Monday, October 6, 2014

Spiral Quilts - Sewing

The planning and shopping are all done.  The new fabric is pre-washed (I always do that).  The pattern is drawn or printed and ready to be your guide.  If you have never done any paper piecing I suggest you try it out on a simple block to acquaint yourself with the basic concept.  There are lots of tutorials on the Web.  I also recommend my go-to sources:  RaNae Merrill's books, "Simply Amazing Spiral Quilts" and "Magnificent Spiral Mandala Quilts."  That said, I will give you my version of paper piecing spiral shapes.

TIP:  You only have to know one thing:  You can learn anything!

Here is the paper pattern.  In my mother's art stuff I found some old tracing paper which is soft and translucent and that is what I am using for this tutorial.  Usually I use Sulky Paper Solvey, which is also translucent but I don't have any on hand.  It helps to be able to see through the paper, but copy paper will work in a pinch.  The finished product will be the reverse of the printed side of the pattern sheet.

Printed side of the paper pattern

Step 1.  We start every round with the star triangle.  This is not necessary, but it keeps me from getting mixed up.  This serves as a reminder that this first triangle is unique and will require special treatment.  With the printed side of the paper pattern facing you fold it toward you accurately on the red line (above), which the starred triangle and center share.  This is where it helps to see the line showing through to the other side.  The red lines outline the first triangle.   The folded paper covers the center piece, but don't forget it is there.

Step 2.  Prepare a piece of fabric for the center at least 1/4" larger on all sides.  Prepare a second piece of fabric for the triange at least 1/4" larger on all sides.  Line the fabrics up together along a straight edge, right sides together, center fabric on top (wrong side of center fabric will be facing you).  The ghost shapes show how each piece will fit on its piece of fabric.  The fabric showing at the top will be seam allowance.

TIP:  It is clear that there is plenty of fabric for the white center.  The red is behind and you will have to visualize whether you have enough fabric for the triangle.  A pin stuck through a side or corner of the paper triangle can help to make sure there is enough to cover.  Obviously I have lots of red to cover the triangle, but I am using scraps rather than cutting rectangles for each piece.  You must  have enough fabric to cover each piece and its seam allowance or you will end up with frayed edges on the front.  You will trim the excess as you go along.  Generosity is good.

Step 3.  Lay your folded pattern on top of the two fabrics leaving 1/4" seam allowance above the paper fold, then unfold the paper carefully holding the two fabrics in place.  You may need to pin them in place or secure with painter's tape as you cannot see the fabric when sewing.

TIP:  Before sewing adjust the stitch length of the machine to a shorter stitch.  My "normal" is 2.5 and I drop it to 1.5.  This holds securely with the added benefit of making the paper easier to remove later.

Step 4 (first round only - star triangle):  Lay paper and fabric down on the sewing machine, paper side up.  Now you are ready to sew exactly on the line between the center and the triangle starting at the wide end of the triangle.  Yes, you sew through the paper and both fabrics.  On ONLY the FIRST triangle of each round you sew a partial seam as shown below, stopping about 1/4" before the junction with the triangle abutting the point of the triangle you are sewing.  No need to backstitch.

Step 5:  Turn the paper over to the fabric side and fold the triangle fabric away from the center fabric so the right side shows and press the seam you just sewed.

TIP:  I find that using the iron eventually scorches the paper and makes it brittle and cranky.  I prefer to press with this handy, Hera Marker by Clover, which is available where quilting supplies are sold.  You could also use a small wallpaper roller or a spoon.

TIP:  It is critical that the fabric be pressed completely back from the seam if you want those crisp, perfect points that are the earmark of good paper piecing.

After pressing, fold the tail of the starred fabric (1st triangle of this round) back to the "stop" line and pin or tape the tail out of the way.  See the photo in Step 7.

Step 6:   With the printed side of the pattern toward you fold the paper on the line of the next triangle (#2) to the left, formed by it and the center.  Trim all visible fabric to 1/4" above the fold.  With the right side of the fabric for #2 triangle facing you, line up its raw edge with and under the trimmed fabric (right sides together) above the paper fold.  Make sure the fabric will cover the triangle and its seam allowance.  Open the paper and sew on the line from the wide end of the triangle all the way to the point.  Turn and press.

Step 7:  Moving in a counterclockwise direction (looking at it from the printed side of the pattern) continue to add fabrics to the other triangles in the round.  Trim, stitch and press each time.

TIP:  Be careful not to cut or stitch the folded-back portion of the star triangle fabric.

The photo below shows the star fabric plus two more pieces added.  Note the way the star fabric is turned back and secured out of the way with a pin.

TIP:  Don't worry about extra fabric.  It all gets trimmed as you go along.

Step 6:  When all the triangles of the first round are sewn and pressed, we are back to the unfinished first triangle, the special star.  Remove the pin and, using Elmer's School Glue (no other) run a small line close to the raw edge of the turned-under seam allowance.  Lay the glued fabric down on the fabric of the last triangle (light blue in this case) and heat set.  This is the only time I use the iron.

FYI:  Elmer's School Glue is starch based.  It will not hurt the fabric or your children even if they mistake it for snack food.  It will hold the seam securely as the fabric is manipulated and sewn, but will wash out.

Step 7:  Now we do the super sneaky trick.  Move your fingers to the junction of the star fabric and that of the second triangle you sewed (dark blue in this case).  Grab hold of both fabrics and gently tear the whole unit from the paper until you come to stitched junction.  Now the star fabric will lay flat and you can see the partial seam.  If it tends to wrinkle a bit, restrain its exuberance by flattening it with a pin to avoid stitching wrinkles in.

Step 8:  Turn the whole thing over to the printed side of the paper pattern and stitch from the end of the partial seam out to the point of the triangle.

Step 9:  Turn over, press and admire your first round of paper piecing.  Use a small piece of tape to repair the torn bit of the paper pattern.

Step 10:  Sew the succeeding rounds in the same manner using steps 1 to 9, moving ever closer to the outer edge.  Instead of sewing triangles to the center you will sew the triangles of round B to a previously stitched triangle of round A, moving further out with each round.

TIP:  When/if you do a mirror version of this shape you will be working clockwise instead of counterclockwise, but always from the wide end of the triangle.

On my demo piece I stitched a final two pieces of black to each side of the pentagon top.  I pieced them through the paper as before, but they are not part of a "round."  This is an unnecessary element that is dictated by the design.  Below is the finished block from the printed side of the pattern.  Trim away any excess by cutting along the outside line of the seam allowance.

Turning the finished shape over reveals the finished, paper pieced block.  Note how the points nest perfectly into the junctions of the triangles (red circles).  Now you can press it with the iron.

TIP:  You must watch the points every time you press.  If you notice a nasty misfit later, you will not be able to go back and fix it.  The only thing you can do is start over.  I've done that too!  If your pressing is sloppy the points will be too.

TIP:  Christy Fincher has a great tutorial on paperless paper piecing.  I have tried it and loved it, but it doesn't work on the spirals that I have tried.  The seams get too bunched up and close together to sew properly.

Next post I will talk about sewing the shapes together and quilting the finished product...and I will show you my first, finished spiral quilt.


  1. That's really lovely, I may just have to add that to my 'to do' list :o) I really like the colours you've used as well.