The Fiber of My Being: Cutting in the Fast Lane

A student in my Bluprint class wrote, "I started with garment sewing so naturally I am intrigued by your top/dress pattern you have been wearing in different designs throughout most of the class. What pattern is it? What fabrics do you use/"

She wasn’t the first to ask. The fact is I don’t sew garments. I did, but I don’t anymore. I’m a quilt maker. I relish every moment of creating a quilt.

When my sister asked me to make baby room curtains from fabric she'd purchased, I obliged but didn’t scream for joy. When she asked me to hem a pair of lined woven slacks, I said sure but didn’t scream for joy. Unless she reads this column, she'll never know I took the pants to a tailor. I would have botched the job. The fabric was poor quality and I’m just not practiced in hemming.

Quilt blocks I do know. I dwell on quilt block techniques. An idea comes to me. I’m overjoyed. The idea plays out for years. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I have a quick cutting technique for the uneven nine-patch

This block is also known as "Puss in the Corner" or "A Plain Block." The technique story begins here in a previous column.

Each Uneven Nine-Patch, regardless of its size, calls for one large square, four small squares and four rectangles. That's nine patches in all.

I streamlined the cutting of these to four rotary cuts. I cut a stack of five squares, amassing 45 patches, with only four rotary cuts. And there's not much thinking involved in the cutting; it's the same width cut over and over again. No waste, either!

Cutting fabric for uneven nine-patch blocks

Step 1: 

Cut five fabric squares to size, either one at a time or as a manageable stack. I'm using 9½" squares from starched fabric for this tutorial. Stack the five fabrics atop each other.

Step 2:

    Cut parallel to one side, carefully holding the stack in place. I made my cut 2½" in from the edge.

    Step 3:

    Make the same parallel cut along the 3 remaining sides, at the same width.

    At this point, you will have cut each fabric square into nine pieces. If you stacked the fabrics, you'll have 45 total pieces.

    Mix and match the fabric pieces to create nine-patch blocks. Sew them together in traditional nine-patch construction. The unfinished block measured 8½", and the finished block will be 8".

      In the quilt above, I paired five of the uneven nine-patch blocks with four plain 8½" blocks, cut the size of the finished block + ½" seam allowance.

      Cutting chart for the uneven nine-patch blocks

      The beauty of these blocks is that they can be made in nearly any size, if you get the cutting dimensions right. 

      Each pieced block requires the equivalent of one square of fabric. For example, 40 blocks would require 40 squares of fabric (think pre-cut 10" squares).

      Cut Fabric Squares Make Side Cuts Size of Finished Block
      7½" 2" 6"
      8½" 2 1/4" 7"
      9½" 2½" 8"
      10½" 2 3/4" 9"
      11½" 3" 10"
      12½" 3 1/4" 11"
      13½" 3½" 12"

      Constructing the uneven-nine patch

      Making block mock-ups

      To try out different fabric combinations, I position my fabrics on the shiny side of freezer paper and heat-set them with a hot iron. I reuse the sheet several times. If you are concerned with the iron sticking to the freezer paper, first place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the patches. The freezer paper is used to organize the patches, it's not to be sewn. 

      Sewing order

      When sewing any sort of nine-patch block, I begin piecing starting with the patch in the upper left corner. Then I work through the piecing, always returning this first unit to the upper left. Doing so keeps the subsequent pieces in sewing order

      Cutting in the slow lane

      Time to smell the roses. I want to leave you with this image of an antique uneven nine-patch quilt that makes me smile.

      Coincidentally, my stash has at least four reproduction fabrics of originals in this quilt. Mid-19th century fabrics have always been a passion of mine. Coming across them was my gateway to quilting.

      Back in the day, when my sister lived in New York, she'd drive up to the six-story walk-up apartment house where I lived in the Village. Through the front window I'd hear her yell from the street, "Anita, have you got any laundry for me?" She had a washing machine and a car. I'd toss a bag of quilt fabric out the window to her. I guess that's reason enough for me to later take on her curtains and slacks.

      April 08, 2018
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      The Fiber of My Being: Cutting in the Fast Lane