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Template Free Piecing
Template-free piecing has been around the quilting scene for many years. Squares, half-square triangles and quarter-square triangles have been intimate friends of quilters around the globe for even longer.
The secret behind template-free piecing is easily revealed: Using a rotary cutter, a ruler and a self-healing mat, you first cut strips, then squares, then triangles. In the end, you have perfect squares made up of two, three or more triangles ready to use in quilt blocks, sashings, borders etc.
- rotary cutter and cutting mat
- fabric based on the project you have planned
- sewing machine
- neutral coloured sewing thread
- pins (optional)
You will find the theoretical background of template-free piecing in - surprise! - geometry.
The blocks most suitable for template-free piecing are based on squares and right-angled isosceles triangles.
The block "Firmament" that is made up entirely of squares and half-square triangles.
If we were working with tiles, the building of blocks would be a lot simpler: just cut out the shape as shown in the block and be done with it. But since sewing with fabric involves joining pieces together with seams, there is a notable difference between the final, visible shape and the shape to be cut out of fabric. This notable difference is called seam allowance.
We actually tried with paper, pencil, a set square, some coloured pencils and a lot of frayed nerves to verify the additions to the finished triangle sizes as explained below. And we are happy to say that, although Johann and Jutta took different approaches, they finally arrived at a good approximation of what we knew to be the correct result. If you want to do the same, you will need support from our good old geometry pals Pythagoras and Euklid...
Just a note of caution: Do not try to convert between imperial and metric. It will only end in tears. Decide on one and stick to it.
For the square, things are relatively easy:
The basis for calculation is always the desired finished size of the square. To this finished size, you add twice the seam allowance. If you are working with imperial measurements, this would be 2 x ¼” (inch). When you are working with metric measurements, you have to add twice the width of your pressure foot. Here at Quilt around the World, we always assume that this is 0.75 cm which results in a total addition to the finished square size of 2 x 0.75 cm.
Your project asks for a 2” (5 cm) square, finished size:
- You need to cut a 2 ½” (6.5 cm) strip
- From the strip, you cut a square of 2 ½” (6.5 cm) width and length.
It gets more difficult with the so-called half-square triangle. It is called half-square triangle because it is produced by cutting a square in half diagonally. To the finished size of the desired pieced square, you have to add 7/8” or 2.5 cm.
The same project asks for coordinating half-square triangles.
- You need to calculate as follows: 2” (5 cm) finished size + 7/8“ (2.5 cm) = 2 7/8” (7.5 cm)
- First, cut a strip that is 2 7/8" (7.5 cm) wide.
- Then, cut a 2 7/8" (7.5 cm) square from the strip.
- Finally, cut the square once diagonally.
- The resulting triangles will give you a square of 2" (5 cm) finished size when sewn together.
For quarter-square triangles, you will have to add 1 ¼” or 3.5 cm.
To cut coordinating quarter-square triangles for our project example, procede as follows:
- Calculation: 2” (5 cm) finished size + 1 ¼” (3.5 cm) = 3 ¼” (8.5 cm)
- First cut a strip 3 1/4" (8.5 cm) wide.
- From the strip, cut a 3 1/4" (8.5 cm) square.
- Cut the square twice diagonally.
In a triangle, there is always at least one bias side. Handle your triangles carefully and take care not to stretch the fabric. Either cut triangles directly before sewing or keep them safely in a container. Always use an up and down motion when pressing triangles or pieces composed of triangles (rather then a horizontal motion).
Greetings from the Quilt Police:
Why all the fuss with half-square and quarter-square triangles?
Depending on where you place your half-square or quarter-square triangles in a block, different edges of the triangle will be on the edges of the block. If you have cut the strips and squares on the grain, then the longer edge (which Pythagoras called a hypotenuse) of half-square triangles will be on the bias while for quarter-square triangles this will be the case for the shorter edges of the quarter-square triangle (which are called cathetes). Edges forming the outside a block should, if at all possible, not be on the bias to prevent stretching.
In the picture below, you can see a sampler made entirely using the Template Free Technique. It is titled '49' because it is made up of 49 different blocks.