With several Swoon “quiltalongs” going on right now, there are a ton of beautiful Swoon blocks popping up on my Instagram feed. And, lots of finished quilts even. I joined in last month, but I am just not that fast! I have finished two blocks, and the first one was kind of a disaster. I made some mistakes and did things the hard way, unpicked a lot and even had to recut some squares. Thankfully, I was able to salvage it in the end. It took me a while to muster up the courage to make the second, even though I had all this pretty fabric cut and ready. But, thankfully the second one went so much better. And, that got me thinking that maybe someone else is out there struggling like I did. So, here are a few tips and tricks to help not only with piecing Swoon blocks, but really any blocks.
I am pretty sure fhere is nothing original here. These are all things I have learned from great quilters that have gone before me, and from lots of trial and error, heavy on the error! But, I am hoping you can find one little trick to make your piecing go smoother – or at least a little quicker.
I have found there are two things that make piecing these blocks, or any blocks so much quicker: a Bloc Loc ruler and a Seams Sew Easy guide. These are not paid endorsements in any way – just my free opinion!
First, the Bloc Loc ruler makes trimming HSTs sooooo much easier. A little groove sits on the seam and helps create a perfect square. The rulers aren’t cheap, but totally worth the investment. I have the 5 1/2 inch size and find it works great for almost any project. Next, the Seams Sew Easy guide. Do you hate drawing lines on the back of squares as much as I do? I dread that step and sometimes just skipped it, but that always resulted in wonky seams. Then I found this little guide. It sticks on your sewing machine under your presser foot and lets you piece without drawing all those pesky lines! Just use the lines to guide your block though.
I always try to piece as many things as possible without getting up from my machine. So, instead of just working on the four pieces in step one of a block, then stopping to press and trim, I’ll continue on, piecing as many things as possible before I have to stop. Just be careful to keep track of what you’re sewing to what!
I also try not to stand up and press unless I have to. So when sewing bigger rows or sections together, I don’t press each time, but just continue piecing and then press all the rows at the end. Here you can see three big sections pieced before I press. Do your pieces ever get a little bowed like this? If it’s just a little bow, I ignore it, lining up the outer corners and then following whichever piece should be the straightest. In this case, it’s the floral on top since it’s cut edge hasn’t been altered at all. I use it when keeping my 1/4 inch seam.
I usually give my blocks a quick press after I’ve sewn them, so they lay nice and flat for trimming. When trimming, the biggest time saver I’ve found is trimming multiple squares at once. Usually I do four, lining up the sewn seam on a line on my cutting mat. You can spread them out, or overlap. Line up your ruler and cut all four at once. And save those trimmings! There are 28 pairs of triangles trimmed from each Swoon block. I use them as leaders and enders, which saves thread, uses up scraps and helps prevent pieces from bunching at the beginning when you’re piecing. To read more about how leaders & enders work visit Bonnie Hunter’s blog here. Genius!
Not sure what I’m going to make with 448 HSTs that finish at 1 inch square, but it will be epic!
This is just a personal preference, but I usually press diagonal seams to one side, and straight seams open. I have found this is what works best for me in most cases. I typically always press HST seams to one side since I use my trusty Bloc Loc to trim them.
I pin very infrequently. Unless the pieces are longer than 12 inches or so, I just hold them together and guide them through, stopping as needed to check that everything is lined up. But, when I get to the final steps in the Swoon block and am sewing the rows together, I do pin. Even then, I typically only use three pins or so per row. When matching seams, whether they are pressed open, or pressed opposite ways and “nesting” – I always pin those seams on the diagonal, with the pin head pointing down and towards the seam. Then, as you are sewing, you can leave the pin until your presser foot is over the seam, ensuring those seams match as much as possible. That’s it! Full disclosure- my blocks aren’t perfect at all. The points don’t all match. But, when you see the whole picture, it’s pretty close. And pretty close is about as good as it gets these days! Did you find any of this helpful? Do you have a piecing tip or trick to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!