Create experiences that leave you in awe, for these will be the highlights of your life. ~Ryan Blair

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How-to Chain Piece Odd-Numbered Block Sets

Is chain-piecing your favorite way to join blocks?
For me this is true.

  • It saves time
  • and the bobbin thread lasts longer when not having to cut thread at the end of each piece stitched. (And that's a good thing!)
  • If you are sewing up block sections with odd-numbered pieces, there seems to always be one block left. And when is it best to add it to the other pieced parts?
  • If you get confused and sew blocks together that aren't supposed to be joined, time is lost in ripping out those seams. 
  • It can be difficult to remember which blocks come next.... and your seam ripper is used more than you wish. (Can't have the seam ripper get too much time in!)

To Organize the Process With Less Frustration!

This tutorial uses a block section containing 81 squares; and will be sewn together in groups of three. No one block will be left orphaned in the chain-piecing process. Have fun!!

Set up a design wall or portable board, to allow you to arrange the blocks correctly; and use this method more effectively. (See How-to Make a Grid Layout for use on your design wall.)

Place your fabric squares on the design wall (fabric grid is optional) in a pleasing arrangement. This can take some time; however, try to enjoy the process. After this is done, you are ready to label the appropriate rows. This will keep blocks correctly placed, as the columns come together.

NOTE: At the time the photos (those included in this post) were taken, I was using a flannelette fabric draped over a cardboard box. And realized that a grid would allow for even spacing as one planned out the design.

For your labels, use either purchased stickers or pieces of masking tape. Use a marker or pen to write numbers on each piece. You will need 27 pieces: (3 sets of numbers = 1 to 9)

Once labels are prepared, add them to the squares in ROWS 1, 4, and 7 as shown in diagram below. The numbered blocks will allow easy placement back on the design wall, throughout the process.

Now you are ready to begin with the chain-piecing process. Each group of three rows will be done the same. Pressing is very important; it begins in Step 5-C. The photos below show the completed process of each grouping.

Let's begin to construct these blocks to form the following groupings. 

Chain-piecing squares from ROW 1 and ROW 2. Then adding squares from ROW 3.

Keep the stickers on the blocks as you sew. You will be stitching the blocks together to form nine columns of three blocks each.

Take the top block in COLUMN 1 (labeled 1) and the block directly below it from ROW 2. Sew these two blocks together. Next take the top block in COLUMN 2 (labeled 2) and the block directly below it from ROW 2, and sew these together. Then continue chain-piecing blocks from COLUMNS 3-9 until all are done.

NOTE: You may separate the chain-pieced blocks at any point; once you have at least one or two pieced blocks done. Then pin them back on the design wall to keep them correctly positioned. With the numbered stickers on the top blocks, you'll always know which direction to place them back on the fabric grid. This allows you to see how the pieced blocks look as they are assembled.

Once ROWS 1-2 are done; add blocks from ROW 3. Start by taking down COLUMN 1 (Pieced ROW 1-2 blocks) and add the ROW 3 block; continue as before by going across the columns until you have three blocks sewn together from ROWS 1-3.

NOTE: Pin finished columns back onto the fabric grid. To keep the chain-piecing going; separate previously stitched blocks and add them to the design wall before you get to the end of the row. Or take from the next section if you wish to completely finish a row. Then place them in the appropriate place as you continue.

Now that the section for ROWS 1-2-3 is complete; repeat the same steps to complete ROWS 4-5-6; and then ROWS 7-8-9. Pin finished columns back onto the design wall.

You will now have three sections containing three completed rows as shown in the photo below.

ROWS 1-2-3; ROWS 4-5-6; ROWS 7-8-9

Chain-piecing column groupings into completed COLUMNS. 

Beginning with COLUMN 1; sew together blocks from ROWS 1-2-3 and ROWS 4-5-6. They are labeled with a (1). Then sew together ROWS 1-2-3 and ROWS 4-5-6 from COLUMN 2 which are labeled (2). Continue across the columns until all nine are completed. Pin these back onto the design wall as you separate them from the chain-piecing process.

NOTE: Now that the blocks are put into columns and hung on the design wall, you can see what your finished piece with look like. If you wish to make any changes in placement you should do it now, before the columns are sewn together. 

ROWS 1-2-3-4-5-6; ROWS 7-8-9

Now you should have ROWS 1-6 joined into columns. To complete this stage, repeat the process as before by adding ROWS 1-6 to ROWS 7-8-9. The columns are now ready to join together.

COLUMNS 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9

Pressing seams; and chain-piecing column groupings into sets of three. 

It is now; that we should press our seams before they are joined to other columns. You may press in an earlier stage if you wish; however, you really don't need to turn on the iron until this step. Also if you have a portable design wall you will not have needed to get up from the sewing machine, until now. (Good time for a stretch!)

Pressing the seams: press all even-numbered columns one direction; and press all odd-numbered columns in the opposite direction. This will ensure that the seams are going in opposite directions when nesting them before stitching, as you join the columns.

To begin sewing together the columns; start with COLUMNS 1-2; then do COLUMNS 4-5; and lastly COLUMNS 7-8. Once these are stitched; separate them from each other. And add the missing column in each grouping. Joining C3 to C1-2; C6 to C4-5; and C9 to C7-8.

Match up seams; (seams should have been pressing in opposite directions) and then sew the two columns together. Separate the chain-pieced columns, so they are ready to add the third column to each of those columns already stitched. At any time, you can detach them from the chain-piecing process and pin them back on the design wall.

It will not matter in which direction you press these seams, at this stage. When pressing seams, it is usually easier when the section is smaller. So if you wish, sew together the three sections; then press. Or press once all nine columns are joined.

COLUMNS 1-2-3; 4-5-6; and 7-8-9

Block Set is complete. How will you use it?    

If you haven't pressed the seams as you assembled the columns, do that now. Your 81-block section is now complete; and can be used in a variety of projects, as desired.

After making five of these block sets, my sixth ended up coming together the fastest and without placement error. Here's what I discovered:
  • Chain-piecing works great; but how many times does one still have to stop and start again when not having a sewing order in place?  (Labeling the rows really works!)
  • Once blocks are sewn; they are harder to match with blocks from unsewn blocks still on the design wall.
  • Thinking one can remember the correct order; and it actually happening that way, generally brings the seam ripper to the rescue to fix any errors. 
  • When similar colors are used on both top and bottom of a column, which way was up?
  • Putting the blocks together in stages, kept the chain-piecing process going smoothly.
  • The numbered squares were easy to keep in order; and placement back on the design wall was effortless.
  • An assembly method for joining blocks, always provides a good rhythm to the quilting process. 
  • Having a portable design wall, eliminated the need to get up while sewing the blocks, until pressing was needed. (Mine was a cardboard box and a folded sheet of flannelette.)

Turning those scraps into squares, provides new opportunities for creating fun blocks; resulting in more unique quilted projects.

Here is my sixth (final) color theme ready to be turned into something new. I will share more on these block sets, in a later post.


If you found this tutorial useful, please share your comments below. I'd love to hear from you.

When square is beautiful... still works for quilters!!

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