Friday, March 13, 2015

Using a Tear-away Foundation to Piece Squares & Progress on the new Quilt

Detail, Come Walk with Me

If you have my book Lovely Landscape Quilts, then you have read about my technique using a tear-away foundation to piece. Well, let it never be said that I don't show you how I do whatever it is I'm doing! Lol.  Today I'm going to show you how I use a foundation to piece squares and half square triangles.

Much of this material is in my first book - the out of print one - but the one available for about 3-4$ from "Other Sellers" on amazon.  The book is called Watercolor Landscape Quilts.

I've been working on this quilt all week. I'm making a path through the woods and thinking about a poem I once heard called "Come walk with me".  (I'll get to that later.)

Here are some in progress shots in case you want to see how I build a landscape bit by bit.  I started this quilt a couple of weeks ago and you can see the very beginning if you go back in my blog before Caryl's quilt exhibition.
In progress

You'll notice that I'm not bothering trying to find the perfect fabric to blend the end of the path and the distant foliage. I gave up trying to find it and will applique something to soften the edge between path and bushes.

All done - maybe

At this point I thought I was done... but I came back the next day because I wasn't sure I liked the red and green foliage above the trees on the right. So I tried adding brighter fall foliage.

Trees with brighter gold colors...

I didn't particularly like this bright foliage either.  You see, in the back of my mind I know I'm going to put a big branch from the tree on the right and that branch is what is causing the shade on the path. On that big branch will be the deep rich red leaves from the fabric you see draped over the top of my scene. If I keep that bright gold foliage, there won't be as much drama from that deep red leafy fabric.

So I compromised and only added a bit of the gold leaves.

Design is done

Once the design is done, I start the piecing.  A couple of weeks ago when I first started blogging about this quilt, I mentioned that my scene will be made with 1 inch FINISHED squares and that I was cutting my squares of fabric at 1-3/8 inches.  This is very important if you want to try my method of piecing.

 (I have a patent on it by the way. My younger sister is a patent attorney and has been telling me what to do for years and years now.  She popped out of my mom telling me what to do actually, lol. But I digress.... Love you Mary!) 

Drafting plumb lines 

The first thing to do is calculate how much foundation you need.  You do this by multiplying the number of squares of fabric times the size of each square.  When Watercolor Landscapes came out, I was unaware of the foundation that I'm using now. AND, the foundations I recommended in the book are no longer available.)

So, I'm using the foundation recommended in my new book Lovely Landscape Quilts and it is called Create-a-Pattern and is made by Bosal. It comes 46 inches wide off the bolt.

Once you calculate the length of foundation you'll need, add in 1-2 inches extra. This is because you'll want to lay it on your cutting mat so you'll have a bit extra on the outside edges.  You can see that I have about a half inch or so once I line up the foundation on the 1 inch measuring line on the cutting mat.

By the way, this is the same thing I do when I piece strips for a landscape quilt.

Once you tape the foundation overlapping that one inch line, you draw that one inch line on your foundation. I call these lines your 'plumb' lines, but really, they are the outside edges of two sides of your quilt.

Once you draw your plumb lines, draw the squares.  I drew mine every 1-1/2 inches both vertically and horizontally across the foundation, moving the foundation across the cutting mat as needed to fill the entire section with a grid.

Here is what it looks like when I'm done- 
The grid is drawn
 You'll notice that you can see the rotary mat lines through the foundation? This makes drafting the grid easy and accurate.

Once the grid is drawn, it is possible to add sewing lines and use them to piece accurate half square triangles. Where my tree roots are, I'll be adding triangles. If you look through my quilt gallery you'll see half square triangles, rectangles and scalene triangles. All these can be pieced directly onto your foundation, but today I'm only showing you how to piece the half square triangles. This method will NOT work piecing any other triangles.

Like counted cross stitch, refer to your graph paper pattern (that was pictured in the blog 2 weeks ago) and figure out where those triangles will be on your foundation.

Each square on your foundation will be 1 square of fabric from your design.

