Monday, May 14, 2018

X and Plus

I really enjoyed putting this quilt together after such a long time.

I tried a new method of basting. I used 505 spray and lightly sprayed both top and back outside. I pinned the batting to my design wall and applied the backing first. Then I cut off the excess batting. I thought this was a great trick to avoid having to try to accurately measure and precut the batting ahead of time. Then I flipped the quilt and centered the top. I ironed first the backing and then the top. I had seen this recommended but i had never done it myself before. I think the ironing really helped to adhere the basting spray. In the past when I used basting spray without ironing, I would get shifting and tucks at times, especially on the back. This time both layers stayed smooth.

I'm happy with this basting method and will use it again, but it does have limitations. Mainly I'm limited to a throw size or smaller as my design wall won't accommodate a really large quilt, and I can't spray baste outside in the winter, which will necessitate using a different method those months or basting up a backlog of quilts that I can quilt throughout the winter. I'm seriously considering this as it sure beats leaning over on the floor and killing my back.

I also stitched in the ditch around the pieced rectangle, the black border, and I stitched about 1/8" from the outsides with my walking foot. I have seen advice for and against doing this. I think it depends on how square your quilt is. If you have a lot of excess fullness it might not be a great idea, because the stitch in the ditch locks that area in place and there's nowhere for the fullness to go. it worked really well for me on this quilt and I think I will continue to do it in the future. It really didn't take very long and I think it helped tremendously with stability, especially on the outer border.

I tried a new-to-me batting, Quilter's Dream Orient. I have to say, I didn't love it. First, it's a mid-loft batting while I prefer thinner batting. But mostly I didn't like how linty it was. My poor sewing machine was like a teddy bear explosion on the inside after finishing the free motion quilting. The finished quilt does have a nice drape and seems like it will be warm, but I don't think the excess lint was worth it.

For the quilting, I used an off-white presencia thread. I did a fairly large stipple over the x and plus blocks. I switched to black gutermann thread and quilted a chevron in the black border. Initially I tried to pebble with the presencia but my thread kept breaking and I hated how the contrasting thread looked. I think I did about a half hour of pebbling, which took about 2.5 hours to rip out. Lesson learned: stop when you think you aren't going to like it. I could have saved myself an hour or so. I quilted spirals in the outer border. I chose to highlight the green DS Flea Market Fancy X in the top left corner, so I pebbled just in that block for a bit of custom quilting.

I bound the quilt in a solid red with a tiny spot of black print at the bottom because I ran out of fabric. The binding uses my favorite method of machine stitching to the front with stitch in the ditch to secure the back.

It may have taken 4 years to finish, but I'm very happy with how it turned out. This quilt is in the shop.

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Friday, May 04, 2018

Resurrecting an old project

Back in 2014, which was the last time I did a substantial amount of quilting, I led a swap of X and plus blocks. This tutorial was very popular back in the day. I actually made a baby quilt using the tutorial in 2011 but I had always wanted to make a larger one. I diligently made all of my swap blocks and sent them off to new homes. I even cut out all of the pieces for my quilt but did not get around to assembling them completely. After my sewing room revamp, I rediscovered some of these old WIPs and got inspired to finish them up.

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Thanks to chain-piecing and having a nicely organized space, the blocks went together fairly quickly. I took the time to square up all of the block components before assembling them. It was tedious but a good use of time as my earlier piecing efforts were not super accurate. Then I had the issue of integrating my swap blocks. I realized 4 years too late that this block was not a good choice for a swap due to the many small pieces. I actually threw away about a third of the blocks I had been sent because they were either too small to use or once square they were off more than 1/4" on one or more sides and just wouldn't fit with my blocks in a quilt.

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I ended up with 49 usable blocks so I stitched them into a square. As a general rule I don't like square quilts so I added borders to make it a nice rectangular lap size. I kept one cross with all the same flea market fancy print to make a focal point, but interestingly the fabric from my three blocks is significantly lighter than the one from a swap block, so they don't quite match.

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I'm hoping to finish this quilt up and not let it sit forever so I've designed a back and hope to get it pieced soon. Here's a glimpse of how I plan out my designs with all of the math. I plan to use a solid red for the plus and 4 different black and white prints for the 4 corners. I did not include an "x" on the back because I like to try to eliminate as many seams as I can to facilitate the quilting.

I have several new projects I'd like to start but one of my goals this year is to try to get as many of these old WIPs finished as possible to give myself a clean(er) slate.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A new sewing space tour

I've been sewing and quilting for years but I've always been pretty lazy about organization. When we moved into our house I took over what was meant to be the dining room as my sewing space. It's a fairly large room but I made little effort to make use of the space in the most efficient way. I sewed and cut on a dining room table that my husband had, utilized a cheap office chair that I've had since my early post-college days, and bought a few storage units here and there.

