Monday, January 23, 2017

Tutorial: Pressing directions for Missouri Star Co Hourglass/QSTs

I like the new "Quilt Snips" mini tutorials from the Missouri Star Quilt Company. Each one is about a minute long and quickly demonstrates a simple block. The music is kinda catchy, too.

Today I'm going to add some detailed pressing instructions for their "Super Quick Hourglass" block, which is a way to make four quarter square triangles (QSTs) from two four patches. Here's the video:

I first tried this hourglass block technique with similar fabrics as shown in the video, and made this pillow cover:

I learned a few things about how to press the seams to make it all sew together more smoothly with nice points. This week I'm making classic hourglass blocks, with only two different fabrics in each block instead of four, but the principle is exactly the same.

Sew pairs of squares together. Press toward the darker of the two fabrics.

Sew together two sets of pairs. My block is going to end up as a checkerboard, so the seams easily nest at this step. If you're sewing scrappy colors together, just line the two-patches up so the seams nest.

Notice in the photo above that the seam you can see is pressed down, or toward the camera. 

And notice in this photo, the seam you can see is pressed up, or away from the camera. It doesn't matter which way you sew your four patches, as long as it's consistent. In my case, I chose to always have the top blue (dark) patch go through the feed dogs first, so that seam was always pressed away from me.

Here is the back of the four patch, right after sewing and before pressing. The horizontal seam needs to be pressed, and we're going to "swirl" or "spin" the two halves of that seam. That means they won't be pressed toward the dark fabric; instead they will go toward the lighter fabric so all four seams now "rotate" clockwise.

In order to do that, the tiny little bit of overlapping seams in the middle need to come unstitched just a bit and open up. 

Here's a video by Ormond Beach Quilts that has a nice demonstration of spinning seams. She talks about doing it to minimize bulk, but we're doing it to make block construction easier.

Note that in her video, the seams swirl counterclockwise. After you've played with your four patch a little bit, it will be obvious which way the seam wants to go naturally. That "natural" direction depends on which way your seams were facing as they went through the sewing machine a few steps back. Either way is fine, as long as you're consistent. (Do you sense a theme here?) OK, back to our hourglass block. 

Here's the front of one of my finished four patches. The next step in the hourglass/QST block construction is to place two of these four patches right sides together and stitch around the perimeter.

If you've swirled all your seams the same way in your four patches, they will now nest perfectly when two of them are right sides together.

That will be true no matter which colors touch. In the photo above, two blue patches are touching instead of the alternating cream/blue/cream/blue, and the seams still nest. This works great when doing the scrappy multicolor blocks shown in the first video.

Here is what happens when you put a counterclockwise swirler with a clockwise spinner. The seams don't nest, oh no! What to do!?! Eh, not the end of the world. You can stitch up another four patch and pay closer attention to the pressing so it matches just this one block.

Or, you can sew it together without nesting seams on this one block, and it will just be a little harder to get pretty points. But at least you'll understand why this one didn't nest right.

The next step is stitching around the perimeter of the four patches. The video implies that you should literally sew all four sides of one block, then do all four sides of the next block, then the third block, etc. My next tip to make things go more smoothly is to sew one side of one block, let's call it the "east" side. Then chain stitch and sew the east side of the next block. Do the east side of multiple blocks, then cut the chains. Make sure you nest your seams up snugly each time. We did all that swirling stuff to make sure they nest, so nest 'em!

Next, sew the side directly opposite the first side you sewed, chain stitched each block in a group. So if you sewed the "east" side of each block first, now sew the "west" side. Then do the north and south sides. This stabilizes the blocks and makes it easier to line up each side smoothly. Remember to nest your seams! (Surely you didn't forget already?!)

Now you have a stack of blocks sewn so the right sides are completely enclosed inside. The next step is to cut them across each diagonal. I find it easier to lay the block in front of me on point, and make my first cut horizontally. This is a more awkward direction to cut, so I like to do it while the block is still one piece.

Without moving the two cut pieces, I carefully reposition my ruler to make the vertical cut. I'm better at lining things up this way, and less likely to bump the cut pieces out of position. Cutting through the swirled center seams takes a bit of finesse as there are quite a number of layers there.

Here are the resulting four triangles. Note that this is the very first time in the whole process that we see any triangles or bias edges at all. Nifty!

The center seam that we so carefully nested and swirled gets chopped up and leaves these little strange dog ear mini triangles. That's OK; we'll trim them away when we square up the block. And they already did their job of making the next set of seams nest nicely when stitching together the two four-patches.

Now press those triangles open and admire your perfect points right in the middle! Oooo, aaaaah! Those points come from the perfectly nested seams when you were sewing the east-west-north-south sides together, which in turn nested perfectly because you swirled the previous seam, which in turn happened because you paid attention to how the first two-patches were sewn together.

Trim your hourglass blocks to size. I use blue tape to mark where the center seams should be and trim evenly all around. (Please note that I didn't start with 5" charm squares like in the video so my final block size isn't the same as theirs.)

And here are some finished blocks. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. No rocket science here, but by paying just a little attention to the process early on, the blocks come together easily and cleanly.

As a newbie beginner quilter, I watched every single one of the longer Missouri Star Quilt Company videos. Jenny Doan has a relaxed, approachable style that makes quilting seem fun and easy. However, in order to achieve that breezy casualness, sometimes some key quilting techniques are glossed over. I understand that; you can't put every single thing in every single video. MSQC is trying to sell fabric by demonstrating, "Hey, look at this easy block! See Jenny sew it up lickety split into a beautiful quilt! You can do it, too!"

Jenny does talk about pressing in most of the videos, usually by just saying "press toward the dark fabric," but that isn't the whole story in this block. I hope I helped you make this fast, easy block better by adding just a few simple steps!

Linking up with Yvonne's Tips and Tutorials Tuesday.


  1. Great post! Wish I had known about this method when making this block for Chunky Churndash quilt. Can't wait to try it.

  2. I'm a great believer in planning pressing to help seams nest! Thanks for working it out for us for this block.

  3. I know of a few quilter who spin their seams and think what a wonderful idea - but I never remember to do it!! I've read your tutorial now and watched the video, next time I have all those pesky seams meeting I'm going to remember - I now have a sticky note by my machine to remind me!!

  4. thank you for this. I have just started to cut squares to make one of the twisted hour glass quilts . I have been pondering the pressing so this post really helps me. Thank you

  5. A great tutorial! I agree you should sew the east side of each block first(chain piecing is always faster IMHO) and then continue like that. I have taken to swirling seams more and more, at first I thought time waster until I tried it!

  6. Excellent! Thank you for taking the time! I love, love, love the first pillow you made! Enjoy your day! XO

  7. Your pillow is just fabulous! There are so many little tips along the way to make things easier. I guess we eventually learn them over the years.

  8. I find that when nesting seams that by keeping the top seam pointed away from me that the presser foot presses the seams together for a nice point. With the top seam pointing down, it can gap it apart (if that makes any sense). Thank you so much for linking up and sharing the extra details!

  9. oh I like that - I'm going to try it...

  10. I have very rarely "watched" quilting tips online, only when the tutorial has been linked to a bee block. I think this is something I should do more often

  11. I have been making plain 16 patch blocks. I have swirled each of the joins. Time consuming, maybe, but the results are perfection. Also if your seams don't meet in the middle the swirl will not work! P.S. I don't make quilts in a hurry. It is the wholeprocess that is fun!


Please feel free to leave a comment and I'll reply as soon as I can.