Saturday, February 24, 2024

Alternative Piecing -- The Esther Block

A warm welcome to visitors from the Esther Block Sew Along!  My name is Mary Huey and at this point, I'm a retired quilt making teacher and shop owner who is now committed to puttering my way through a very deep fabric stash!!  I enjoy machine piecing more than just about anything because it's served me so well for so many years.  As I settle into retirement I do find myself doing and enjoying more hand stitching including English paper piecing.  Late in 2023, a local hand-stitching group to which I belong was exploring possible new projects and we found the Esther block and the sister-duo of Laura and Sara leading it.  
(My readers can learn more about the Esther block and read the monthly block design challenges over at

I decided to test the block for size using the machine-piecing technique for set-in seams that I've taught for the past decade and posted my block on Instagram -- Laura and Sara inquired and we made a plan for me to share my process with all of you this month.

I'm going to focus on how I pieced the Esther block but if you are interested in a longer explanation of how I came to use a chain-piecing strategy with set-in seams, click HERE for a previous post that shares that piece of my history.

I am a huge Marti Michell template fan -- okay, I was an educator for the company and I have most of the templates -- so my first stop is always "the templates".  Below you can see six templates -- all from Marti's Set G -- which I used.  Notice the holes drilled in each corner -- perfect for marking "stop and start" points for hand or machine piecing.  Also, notice all the pointy corners on the shapes are blunted so you trim them as you are rotary cutting the shapes -- adds a tiny bit of time to the cutting but when you start to align the pieces, its a breeze and well worth that corner trim!!
Here is everything I need to stitch one block -- looks just like it would for EPP piecing.
Ready to machine piece.  Of course, I'm using a 1/4" presser foot and it helps if the foot is open back to the needle so you can see where to stop but exact stops aren't as important as I use to think. What is important is not to go beyond the "stop" dot.
 I going to start by assembling three pairs of the center gold gems stitching from the sharp end (center of block)
to the "dot" (which I transferred to the fabric using the template's holes) and stop with my needle down.  As I said, years of using this technique has taught me that stopping just short of the "dot" is okay.
Then with the needle down, I'm going to lift the presser foot and pivot clockwise the fabric so the left edge of my presser foot is aligned with the edge adjacent to my seam.
This pivot allows me to stitch off this pair and onto the next pair until all three are stitched.
Once the three pairs of center gems are together, I start to add a hexagon to each pair (no pressing yet).  In this picture, the hexagon is in place and I'm going to come onto it at the left end of the seam.
Coming onto it at the left end -- but only stitch about 3 stitches.  Time for another stop
and pivot clockwise to line up the right edge of the presser foot with the seam edge.
Stitch the seam, stop, pivot and I'm ready to stitch off this set.
This is what the unit looks like after.
I'm still chain-piecing as you can see under my presser foot.  I've just clipped the set in my hand off the end of the chain and am setting it up to sew another seam on the hexagon.
Repeat the sew-on, pivot, stitch the seam, pivot, sew-off 
until all three units are assembled.
Now you can press to suit your preferences but each unit needs to be done identically.
And check those intersections on the right side!  Perfect and secure!
Thanks to the "sew-off" step, these corners will never pull loose.
Next, I stitched the three center units together 
and then add in the remaining hexagons.  Again, I'm going to put off pressing until I get a bit farther.  I've found it's easier to keep the edge of a piece away from a seam if it's not pressed.
I also have a stack of miscellaneous sew-offs ready for when I get to the end of an assembly section.  Right now, it's half-square triangle sets for some scrappy star blocks.
Next I insert the half-hexagons -- three seams for each one so lots of sew-offs needed!
I stitch opposite sides of each half-hexagon first and then come back to do the center seam so it's easier to line up the edges of the pieces.
One done!
Once all the half-hexagons are inserted, I'm finished with the set-in seams 
and it's time to press.
The rest of the seams are standard straight lines and I assembled the three edge units (large half-hexagon and two diamonds) as sew-offs so they are ready to go.
Almost there!
And look how far I got with one of the scrappy star blocks!!
When I teach the Set-In Piecing Simplified technique, I start students out with "tumbling blocks" using medium size diamonds as it's easier to find the rhythm of this process with the repetitive piecing needed for that pattern.  When I retired from teaching I created a downloadable instructional PDF which I sell in my Etsy shop (HERE) that walks quilters through the process with lots of pictures.   The PDF is on sale for 20% OFF through March 15, 2024 if you want to grab a copy! 

 I also point out to students that it took me a good three weeks of daily piecing to find my rhythm so if you give it a try, be patient with yourself!

You also might find the series I created last summer for a sew-along for one of my patterns, The Dresden Star helpful -- you can find the first of six posts in the series HERE.  Lots of step-by-step pictures.

