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Machine Minute: Quick and Easy 9-Patch Block

Strip piece your way to a quick and easy 9-patch block!

Thu, 5 Jun 2014|

Hi, I'm Jennifer, here with another Machine Minute brought to you by Baby Lock and the Crescendo machine. Making nine-patch blocks is a staple for making quilters. But making them quick and easy is something that I think every quilter needs to know. Now you could, of course, cut nine small squares and sew them together one at a time. And if you have lots of time, that's a great way to do it. But I'm going to show you a quick and easy way to strip-piece your nine-patch blocks that makes it so simple to make several in a hurry. Now to begin with, my blocks have a finished size of 1" square in the center. And so I cut strips of fabric at 1.5" wide. You could cut them 42 inches across the width of the fabric. I've cut mine from a fat quarter, so they're about 22" long. And I've got them right sides together. I'm going to sew down one long edge of those strips. So to begin sewing, you can either use your regular presser foot or if you have a quarter-inch presser foot with a guide, that could be helpful as well. I like to position my fabric along the edge of a presser foot and move the needle so I get that perfect quarter-inch seam. I always start with a little leader strip in there so I get a nice, smooth start at the edge of my fabric. And then sew at a medium speed, trying to keep your seam allowance as consistent as possible for a quarter inch. Now I'm using the side of my foot as my guide. And I like to sew without pins when I'm doing this because I think the more you're manipulating your fabric, the more chance you have to swerve off of your quarter-inch seam allowance. But if I needed to stop and readjust my fabrics, I could just have the needle down in the fabric, realign my edges here, and start again. So, I'll sew all the way down that strip, then I'm going to press my seam allowance to the darker of the two fabrics. Once that seam is pressed, I'm going to add another strip of the blue color to the opposite side, so it'll be blue, orange, blue once I press it open. I'll align that edge, and again, using my little leader to get started, adjust and make sure my edge is right along my quarter-inch and start sewing down that edge. Once you've pressed that strip with the seam allowance going toward the darker piece, then it's time to measure the accuracy. And you want to do this before you sew all your strip-sets together to make sure your quarter-inch seam allowance is accurate. So when you measure the center strip that was cut at 1.5" in this case, once quarter-inch seam allowances are taking into account, you have a 1" strip in the middle. So, one common problem after you've pressed, is you'll go to measure this and see that your center strip doesn't equal what it should. In my case, it should be a 1" strip, because I cut it at 1.5". So, what's the problem? Often it's not where your seam is set (you have a quarter-inch seam), but you'll miss pressing it all the way open. So you can see here that there's a little fold in the fabric that didn't get pressed all the way open, and that accounts for the difference. So careful pressing is important. And you can use your fingers to open that seam before your iron gets to it, or you can use the tip of your iron to make sure you press that seam nice, open, and flat, so that you're getting an accurate measurement when it goes to testing to make sure that you've got your quarter-inch seam allowance set accurately. Now you're ready to make multiple strip sets. You'll make some with two darks and a light in the center, and others with two lights and a dark in the center. And that's how you get the variation needed in a nine-patch. So when you cut those into smaller pieces (if you're strips were 1.5" wide), you'll cut segments from that strip 1.5" wide, as well. And you'll pair two of one with the opposite one in the center, and those are the three pieces you'll use to complete your nine-patch. We'll first start by sewing two pieces together. And you want to line up those seam allowances, and that's why it's important which direction you've pressed them. So you can see when you've put these pieces together, the seam allowances, because they're pressed toward the dark fabric, go in opposite directions. So when I give it a little tug, you see how those seam allowances will nest right up against each other and give you a nice intersection where the two meet. Then it's time to sew those two pieces together. Again, I like to start with a leader cloth and just guide the pieces in, being careful to keep that quarter-inch accurate. Now you can chain-piece here -- you don't have to lift your presser foot. You can just have the next set of pieces ready to go and keep on stitching pairs together. Once you've sewn those pairs together, I've pressed the seam allowance toward the piece that has the most dark pieces. So in this case, I'm going to press the seam toward this row. Then I'll be ready to add the remaining piece to the opposite side. And again, I'll line up my seam allowances so that they nest, and be ready to sew the final seam. It's just that easy and quick to sew a nine-patch block using the strip-piecing method.