In the ‘Parts Of A Quilt’ post a couple of weeks ago we talked about different types of quilt, but today we’re going to look a little more in depth at the terms that are commonly used in the piecing of a quilt top:

 Finished Vs Unfinished

When you measure a quilt block, there are 2 measurements that are often mentioned, namely finished and unfinished. This can be very confusing for beginners who are trying to grapple with 1/4″ seams and trying to work out what size the thing they have sewn together should be!

  • An unfinished block is the raw block, hot off the sewing machine, before it has been joined to anything else, eg 12 1/2″ or 6 1/2″ square (assuming a 1/4″ seam allowance)
  •  A finished block refers to the measurement of the block once it’s been sewn together with all its friends to make your quilt top. From the example above, that would be 12″ or 6″ square because the block has lost the 1/4″ seam allowance that it had all the way around when it joined to its mates.

Strangely finished quilt sizes are quoted in whole numbers, forgetting that in fact the outside blocks retain their 1/4″ seam allowances for the binding to be joined onto, so if you ever measure your finished quilt and fret that you’re 1/2″ out each way, it’s not you, it’s just the weird rules of quilt measurements!

Block Units

Quilt blocks are made up of a number of units, which are the smallest pieces of a particular shape that join together to make the whole block. The following are the most commonly found pieced units:

Half Square Triangles

Half Square Triangles, often abbreviated to HSTs are square units which are made up of two triangles of contrasting fabric joined diagonally as per the image below. For more information on half square triangles, including cutting guides for different piecing methods, please see this previous post:

Quarter Square Triangles/Hourglasses

Quarter Square Triangles, often abbreviated to QSTs are square units which are made up of four triangles of contrasting fabric joined diagonally as per the image below. For more information on quarter square triangles, including cutting guides for different piecing methods, please see this previous post:

Flying Geese

Flying Geese are rectangles, where the height is half of the width (finished), and the two corners on one long edge have been replaced with triangles of a contrasting fabric . For more information on flying geese, including cutting guides for different piecing methods, please see this previous post:

Half Rectangle Triangle

Similar to HSTs, HRTs (no, not those things the doctor gives you at a certain age!) are rectangular units which are made up of two triangles of contrasting fabric joined diagonally as per the image below.

Drunkard’s Path

Don’t worry, there’s no drinking involved in this (although you certainly may, I won’t judge!) a drunkard’s path is a square unit where one corner has been replaced with a quarter circle of a different fabric as per the image below:

Common Piecing Techniques

In addition to the regular piecing using 1/4″ seams, there are a few extra techniques that are often mentioned:

Stitch And Flip

This usually refers to placing a square on the corner of another square or rectangle and sewing across the diagonal, before trimming the seam allowance on the outside part to 1/4″. The remaining triangle is then opened out along the seam and pressed in place, making the unit back up to its original square or rectangular shape. This is a technique often used to make flying geese or octagons.

Foundation Paper Piecing

FPP, as it’s commonly known, is a method for piecing where the fabric for the block is sewn to a ‘foundation’, either paper, which can be removed afterwards, or a fine fabric which won’t add bulk to your quilt. The pattern to be stitched is drawn onto the foundation, and the fabric is attached in a specific order to make up the image or shape. This is often used to create complex images where regular piecing of tiny pieces and strange shapes would leave it very open to error. I did a series many moons ago on ‘Foundation Paper Piecing For The Terrified’ if you want to find out more

Freezer Paper Piecing

This is a variation on FBB, and is done by cutting out each individual part of the finished block on freezer paper, sticking this to the back of pieces of fabric, which are then trimmed to leave a 1/4″ seam allowance, and then joining the pieces together along the edges, building them up in the same way as you would for FPP. This can be a useful technique for fussy cutting, if you’re struggling to see through a foundation, and should make pieces both easier to remove and reusable, however if can leave you prone to less accuracy than FPP depending on just how close to the edge of the pieces you can get.

English Paper Piecing

English Paper Piecing, or EPP to its fans, is actually a technique for hand sewing your blocks or awkard shapes together. Unlike FPP, in EPP the fabric is wrapped around a piece of paper cut to the desired shape and basted in place either with glue or thread. Shapes are then sewn together along the edges, and once the piecing is complete the paper is removed. The most oft referred to EPP shape is the hexagon, or ‘hexie’, but there have been a number of very complex patterns created, the most popular of which in recent years have been based on the Italian millefiori glass technique.

Improv Piecing

Although improv piecers usually preserve the 1/4″ seam allowance that is standard, beyond that pretty much anything goes when trying to build up an entire quilt, or panels to join together to make a quilt. Pieces can be straight, angled, curved, wide, narrow, regular or irregular polygons, pretty much whatever floats your boat!

Quilt As You Go

This is a combination of piecing and quilting, and its purpose is to allow you to piece and quilt small chunks which can then be joined together at the end to make a big quilt, or used to make small quilted items such as baskets, bag panels, mini quilts etc. There are a couple of different ways of doing Quilt As You Go (QAYG) in terms of creating the pattern on the quilt top, although both use a piece of backing and batting that start off a few inches bigger all round than the finished block size:

Quilt With Every Stitch

In this case you build up your QAYG block by quilting each piece as soon as you add it. Starting with one piece that is quilted in place, the next piece is stitched right sides together with the first piece using a 1/4″ seam allowance, then it is opened out, pressed and quilted in place. This technique lends itself to strip/string or improv quilts.

Piece Onto Batting

In this case you piece your block directly onto the batting, but leave your quilting until it’s all pieced.  This allows for uniform quilting across the block without having to piece separately.  This technique also lends itself to strip/string or improv quilts

Piece Then Quilt

In this version, you piece your block as you would for a normal quilt, but instead of joining it to its neighbouring blocks, you quilt it individually before joining.

Joining techniques for QAYG vary, but generally use strips of fabric which effectively create a sashing between blocks.