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!!


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