Improve Your HST Piecing for Perfect HST Points
As quilters we’ve seen some incredibly detailed, precise quilts that are amazing just to look at. Upon closer inspection, the accuracy is exact with every seam lined up perfectly. While I like to aim for those results, it doesn’t always turn out that way. But there are some steps that may be taken to improve your quilt top piecing results, especially for half square triangles (HSTs). My method with help you to learn how to make perfect HST points every time.
How to Keep Quilt Blocks Square
There are many factors in determining how square and well aligned a quilt will be when it’s finished. Cutting is a critical step to ensure proper seam allowances and nice straight edges to sew along. A curved edge will never lay flat and will cause a bit of angst whenever you see it. Next is the piecing. Putting the blocks together requires consistent seam allowances so each block turns out square. Otherwise they simply won’t fit together properly and before you know it, your quilt has just become a wonky improv with blocks twisting and turning in unexpected places.
Finally, the blocks are sewn together into your beautiful quilt top. But what if those blocks aren’t all the same size? Or what if they are not square and instead look like a triangle on one side. Are your seams straight or a bit wavy keeping your quilt blocks from laying flat? There can be quite a few challenges in putting a quilt together. If you’re like me, the challenge is how to make it all work out anyway!
Perfect HST Points Require Accuracy
Start with the Basics: Sewing, Cutting and Seam Allowances All Matter
As quilters we need to find the balance of accuracy that works for us. Generally, there is a major component of your quilt design that is the primary focus. That prominent area will draw everyone’s eye and therefore will be viewed more closely. That would be my primary focus to ensure those blocks fit as perfectly as possible. I’ve been known to tuck the misfits away from the center. If there’s a block or two along the outer edge that isn’t perfect, not to worry as it probably won’t get much attention anyway.
How to Make Perfect HST Blocks
Or, how to eliminate trimming every HST block. Trimming is just one of those fussy things I don’t like to do. When faced with a challenge, I may sometimes become tenacious. When that challenge involves quilting, I’m not only persistent but remain focused until I find the solution. No surprise, the answer to making perfect HST blocks is accuracy both in sewing and cutting. But you can also make a couple minor adjustments that result in even greater accuracy. That’s when I got excited and realized trimming each HST block can be a thing of the past.
How to Accurately Make Perfect HST Blocks
How to Choose Fabrics for An HST Quilt
When quilting with any kind of triangles, consider your fabric selection carefully. Ensure you fabric looks good in every direction. Making multiple HSTs from a single fabric square means the print will be placed in different directions. Directional patterns may be problematic when turned on an angle. Figure that out first and choose fabrics that look great any direction.
Prepare Fabric for HSTs.
If you purchase precut fabric squares, you’ll generally be okay. They are often just a bit wider in one direction than the other, but you can still make it work. If you are cutting your squares, be sure to keep them the correct size and very straight. Use the grid lines on your cutting mat to ensure you’re cutting nice straight squares. This is the cutting mat I use and it works great for HSTs. What I like best are the multi-size squares in the center. The 10″ square if perfect for precuts and makes accuracy much easier.
This chevron quilt is my first HST made with very large blocks. I started with fat quarters and trimmed them down to 18″ squares. Using the magic 8 method, each pair of 18″ blocks yielded eight HSTs for my quilt. This is when I realized not every HST is created equal. It’s also when the realization hit that I don’t like to trim every single block after it’s sewn. The large squares made this quilt a quick project and I love how it turned out, despite a few snubbed points that got lost in the seams.
Mark an ‘X’ for Sewing Lines
Select your first two squares of fabric and place them RST. Now use a couple pins to hold the fabric blocks straight. Place your block on your cutting mat, keeping it square with the grid lines. Mark two diagonal lines from corner to corner making an ‘X’ on your square. Using your 45-degree lines on either your ruler or mat will give you the most accurate sewing lines to follow.
Sew Scant ¼” Seams.
This holiday star quilt focused on the finished block size in an effort to consistently make the same size blocks. I found that accurate cutting, sewing, and with a minor seam adjustment, you can make beautiful, uniformly sized blocks every time. This particular quilt also used two different size HST blocks, which is why block size was so important.
Sew a scant ¼” seam on each side of both diagonal lines. This will leave you a bit more seam allowance to work with when you’re sewing your blocks together. Keeping these seam lines nice and straight will make your blocks fit better later and eliminate the need to trim them before sewing your blocks together.