Adding sewing lines after the grid is drawn
 To piece the half square triangles, remove the patches from your design wall and lay them on the appropriate square on your foundation. LIGHTLY glue the background square to the foundation, keeping the glue away from the outside edges of the drawn grid lines.

The half square triangle unit 

The background square is glued down. I trimmed off a bit of the bottom right so that I know which way the TOP fabric will be folded down when I'm done sewing it in place.

When I glue down that background square, I put a dab of glue in the upper left portion of the drawn square. Then I arrange the second square of fabric - in this case my tree bark - right sides together on top of the glued square and pin parallel to the sewing line.  (See below)

This is ready to be sewn

View from the back side of the foundation. You can see the drawn sewing line quite easily.

 Once you have stitched the sewing line, fold open the top fabric and trim off the seam allowance to 1/4 inch or so and glue it down.

Transfer the remaining fabric patches to the foundation using a simple glue stick. (I like Elmer's now.) Dab the glue ONLY in the center of each square on your grid. 

My design, all transferred.

I used a couple of scraps of foundation for the bottom part, I didn't want to cut another long length of yardage off the bolt.  Remember, this foundation comes 45 inches wide. That top portion had to be cut 53 inches off the bolt to cover 34 squares of fabric at 1-1/2 inches plus a bit extra.  The photo above is deceiving; really that top piece is wider than it is long. 
At this point, all I need to do is sew 1/4 inch from those drawn grid lines. I started the whole process though by sewing those two bottom portions together. Then I sewed all the horizontal rows across the bottom piece of foundation and across the top.

Fold along the grid lines and sew
 When you sew these seams use a LARGE needle and TINY stitches.  I used a 110/18 size Universal needle and less than the "1" stitch length on my sewing machine. In other words, barely creep along. I use a light weight light color cotton thread and I'm VERY careful that no fabric get's bunched up when I fold the foundation over.

Remember how I said to cut your fabric squares at 1-3/8 inches instead of the 1-1/2 inches? This is to help minimize those squares of fabrics getting bunched up wrong when you sew those seams.

I carefully fold the foundation and look and feel with my fingers for bunched fabrics, then I pin it in place.

Here is what it looks like opened up...

Once all the horizontal rows are sewn, tear the foundation out of the seam allowance. It should come off VERY easily unless you got glue in the allowance or your stitches were too big.  You want TINY stitches.

There are two easy - for me - ways to go about tearing the foundation out of the seam allowances. You can slit open one side like I'm showing you below and then grasp and tear the rest away... 

Slitting open one side of the foundation in the seam allowance

Tearing away the foundation after one side is slit open
 Or, if your stitches are good and you are on a roll, you can sometimes just pull the stuff out of the seam allowance with out slitting a side first. (See below)

Tearing it away without slitting it open first
 Hmm. My thumb isn't very attractive is it... 

Ok, now that all your horizontal rows are ready to go, it is time to press these seams in opposing directions.

By the way, at this point in the process, I have sewn the 2 portions of foundation together. I did this by lining up the grid lines and pinning them.

If you are really clever, you'll be wondering about how I lined everything up between the 2 sections of foundations since I had to sew one vertical seam on the bottom section when I added that tiny bottom right piece.  (Go back to the photos of the 3 sections laying on my floor...)

It took me a minute too, when I laid them out and the top and bottom portion didn't match. So, I sewed the corresponding vertical seam in the top portion BEFORE I sewed the two sections together.  All is well, but it would have been  easier if I had just cut one section of foundation for the bottom instead of using up scraps.

Anyway - have I lost you yet? Really, this technique isn't as difficult once you start in on it. 

Here is the backside.
Beginning to press seam allowances

To press the next batch of seams (the vertical ones), start by pressing the last row in your foundation the the left. (See above.) Then fold the pressed seams under and press the next row to the right.

Continue until your whole foundation looks like this - 

All pressed in opposing rows

Then fold and sew these rows. Once again, use a LARGE needle and TINY stitches. I keep my little scissors handy to help keep the pressed seams going in the right direction under the feed dogs.

Fold/Sew the rest of the foundation. All your seams will nestle so nicely! 

