version, since every block was assigned a specific position in the quilt, I could press that final seam as I made them before adding them to the design wall. 
So here's a basic finished block for the multi-color star version. 
I learned this approach to piecing blocks (it works for setting blocks together, too) from my long time teacher/mentor/friend, Mary Ellen Hopkins almost forty years ago.  She referred to it as working in "twosy/foursy".  And I've been using it and teaching it for just as long.

TIPFor edge-to-edge quilt settings, all the blocks should pressed identically (except for that last seam) if made from an even number of units (2 by 2, 4 by 4, etc.).    If the block is an odd number of units (5 by 5, etc.), every other block needs to be pressed in the opposite order.  Then when the blocks are set together, the seams will automatically be opposing making the matching simple.

I wish you could sit in a workshop with me and learn this technique face-to-face but hopefully I've been able to explain it clearly with my pictures and text.
And here are my "leader/ender" star point units ready for the next block! 
With both the one color stars and the two color stars versions, you can literally piece blocks and keep them in a box until you are ready to set the blocks together.  With a large variety of "background" prints, there is very little chance of any print ending up next to itself in my experience.
That's what makes it such a great stash busting quilt -- plus it's a great place to use up some of the tired old fabric that you don't want to use but can't throw away.

This variation was different because I pieced it block by block.  I placed each one on the design wall as it was finished.  Originally the background was all white squares, no black "border" squares -- but it just wasn't working for me -- all that light needed a frame.  So I un-stitched the outside edges of the first four blocks I made and changed the outer squares to black print. (Ugh!)
I kept getting bogged down with the color placement decisions for the stars until I realized
 I could "plan" the star colors for the entire next row by simply laying the main square of each star on the design wall -- so much easier!!  I think the seed of this idea was all the "rainbow" style quilts I see on Instagram.

The checkerboard border is the result of cutting too many black squares and not wanting to put them back into the stash.  I auditioned several ideas but settled on this one in the end. 
I went back after all the blocks were pieced with the black border squares and added the checker board squares -- but I included a diagram at the end of the updated pattern showing this variation so you don't have to do that.  You can add the checkerboard squares as you piece the blocks.  It will be so much easier!!

This is the upper left corner block with the extra squares added on the left and upper edges.
I used 40 black squares and 40 white squares for the my laprobe size quilt top but I'm sorry I didn't count how many you need for any of the other sizes.  My guesstimate is that for every block needed to change the length or width of the quilt,  it would change that count by four squares of each color.
So my top is 4 by 5 blocks -- if I want it longer (4 by 6 blocks), I think I would need four more black and four more white squares.  I might be off one or two . . . . let me know!

So my quilt top is finished and currently on the "ready to quilt" shelf.  I stopped assembling  when I got four sections together as you see below -- it will be easier for me to quilt it this way. 
Okay, I have written and edited and re-read and edited and proofed and read it again. 
It's as ready as I can make it, but if I've left out something, raise your hand and leave a comment!

Share your test run on Instagram and tag me @hueymary and use the hashtag #mississippimudquilt
-- I want to see what you do!

And if you hesitated to buy the pattern at first, but now you are ready 

Still mostly isolating up here in NEOhio -- have a good weekend!



  1. What a cute quilt Mary! Those stars just sparkle.

  2. Thanks for the wonderful piecing and pressing tips. Love the new border idea.