Stitch, Trim, and Flip

To “set the mood” for our upcoming Gathering Mystery QAL, I thought it would be fun to share with you some of my favorite construction tips and techniques, and even a few of my favorite quilty tools.  As I mentioned in my last post in this series, (Sewing without Pencil Lines), I’m generally not a big fan of quilting short-cuts, because I find that I tend to make more mistakes and I’m generally not as happy with the quality of my piecing when I’m rushing.  I am a big fan of sewing smarter, though, and one of my favorite techniques is the Stitch, Trim, and Flip technique.

The Technique …

In essence, the Stitch, Trim, and Flip (or ST+F) technique is a way to make complex shapes quickly and with very few individual pieces

Let’s use the block from our pencil-less post a few weeks ago as an example.  Pieced traditionally, this block would require four separate pieces of fabric (two needing to be cut in 1/8th inch increments), three seams, plus three separate trips to the iron.

OR …. if you pieced this same block using the two squares and the ST+F method, it would only require two separate pieces of fabric, one seam, and one trip to the iron.

Here’s the construction break down:

  1. Place two squares right sides together and stitch along the indicated line.
  2. Trim the excess fabric, 1/4″ away from the stitched line.
  3. Flip the top-most piece into place and press.
… and Why I love it!

There are a number of reasons why I love this method.  Most importantly, it saves me quite a bit of time.   When compared with the traditional method, the ST+F method uses half the cut pieces, and a third of the seams and separate pressing steps.  That means if it took you three hours to piece 60 blocks traditionally, it would only take you about an hour to piece the same 60 blocks using the ST+F method.  In my world, those saved hours are well worth a little bit of fabric waste.

Another reason to love this method?  It improves piecing accuracy, in two different ways, actually!  First: the fewer seams that you have to sew, the less chances you have to loose valuable “block real estate” to slightly-too-large seams or under-pressed units.  Second: there are less seams to match up, which can really increase your accuracy game!

The other item I like to mention here, is that you do have the option of trimming the top layer, but leaving the original background piece in place as a foundation for the block.  If your blocks are coming out a bit wonky or wavy, trimming both pieces can make it difficult to tell how the block should accurately line up to it’s neighbor(s).  Leaving the foundation piece in place allows you to see where the edge of the block should be, and you can use this to “background edge” to line up and stitch together surround blocks.

I do want to suggest playing around with the idea of this “background foundation” a bit before committing to using it for an entire quilt.  In my general experience, leaving that extra layer has had no negative results – most of the time, you cannot even tell that it is there.  However … using thicker fabric, having a background fabric that is darker than your top fabric, using this method on blocks where lots of seams come together … these factors can cause big problems for your quilt and/or your long-arm quilter, if you use one.  So use your best judgement …

And finally, one of my favorite thing about this method is that it’s an easy way to play with triangles, and not have to worry about cutting {or doing the math behind} those irritating 1/8th inch seams!

The ST+F is actually my preferred method for making flying geese blocks, partially because they come out so accurately, but also because the math behind the method is so easy!

With the ST+F method, you take the size of your finished block, add 1/2″ for your seam allowance, and cut a rectangle from your “goose” fabric in that exact size.  So, 3″ x 1.5″ finished, means 3.5″ x 2″ cut.  Then you take the height of that rectangle {the smaller of the two numbers}, and cut two squares of the same size from the “sky” fabric {2″ cut, in our example}.  Stitch, trim, flip, press, and repeat!  Done!

I like this method because it’s easy to remember on the fly, especially late at night when I’m playing with shapes and I don’t have to stop my creative process to go look up cutting formulas to end up with the same block.  Plus, unless you have a flying geese unit that finishes in an 1/8th inch increment, you’ll never have to cut another fiddley-size sky triangles again!

And if you’re still a bit upset about the waste – if they’re big enough, save those cute little triangles to use for the quilt backing or another projects!  In fact, if I can remember, I usually try to go back and sew a second stitch about 1/2″ away from from the first one, so that when I get to the trimming step, I have a nice little Half-Square-Triangle ready to use!  If you forget this step, think about saving the triangles for a “leader-and-ender” project – read more about that here!

Well, I think that just about sums up my love song to this quilting technique.  Next week, I’m planning to share a few of my favorite quilting tools, and then the following Friday we’ll be publishing our first Gathering Clue – can’t wait!

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