Cut Sewn Blocks Vertical and Horizontal
Place your sewn square on your cutting mat. Take the time to square up your block on the mat. Then use the grid lines on the mat to line your ruler up straight. Now cut from top to bottom, directly through the center. Without moving your fabric, also cut through the center from side to side. Keep your ruler even along the grid lines or the resulting HSTs will be unequal. One of the main reasons HSTs can be unequal is because they are not cut down the center to create two equal halves.
What about those over-hanging fabric points at each triangle point? Look at my sewn block of HSTs before it’s cut into smaller triangles. See how the corners are trimmed off? When you sew from corner to corner, sew along the first side, then turn the fabric and sew back along the other side of the same line. When you cut the threads at each end, also snip each corner at the same time. Now at least half of your points are already cut with no extra trimming time. At this point, my remaining points may or may not get snipped as I sew my quilt top. That’s simply a personal decision you can make.
How to Make Perfect HST Points
How to Lay Out Your HST Quilt for Sewing
Now you have a pile of nice, square HSTs ready to be sewn together. If your quilt design is a random, scrappy layout, just start chain-sewing your blocks together into rows. Though with so many HST design options, you may want to stage your blocks where you can see what your quilt top will look like.
It’s very easy to lay most quilts out on a bed top. The best part it that it keeps you up off the floor. With larger quilts, I prefer to use a design wall. It’s very easy to tack a large piece of flannel on the wall. The blocks hold great to the flannel making it very easy to move them around as needed. My backup for this project is an old cotton sheet. I had used my flannel design wall in a recent rag quilt and needed a quick substitute. There was an old sheet folded and tucked away that was immediately put to good use. It doesn’t hold as well as the flannel, but with a few pins securing a few blocks, it worked out just fine.
How to Sew Perfect HST Points-Step 1
Sewing perfect HST points is a two-step process. Frist chain-stitch all your blocks into rows, nesting your seams as you sew. This not only secures your blocks in place for the second round of sewing, it also gives you a preview of what your finished quilt top will look like. What makes this step important, is that you are sewing with a generous ¼” seam. That means you are making your seam allowance just a bit bigger. By taking a slightly larger seam allowance, it sets the points of your HST just a smidge further away from the seam line. This will really matter when you sew your rows of blocks together.
My most recent floral star quilt brought the whole HST sewing process to completion. Using layer cakes simplified the cutting process. Using the adjusted seam allowance on the magic 8 HST made my individual blocks size more accurate . Then using that same adjusted seam allowance on the assembly perfected the whole process. Nice even blocks, create nice even HSTs which result in a stunning quilt with perfect points!
How to Nest Your Seams
As you are sewing your blocks together it’s also very important to nest those seams up close and snug. This keeps your seam lines straight without any little jogs to one side or the other where seams don’t quite fit together.
To nest your seam refers to how you’re sewing two blocks together where their seams meet up. You want those two seams to practically be on top of each other. The way you place your seams as you sew has everything to getting the accurate results you want. With two blocks right sides together, line up the seams. Now finger press the one seam facing to the top and the other facing to the bottom. Now your seam allowances are in opposite directions with your seam in the middle. You’ll notice as you hold the seam with your thumb and finger, you can feel where the seams come together.
Holding the seams in place, either with your thumb and finger or with a pin, sew the seam from one end of the block to the other. As you sew over the nesting seams, be sure they are lined up nice and snug. Continue sewing your blocks together this way into rows, keeping those seams nested well.
Don’t overlook this sewing technique. Nesting seams results in nice, straight seam lines with perfectly lined up points. It’s an accurate way to sew all your blocks together for a great looking quilt top.
How to Sew Perfect HST Points-Step 2
The second step of sewing perfect HST points is also about the seam allowance. As you are sewing your chain-stitched rows together, instead of taking a generous ¼” seam allowance, you will now take a scant ¼” seam allowance. Using a scant ¼” seam allowance keeps your seam line just outside of where your HST points will join. This way those lovely points won’t look snubbed or wonky. Instead, they will join up straight with the points facing each other perfectly.
You’re sewing your blocks together anyway, so taking some time for a couple modifications is an easy way to improve your results. Even if you still prefer to trim each block, nesting your seams and adjusting your seam allowance will make a big difference.
Now you can sew your HST quilts easily and with confidence knowing that you’ll be sewing perfect HST points!