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Sunday, November 3, 2013
Ocean Waves Block - a tutorial and a few tips
That block is called Ocean Waves and it is a traditional block from the mists of time. I noticed it for the first time in Denyse Schmidt's book Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration. However, her quilt in the book uses a 6" block so to get a 12" block you need to make four of the 6"blocks - which is 48 half square triangles per block.
November is my month in Always Bee Learning and I decided to use this block, but in 12" block sizes. Since I did not see a tutorial in my very quick search (I am sure there are many if I had looked more closely), I thought I would just make one and share it with all of you.
Before piecing a 16 patch block like Ocean Waves, it is a good idea to check your 1/4" seam. The more pieces in a block, the greater the impact of small variations in the seams has on the finished size of the block.
This idea is not mine, I have read it and heard it several places and classed. Start by drawing a line 1/4" on your paper. Look at the photo, you want the measurement to be scant (a little less than 1/4") to allow for the thickness of your pen line.
Set up your machine as you would normally and sew down the line. Here you can see that my machine's default setting it too wide by a smidge.
Move the needle over if your machine can do that, or change your sight lines or guide, aiming to put your needle down right into the line.
Stitch again and check the result. For my Janome Horizon, I need to set the needle at 4.0 to get a 1/4" seam and 4.5 for a scant 1/4" seam. I find that if I work with a 1/4" seam for bee blocks, they come out to be the right size and if I use a scant seam they are slightly too big. The difference matters when there are points at the outside edges of the block to match when the blocks are joined because the blocks are harder to trim down in that case.
To make the Ocean Waves block, cut six 4.25" squares of the print and six 4.25" squares of background fabric. You also need four 3.5" squares of background fabric.
For this block, I make the half square triangle units by placing one of the print and one of the 4.25" background squares right side together. Draw a diagonal line from corner to corner. Stitch 1/4" from either side of the line. I get all six of the pairs ready and chain piece them all at once.
You saw in the earlier picture that I had my 1/4" foot on my machine. I sew these units with another foot which does not have the quarter inch guide on it. So I also check my reference points to get my seam allowance for that foot.
Cut along the line - I just use my scissors. Press the HST units with the seams to the print fabric.
A key to really nice blocks that use a lot of HSTs is to make the HST units larger than you need and trim them down. No matter how good you are at sewing these, they tend to be slightly off the needed measurement. I started with 4.25" squares for these even though the usual quilting guideline given is 3 7/8" squares. The extra bit gives lots of room to trim the units down to the size you need, which is 3.5".
Line a 45 degree line on one of your rulers carefully with the diagonal line on the block and trim two sides. Turn the unit and then do the same on the other side. Although a special ruler is not necessary, I actually now prefer to use a special ruler, the bloc loc ruler, for trimming HST units. I wrote a bit about those rulers here.
When you have finished trimming you should have a nice HST unit that is 3.5".
For the Ocean Waves Block, lay out the units like the photo above. Then sew the rows. I sew the units in pairs and then sew together the pairs.
Once you have the rows sewn, lay them out to check that there are no mistakes. I prefer to press the seams between the units open, as that gives total flexibility on where the blocks will be placed in the finished quilt. If the seams are pressed to one side and later you end up joining blocks with seams going the same way, you have 4 to 8 layers of fabric meeting and it is really hard to make those seams meet neatly.
I match the seams on two rows and pin at each place the seams join.
Another benefit of pressing the seams open is that then you can see exactly where the points will be. See the arrows in the photo above - the points of the triangles will fall just below that point, so you want your seam line to be just a hair above it or right on it.
You can see where my stitching line is, using the 1/4" foot and needle positioning I tested earlier. I try to remember to take the pins out just before I get to them on seams like this as they can distort the fabric just enough to be annoying.
Piece all the rows and press the seams open. Give the whole block a good press. If you want, you can measure it to see how close it came to being 12.5" unfinished. This one is not bad, you can see that it is a little bit out at the top right. This much variation should not impact the accuracy of the overall quilt.
Be careful if you block is slightly too large - don't trim it if that will mean your points will not have 1/4" of room at the edges or you will end up losing all those points when you join the blocks. It is easier to ease in a slightly large block when you are quilting than it is preserve points when the seam allowance left is just too small.
A close up of the points. I am pleased with these points, I often don't do this well. It is just a matter of practice I guess. Also, remember that quilting and washing will mean that the crispness of the points is not quite as noticeable as it is on the unquilted block, so I would not worry about the odd point that is less than perfect.
Remember the sayings - "Get your nose out of your quilt." or "If you cannot see it at 30 paces or as you ride by on your horse, it is fine." Precision piecing is worth aiming for but, in my view, not something to expect to achieve with every seam or point and not necessary for every one either.
Here is how I will lay out this quilt once I get the blocks back from my bee. You can see a stunning version of a quilt using the Ocean Waves Block here at Little and Lots. I am not sure how I will place the different colours of the Blitzen fabric line I am sending to my bee mates, but I can already see that placing the colours randomly would probably be fine.
I hope you enjoyed this little tutorial. I often piece using improv techniques and so it was nice to remind myself of some of the techniques I have learned for precision piecing. Please let me know if you have questions.
By the way, I have some open slots for Q4 Finish-A-Long tutorials. If you are interested in making a tutorial to run on my blog in the first week of January for Q4 of the FAL, please contact me by email at shecanquilt [at] gmail [dot] com or leave me a comment here letting me know.
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