And then we begin to sew.
Start by laying out one block next to your sewing machine. 5″ square in the middle, 2-1/2″ squares in the corners and 2-1/2×5″ rectangles on the sides. Basically, this is called an elongated nine-patch.
Working left to right, we’ll sew the block into rows, then sew the rows together. So start by picking up the rectangle in the middle, top row. Turn it upside down and place it on top of the 2-1/2″ square to its left, right sides together, so the right edge of the square and the left edge of the rectangle are aligned.
Place the aligned edges on the sewing machine right at the needle. Notice a couple of things in the photo below:
– I pinned the two pieces together first
– I’m holding the thread ends with my right index finger
– the quarter inch foot
– needle-down position so I can abut the fabric right up against the needle when I start to sew
Once you make your first few stitches, let go of the thread ends. And continue sewing the 1/4″ seam to the end of the two pieces. When you reach the end of the fabric, take a few extra ‘stitches to nowhere’ . . .
Leave, the remaining 2-1/2″ square from the first block row on the table in its position in the block arrangement for now.
Pick up the 5″ center square and the 2-1/2×5″ rectangle from the left side of the middle row. Align, pin, and sew the 1/4″ seam just like before, make a few extra stitches at the end.
Then sew the 2-1/2″ square and the 2-1/2×5″ rectangle from the last row
Stand up, come around to the back side of the sewing machine, and look at the pieced units behind the needle now sewn. They will be on the table or hanging off the back of the sewing machine. Three pieced units, each with two pieces of fabric sewn with a beautiful 1/4″ seam, and a couple of ‘stitches to nowhere’ between each unit.
Take your snips or thread scissors and cut the thread between the first two sewn units. Leave the most recent unit sewn in place (so we can keep ‘chain-piecing’–the process of sewing, sewing a few ‘stitches to nowhere,’ then sewing again)
No need to press any seams yet. Place the first two units back into their place in the block layout on the table. Then pick up the 2-1/2″ square on the right side of the first row, pin it to the unit you just snipped off the chain-pieced thread, and sew the 1/4″ seam.
Once you’ve sewn the first row, you can snip the unit that will be the third row and place it in its spot on the block layout. Repeat the process to add the 2-1/2×5″ rectangle to the right side of the second row.
Repeat for the third row.
All this back-and-forth on the table sounds more confusing than it is. The gist is that you keep putting the sewn pieces back in the block arrangement. Seems silly for such a basic block. But as your piecing becomes more complex, you’ll see why this is one of those good habits to establish from the start.
Once all your rows are sewn, lay the rows back in place on the table so you can see the whole block again.
Stop and look. Do all the pieces look like they are where they should be?
Next: press the seams. The pressing direction (shown by the red arrow) and in the pattern, indicate which direction to press.
Just like you did for your test block, set the seam first, with the seam flat on the ironing surface, place the hot iron on top and count . . 1 . . . 2 . . . 3. Then press the seam in the direction as shown by the diagram. Notice the seam direction alternates from row to row.
This is a good time to double check to make sure everything is going according to plan. Each row should be 9″ long.
Remember the quilter’s math from the test two-patch? A 2-1/2″ square plus a 5″ rectangle plus a 2-1/2″ square equals 9″ . . . Not so much, right? . . . It’s not as easy when there is more than one seam involved.
Instead, convert all the ‘unfinished’ sizes (the raw-cut size before any seams) to ‘finished’ size (the size after it is sewn into the quilt on all sides. In other words, subtract 1/2″ from each element of the row to get the ‘finished’ size of that element). Then add them up: 2 + 4-1/2 + 2 = 8-1/2″ then add back 1/2″ (because the row still has raw, unfinished ends) = 9″.
I know it’s confusing. For now, trust me on this. If any of the rows is not 9″ long, take another look at your seam allowance and your pressing, and review the adjustments made for the test two-patch.
Now, let’s sew the rows to each other. Start by sewing the top row to the middle row. Lift up the top row, and place it right sides together, so the bottom edge of the top row and the top edge of the middle row are aligned.
Pin across the seam as before, but this time take special care at the seam intersection. Squeeze the seam allowance like it’s the last bit of toothpaste in the tube. The seams should nest perfectly, and the bulk is evenly distributed on both sides of the seam with no gap between, and no overlap. If the intersection isn’t nicely nested and perfectly flat, gently nudge the fabric back and forth between your thumb and forefinger until you feel the seams ‘snap’ into place.
*Remember how this feels between your fingers.* This is one of those quilty ah-ha moments that you’ll revisit again and again.
Notice how I’ve placed two pins to secure all layers. One on either side of the existing seam. This is probably more pinning than you’ll need as you get better at it, but for now, while you are sill learning. Pinning is like sunshine – more is almost always better!
Back to the sewing machine. 1/4″ seam. Hold the thread ends out of the way. Slow and deliberate. No racing . . .
Repeat to add the bottom row to the block. Then press the seam toward the outer edge of the block. One seam will be pressed away from you, and one toward you. Remember to set the stitches (1 . . . 2 . . . 3) first!
Take a close look at the seam intersections. They should intersect in one spot. Not offset from each other. If they don’t, don’t worry too much if’s off a little bit. You have at least three (maybe more, depending on how many blocks you decided to make) more blocks to make. And each block has four seam intersections! So lots of practice.
The block should look tidy from the back too. Notice the seam allowances are nice and even. Pressed without lumps and bumps.
Measure the block one more time. 9″ square.
Yay! Congratulations you made your first quilt block. Smile! Then do it all over again.
Remember, quit when you get tired, and step away. It’s amazing how much more fun this is when you are relaxed and fresh.
STOP! if you have questions or if something doesn’t make sense. A solution or clarification is just a comment away.