I was very grateful when Alla, of Rainbows, Bunnies, Cupcakes, volunteered to submit a tutorial for this quarter, as I wasn’t sure I would be able to get one done myself, but when she submitted this along with the casual comment that she was getting married in 2 days, I was even more grateful (whilst possibly questioning her sanity ;o) )  By my reckoning she is now a married woman, so congrats Alla!

Take it away Alla…

I really love dimension in quilts: love to have bits and pieces that stand out away from the surface of the quilt.
This technique will give you a paper-pieced fish block that can have the fins or tail (or both!) as dimensional elements.

Make a 6″ on-point fish block

In honor of Shay’s request for “How to write a tutorial“, I am attempting to lay this out in an organized manner.

Credit for the original fish design goes to Lazy Girl Designs.  She offers a pattern for a quicker version of the non-dimensional fish, using a tool called the Lazy Angle ruler.

What you are making

A 6″ on-point block, with options for dimensional elements:

Option A:  paper-pieced block, no added dimension

Option B:  simple dimension options for fins and tail (shown in photo above)

Option C:  fancier dimension option for tail, fins that are flaps

Materials and equipment

1) Paper pattern (available for download)

2) Ruler and rotary cutting supplies

3) Sewing machine

4) Two colors of fabric; 6″ square of background fabric and 9″ square of fabric for the fish are adequate amounts

5) Topstitching thread, if desired (option C)

6) Chocolate–because Shay requested it (I prefer dark chocolate, but the type and amount is entirely up to you)

Degree of difficulty/time to complete

I am super slow when it comes to anything, but I can make one of these blocks in an hour.  That includes cutting, changing thread colors for the topstitching, and ironing after every seam.  (I know, I know, a single block is not a project, but this technique can be used in many projects, in many ways.  See the Gallery at the end of the post for more ideas/uses of dimensional elements.)

This design is based on paper-piecing.  If you don’t have that skill in your arsenal, my directions may not be super helpful.  I will lead you through the complications, but the basic paper-piecing is on you.

Option A: basic paper-pieced block


1.  Download the pattern for paper piecing.  The block is made in two units.

2.  Mark the paper pattern for placement of the fabric colors: pieces A1, A3 and B1 are the background; pieces A2, A4, B2 and B3 are the fish.  I used different pen colors on the pattern for my markings.

3.  Use paper piecing techniques to sew the A unit and the B unit.  Attach the units as shown in the photo above.

Option B:  fish block with simple dimension options for fins and tail


1.  Cut fabric:

  • 3 squares for background, 2-5/8″ each
  • 1 square for fish body, 2-5/8″
  • 1 square for fish tail, 2-1/4″
  • 2 rectangles for fish fins, 2″ x 2-3/4″

2.  Fold the 2-1/4″ tail square along the diagonal; fold the 2″ x 2-3/4″ fin rectangles in half the long way (so they are 1″ x 2-3/4″).  Press the fold lines into creases.

Fins and tail, folded & pressed
Approximate placement of folded units

3.  Place one fin rectangle at a slight diagonal on top of a background square, folded edge toward the center;

one corner of the background square will just barely show, and opposite edge of  the square will be overlapped by the fin by 3/8″

Reverse side of fin placement

baste in place along edges; trim edges even with background square.

4.  Make second fin unit as a mirror image of first fin, on a separate background square.

5.  Place folded tail on remaining square of background fabric, folded edge toward the center of the block, and edges matching in one corner; baste in place along edges.

4 units, ready to assemble

6.  Using 1/4″ seams throughout, sew body of fish to one fin; press seam toward fin.  Sew tail of fish to remaining fin; again, press seam toward fin.

7.  Sew body-fin unit to tail-fin unit, matching center seams.  Press this seam open.

Admire your handiwork!

  Option C:  fish block with fancy dimension option for tail, and full-flapping fins

1.  Download pattern for fins and tail.

2.  Make the tail unit:  mark any desired alterations on long edge of tail pattern (the isosceles/HST).  I made a lazy curved edge, slightly wider than the pattern.  Place pattern over two layers of fish fabric, right sides together.

Fancy tail, alteration from plain tail pattern (on right)

Sew through paper and fabric along altered edge only; cut along corner edges.  Remove paper.

Trim seam allowance to approximately 1/4″; cut in seam allowance, making notches as shown.

Turn right side out; press seam flat.  Top stitch, if desired.

3.  Make the fin units (make two):  cut out two fins, using the narrow triangle pattern.  Place each fin piece right side down against another piece of fin fabric.  Sew around long edges of fins, using 1/4″ seam; leave shortest edge open.

Trim seam allowances, clipping closely and carefully around the point

Turn right sides out; press seams flat.  Top stitch, if desired.

4.  Cut remaining fabric:

  • 3 squares for background, 2-5/8″ each
  • 1 square for fish body, 2-5/8″

5.  Place fins on background squares, mirror-image symmetry, 1/4″ from side seam.  Place tail on remaining background square, corner and edges aligned.

Baste along seamlines.

6.  Using 1/4″ seams throughout, sew body of fish to one fin; press seam toward body.  Sew tail of fish to remaining fin; press seam toward fin.

7.  Sew body-fin unit to tail-fin unit, matching center seams.  Press this seam to one side.

Admire your handiwork!


I have used dimensional elements in many previous projects.  Links to blog posts are included, but I haven’t written actual tutorials for any of these.

My version of prairie points; along a border of the first quilt I ever made.

Favorite block of all time: paper-pieced coffee cup with 3-D handle.

Traditional star, in traditional gingham, zinged up by making the star points 3-D.  This is a baby quilt.

WIP: my Relaxing Robin quilt, where I made the sun’s rays dimensional (out of taffeta!) in the midst of (mostly plaid) flannels.

And… one more look at those fish!

Thanks for visiting.  Hope you get going adding some dimension to your quilts!