Questions?  Use the comment box!!
And thanks for visiting!!


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Ancient UFO Averted!!

 Have you ever started a quilting project only to realize a short way into it that you aren't enjoying it?  You are frustrated from the starting gun with some aspect of the pattern?  You don't like the color or fabric palette?  You don't like the construction process?

It just happened (again) to me!

I have admired Jen Kingwell's Wensleydale block since she introduced it in her Quilt Recipes book several years ago so when a friend lent me the templates for it, I dove right into piecing some blocks to "get the feel" of it.  I needed "leaders and enders" as I worked on the final assembly of my Summer Garden quilt top so putting together a few Wensleydale blocks seemed a "win-win".  I've also been trying to tame this jumble of scraps laying in the middle of my cutting table, so I began the blocks by pulling from it.  "Win-win" again -- dealing with scraps.

(Leaving the scrap pile in the middle of the cutting table isn't a great solution but it keeps my goal of dealing with the pile front and center instead of ignoring it in a basket underneath the table.)

The first block was ugly -- not enough contrast to suit me.
The second block was marginally better.
And by the time I finished the fourth block, I was beginning to sort out better value choices.
Color and value schemes can be corrected by paying attention to what didn't work on the previous block and experimenting as I go.
Now the  only problem was that I wasn't enjoying the piecing process and that my friends, signals the beginning of an ancient UFO in my experience!?!
So this is where I left things Sunday afternoon -- four blocks laying on the floor beside my machine.

Happily, my sub-conscious designer brain thrust an idea into my conscious maker brain the very first thing Monday morning (a rare but wonderful experience) and after breakfast, I headed to my sewing room, grabbed my 2 1/2" strip box, and eliminated that potential UFO in a burst of sewing!!
Three sewing sessions later and the four blocks have been saved from the orphan block box and turned into a cheerful little wheelchair size laprobe!!  
Today, I'll layer it up and add it to the little pile I'm quilting through this week.  I could make it bigger but right now this size charity quilt is my new solution to UFO's -- this is the eighth one I've made since early December!  It's an easy size for me to quilt -- usually two of my 40 minutes quilting sessions has one ready to bind.

Now to get all those 2 1/2" strips back into their box?!?
(And no, a bigger box is not the solution!!)

Morale of the story -- if it's not fun, change direction!

Enjoy your week!

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Revisiting Pressing Matters

Apparently I've been blogging for just over a decade?!?  As I was working on a couple projects during our gray typical January the past couple weeks, I recalled writing a blogpost about "pressing".  When I went back to revisit it -- there is actually a series of three posts.  

I think good pressing habits make for better piecing and while the tips and techniques I shared in these tutorials aren't the only best practices, they certainly have served me well over the past 30 years of piecing.

The first one deals with the basics that apply to any piecing project.

Over the past couple weeks I've been turning a layer cake into the sampler blocks from the 2021 summer time Moda sampler -- thirteen of the fourteen 12" blocks are pieced along with four 6" blocks and two 4" blocks.  I have to say the wool pressing pads that have become so popular are a game changer! 

One thing you will notice when reading that post is I don't press seams open.  It wasn't a "thing" back in the "old" days when I learned to piece and I have tried it off and on over the past couple years but I'm not a fan.  My piecing skill depends on a side-pressed seam too much.
\All that is left of the layer cake is this pile of scraps!  I was lucky to find a couple of the prints which were released in 2019 to fill in some gaps and make a binding.  I was wise enough to purchase a two yard length of the large scale print from the collection so that will be the borders!

The second tutorial in the series shares tips I learned from teaching mentor, the marvelous Mary Ellen Hopkins.  That woman could stream line any process which fit right into my work ethic.  Chain-piecing was new to me when I started taking workshops with Mary Ellen and this tutorial shares some of what I learned from her about pressing.

I have a side-project going as leaders and enders making these cute scrappy star blocks inspired by a pattern shared by The Stash Bandit (Diane Harris) in the August 2022 issue of American Patchwork and Quilting.  The fabrics are being sourced out of my 2 1/2" scrap stash -- squares, triangles, and strips.  No idea yet how large this quilt will be or what it's destiny might be once finished -- I'm just having fun piecing the blocks!

The third tutorial has applied to this scrappy project -- it is my "go-to" method for edge-to-edge block settings regardless of whether the blocks are an even grid or an odd grid -- the method always applies!! And I find it especially useful for those patterns where the designer never mentions "how to press" the blocks!

I'll bet you have some go-to tips I've missed when it comes to pressing -- share them in the comments so we can all learn more!

Looking forward to more guilt-free gray winter days of piecing!