When you are done, the whole thing looks like this - 

The back of the foundation

Next step? You guessed it - tearing the foundation away from the new seam allowances. Yes, this can get a bit tedious. However, it only took me a couple of days to sew nearly 1500 squares of fabric together. (And I don't work on projects all day.) 

Tearing away the foundation again 

All done, everything is sewn down and I've pressed all those new vertical seams in one direction. My quilt top is flat and now is my favorite part - adding the applique.

It is kind of like adding the frosting on a cake. 

Pieced quilt top

Ok, lets start adding and playing. First thing to be 'fixed' is the path - 

Path is fixed

Now I'm thinking that I'd like to start adding tree trunks - 

The start of the tree trunks and the sapling on the left

Well, it has been a LONG blog for me today.  Long and intense. Today I pick up my son from college and drop off Carpathian Mountain Sunset to the quilt show in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. I might not get back to working on this quilt until next week. Oh, if you scroll back to the beginning you can see that I added a couple more birch tree trunks and foliage.

Comments and questions are welcomed, I understand that this method of quilt top construction is a bit different. (I don't like piecing, lol. I had to come up with an easier way!)

Bye for now - Quilt on!  


  1. So interesting. Thank you. Would like to try this technique.

    1. You are welcome. I'm around the 'puter a lot so if you have any questions just holler. :)

  2. Our guild bought your book 'Lovely Landscape Quilts'. What a nice book and techniques I am working on landscape quilt that started as a jelly roll quilt. I really like and appreciate you showing your technique hear.

    1. I'm glad you like it. I'm thinking that I'd like to do more with arranging strips on a tricot knit. It is so easy... on the other hand, I just don't like a lot of raw edges at times so piecing is usually my first choice. I haven't done a watercolor landscape like this quilt in a long time. (Strip piecing is easier!)

  3. Wow this is really beautiful and interesting. I might give it a try and see what happens. I don't have your talent or skill but it might be fun to try. Thanks for all the insight and instructions. you do absolutely beautiful work.

    1. Thank you Deb! Let me know if you have any questions or need help. Sometimes I think people have too high expectations on themselves. One has to learn to walk before they can run... I've been making landscape quilts almost exclusively since the mid 90's and have learned a great deal over of the years. I really don't consider myself particularly talented, rather I know what I like and have worked to learn how to do it well.

      Plus, I have a LOT of different landscape fabrics and they do most of the work... Thanks for the compliments though, I appreciate it. :)

  4. Thanks for such a descriptive blog post. Just wondering something. I've seen paper where the grid lines are already printed on the paper. Is there a reason why you like to draw your own grids? Have to admit I haven't tried this grid technique myself, but am intrigued and am adding it to my ever too long list of things I'd like to make. Not enough time!

    1. I know what you mean - not enough time to try all the new techniques and toys out there! I don't think paper would work. It needs to be somewhat strong and able to carry the weight of the fabric and the glue. Plus, it might stretch and then straight rows won't be straight.

      PS. I have no idea why I didn't get notified that you'd written here last March!

  5. I just found this post, and it made me remember making a "watercolor" quilt using squares fused to the preprinted grid interfacing, then stitching narrow seams horizontally and vertically from the back. I think I tried it back in the late 90's, using some country colors of calico. Thank goodness my tastes have changed. I got your book for my birthday and want to make a landscape quilt this winter!

    1. I hope you have fun! I like working with strips better that squares actually. There is more movement and the strip landscapes have a more contemporary/modern feel to them. Let me know if you have any questions and I hope you really like my book! Ah calicoes... I remember them well. As you said, thank goodness styles have changed! :)

  6. Awesome. I'm new to landscape quilting and can't wait to try some of your techniques. I'm having trouble finding the tear away foundation. Is there a Web site you'd recommend?

  7. Awesome. I'm new to landscape quilting and can't wait to try some of your techniques. I'm having trouble finding the tear away foundation. Is there a Web site you'd recommend?

    1. Hi Lorrie, check out my website. I sell it for $3. per yard. ( There are links to my fabric store above - on the purple link bar. :)