10 Reasons to Sew a Sample Block
I can still remember my very early quilting years when I signed up for my first class (probably 35 years ago). It was with a "famous" teacher, well known for her lovely designs and charming personality. In preparation for the workshop we were to cut 60 strips 3-1/4" x wof. That was a LOT of fabric and it was very costly for me. But, I did what I was told.
|Sample of pre-cut strips (not the ones for this class)|
We didn't have much information other than a description of the quilt. Remember, this was before the internet. I really didn't know what we were going to make! Came the day, the class and the project - yuck! But I had all of these 3-1/4" strips, right? 195" worth = 5-1/2 yards!
I learned a very valuable (and painful) lesson: Always cut and sew a sample block BEFORE cutting out all your fabric!
- If you don't like the first block, you won't like 24 of them.
- If there's an error in the construction or templates - you discover that BEFORE you cut everything out.
- You discover how well your colors and fabrics play together.
- CHECKING TEMPLATE ACCURACY
There are times a printed template is incorrect in size. Just being off by 1/4" will ruin the entire block. Just imagine if it were repeated 20, 30 or 40 times for an entire quilt. A sample block will show template accuracy.
- CORRECT BLOCK SIZE
"The instructions may state that they are for a 12" block, but I have discovered more than once that my 12" block really sews up to be an 11" or 14" block! Some of the older patterns appearing in out of print books and magazines may not have used the most accurate printing techniques. Today's writers and designers can make mistakes, too, so just to be sure, I make that sample block. This is also a good time to check the accuracy of the 1/4" seam I think my sewing machine makes!
- TESTING COLOR AND FABRIC CHOICE
I readily admit to being "color challenged." I just can't visualize how a block will look with my fabric choices until I actually sew it up. I have rescued many a quilt by sewing a sample block with my first choice of fabric combinations only to discover that those choices are not to my liking. I make a second sample block with new choices before I go and cut out the rest of the quilt.
- SHEER NUMBER OF PIECES
I have been so inspired by beautiful quilts made of intricately pieced blocks only to discover my enthusiasm wanes after making one or two blocks. One quilt I made had twenty-four blocks, and each block had forty pieces - for a total of 960 pieces in that quilt! I was exhausted when I finished and vowed to always sew a sample block to help in my decision making.
- DO I LIKE THE BLOCK?
Sometimes the colors are right, there aren¹t too many pieces, but I don't like the result. Would I like it any better if I went on to make twenty, thirty or even forty? Probably not. I quilt because I enjoy it, not just to acquire another "cover."
- DISCOVERING CUTTING SHORTCUTS
Cutting out that first block starts my brain calculating ways to speed-cut the rest of the blocks. I see the way the template fits onto fabric strips and I envision ways to not only cut out several of the same template at once, but how to conserve fabric in the process. If I¹m going to cut out scores of blocks, I want to do it the quickest and easiest way possible.
- FINDING SEWING SHORTCUTS
As I sew the first block I think of ways to speed sew sections of the block. Perhaps there are units within the block that I can sew all at once, then go on to sew other sections of all the blocks at the same time. Sewing all of the same section at once and then going to the ironing board and pressing, saves time.
- PRESSING SEQUENCE AND DIRECTION OF SEAMS
I find that most blocks require pressing the seams to one side. But when seams of one part of the block butt up against another part of the block, they fit so snugly when they are pressed in opposite directions. Piecing that first block works out those details. Also, there are times when seams need to be pressed open. For example, working with a block where six or eight seams come together can create too much bulk. Pressing sections with open seams helps eliminate a lot of that bulk
- AIDING IN BORDER SELECTION
If I plan on making scores of the same block but I¹ve yet chosen my border and sashing fabric, it's quite easy to carry around one block to my favorite fabric stores to audition fabric for finishing my quilt. All of the colors are contained in one 10" or 12" block and I can easily lay it atop a bolt of fabric spread out on a cutting table.
- VISUAL INSPIRATION
Having that first block hanging in front of me as I stitch the rest of them helps me see the sewing sequence, keep the pieces turned in the right direction as I sew, and generally inspire me to keep sewing, because I will soon have many more of the same block, in the same size, in the same colors for a beautiful quilt!