Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Spiral Quilt IV: Organization

One of my readers wrote that she is confused by what I mean by "flipping" the pentagon (see Spiral Quilt - Part III).  This means nothing more than creating a mirror image.  If you put a mirror along the the A-B line you will see the pentagon reversed/flipped in the mirror.  It is not rotated although the pentagons give the illusion that they are rotating because of the layering of the internal triangles.  Once the internal triangles are drawn the pentagon is no longer a completely symmetrical design.  Even if the outline is the same, the internal design has definite right and left sides.  In the example below I colored two triangles to clarify.  I tell the computer to make a copy and flip/mirror the copy horizontally across the A-B line.  If you are drawing on paper you will have to draw a copy, and turn it over across the A-B line.  Of course this is difficult if you are using opaque paper so I would suggest using tracing paper.  Does this clarify or confuse?  Let me know.

TIP:  The only bad question is the one not asked.  Please share if you don't understand, and I will do my best to clarify.  These designs look very complex, but are really not hard to draw or sew.  One step at a time.

Now on to the organizational aspects of creating a paper piecing pattern for this.  I add 1/4 inch seam allowance markings on my major shapes using a ruler for accuracy.  This will be your basic pattern.

TIP:  Using a ruler to add 1/4 inch seam allowance and trimming after you have sewn your pieces will work, but it is very easy to forget that little bit of a 1/4 inch when cutting.  It also helps you to be sure that you use a big enough piece of fabric to include the all-important seam allowance.  Ask me how I know!!  I highly recommend that you add and clearly mark the seam allowance on the pattern so there will be no question about where to trim the finished piece.

Below is my pattern almost ready to print.  Notice that I have reduced the transparency of the colors, but still have enough color to serve as a check on my fabric choice.  You will also see that I have made sure the sewing lines are dark enough to see clearly.  If you are drawing your design on paper you can color a swatch in each little triangle with colored pencil or marker.  This will be the wrong side of your finished shape.  If right or wrong side is important in your design be sure to reverse your pattern at this stage.  If you print it on translucent paper you can sew from either side.  Just don't get mixed up!

TIP:  Whatever way you decide to do it be sure to be consistent or you will end up with a different looking design in your finished product.  Remember that when holding the paper in front of you, the right side of the evolving fabric piece will be facing away from you.  (Note:  I did not reverse this design so either my piece will be the mirrored version, or I will sew with the back side facing me.  (Choices!!)

In order to cover my bases even better I next add text to each and every little triangle as below.

You will start in the middle and sew the first ring so I label that ring "A."  The second ring is "B," etc.  The other notation refers to the color with a lower case letter (r for red, g for green....) and a number, which refers to the shade of the color.  Look at the purple:  p1 is the lightest shade of purple while p5 is the darkest shade of purple.  The stars on some of the triangles refer to the starting place for each ring.  These notations keep me on the straight and narrow so I don't make mistakes.  Ripping is not really that much fun.

If you have not done paper piecing before, I highly recommend that you give it a try.  You can make incredibly intricate designs and achieve perfection so much more easily.

Now this is ready to print.  If you are not using the computer you can make copies.

TIP:  If you are making copies make sure that the copies are exactly the same size as the original, and make 2 or 3 extra to cover possible pilot error.

You can use copy paper or buy foundation piecing paper, which is available any place that carries quilt supplies.  My favorite is Sulky Paper Solvy because I can run it through my printer, and it dissolves in water when the sewing is done.  I usually tear the paper off when I am finished sewing anyhow, but if some gets left in, it will dissolve when the quilt is dipped in water, which I do after the quilting is complete.  Check the manufacturer's directions for information about their product.

TIP:  I print out the shapes for one wedge, do the sewing, photograph and rotate the photo in the computer before printing out the rest.  This avoids waste if there is a glitch in the pattern.  If I like the result I save it and use it as an extra wedge for quilting practice.  Then I go for broke, print more copies, and sew up a storm.

The last thing I do is glue or pin 1 x 2 inch swatches of all my fabrics to a piece of paper.  I label each fabric with the letter and number combination that I placed on my pattern.  I find I refer to this so often that it is well worth the time.  I also put this sheet in a sheet protector and take it shopping with me to use in choosing fabrics I might be missing.  More about shopping in the next post.


  1. I love how complex paper-pieced projects look when they're finished, but always have a hard time biting the bullet to get started on them! Thanks for the tips!

  2. If you like "perfect" and if you like little pieces, give it a try. There are lots of tutorials for making simpler blocks than I am describing. That is where I started. You'd be surprised at how easy it is to do, but you have to take that first step. Try it with paper instead of fabric to figure out how it works.

  3. Thank you Mardi for the clarification above. I get it now.

  4. I have another question(s). I presume I am attaching the first A (r6) piece to the center gray (in your illustration) piece. Do I only sew to the end of the center piece, attach A(g3) to the center piece and then finish sewing A(r6) to A(g3). In other words, am I dealing with Y seams?

  5. I don't see either of my comments. I don't know if they went through or are being held in moderation.

    1. Susan, your comments were in moderation when I opened my blog this morning. I turn off the computer early at night and this morning I walked the dog 2.5 miles, did the laundry and hung it, and made bread. Finally I got to the computer. Sorry! If you can wait another week I will delve into the sewing in detail as this particular design method has one little quirk in the stitching. I want to make sure I write it out accurately so everyone can understand. I am always open to questions and will get answers out as quickly as I can.

  6. Wow - I can't do perfect and tiny pieces to save my life but this is fascinating - I have just read back over all your posts on this process and love the idea, even if I will never be able to make one :-)

    1. Never say, "Never!" Try it with some larger pieces and then work down to the little ones. You really can do tiny pieces accurately and easily.