But as I've gotten older I've noticed that sewing and quilting gave me a lot of pain. I have back problems anyway and having to lean over the dining room table to cut would make my back ache after a few hours. My crappy office chair wasn't right for the table height and I started to feel a lot of pain when free motion quilting. So it was finally time to be an adult, invest in some more ergonomic furniture, and get organized.

I should probably note that I won't be winning any awards for prettiest sewing room. At heart I am a deeply practical person and I don't really like things that have no purpose. So you won't see many knick-knacks or tchotchkes that collect dust or nice area rugs that will just accumulate pet hair.

I forgot to take a picture of it closed but this is a dining hutch of my husband's that matched our original dining room table (RIP). It has a closed door with a couple of shelves and then one large drawer underneath. The drawer (not pictured) contains the beginning of my 1/8-1/4 yard cuts while the shelves fit most of my mini bolts.

An aside: As Jeff and I were dismantling our dining room table, I said, "This is it. If we ever wanted to invite people over for dinner, well now we can't." And then we gave a collective shrug and went on with our lives.

I purchased comic book boards to hold my larger cuts of fabric. I can fit from about 1/3 of a yard up to roughly 3 yards of fabric on these mini bolts. I separated out larger cuts from smaller 1/8-1/4 yards. When it was all jumbled together before I had a hard time distinguishing the bigger pieces for bags/backing from the smaller cuts. Now I can just go to the "bolt closet" to easily find those pieces. Buying the comic book boards made me confront just how much quilting fabric I own. There are a little over 300 mini-bolts total. They don't all fit in this space. One of my goals is to get them all in this space within a year or so. I put them in rainbow order and put solids at the end of each color but did not further organize the bolts, as I know I'll frequently be pulling fabrics and putting them back.

Next I have this thrift store cupboard that Jeff bought me several years ago. I had been using it as kind of a tool "junk drawer" and I also had spillover fabric on the bottom. I moved it to the middle of my space, threw away my old ironing board, and created a pressing board from one of the leaves of our old dining room table that is covered with 3 layers of batting and some cotton canvas.

Underneath is the remainder of my mini-bolts and very large fabric cuts, including some 108" wide backing plus my solid bolts and interfacing. I put all of my quilting rulers and stencils in the drawer where they can lie flat. The Chi iron is a new purchase. My old iron leaked so it was time for a new one. I haven't actually used it yet so I can't offer a report but I am hopeful it will last at least a few years. I have terrible iron luck though so we shall see. I bought a few jugs of spring water to use in the hopes it'll prolong the life of the iron.

Against the wall is my new somewhat unfortunately expensive sewing table. I did a lot of research before buying. I did not want some cheap unstable piece of crap. I wanted my machine to sit flush with the table to make quilting easier. Most of the really nice cabinets I looked at were twice or even three times the cost of this one and their most salient features were lots of storage (which I didn't need) and the ability to fold them up all nice when you aren't using them which is a feature that I will never EVER use. so i went with the table that fits my sewing machine perfectly. it's quite small, which isn't ideal. and when I need to use the free arm I think it's going to be kind of a pain but I have to test that out to actually know for sure. I kept a couple of folding tables so I can use those if I'm ever quilting a really large quilt and need additional space to support the weight. I have been using it for quilting small pieces and it is wonderful for that. Having the machine even with the table height really is so much better for machine quilting.

I also bought a new chair that had good recommendations both for being used as a sewing chair and being ok for short people. The only knock on it was that the padding wasn't adequate so I bought an additional lumbar support pillow set and it seems to be working well so far. I just did not want to invest hundreds of dollars into a chair. The height is just right for the table, my feet touch the floor, and there aren't any arms to get in the way.

I used to sit directly under the ceiling fan and so had adequate light but now that my sewing table is off to the side I bought an ott-light for extra illumination. Honestly it works ok but I don't know that I wouldn't have been fine using a regular floor lamp. I also got a smaller ott-light desk lamp with the set that I'm using upstairs in our bedroom for cross-stitch so there's that.

This is my new cutting table. I wanted a counter-height table so that I would not have to lean over the table and contribute to my back problems. Of course, I did not account for the fact that a normal-person counter-height level is not the right size for 4'9" me. So I once again utilized a leaf from our old dining room table which gives me about 3.5" platform to stand on and now the height is perfect.

The chest underneath is the first thing my husband ever made for me. It holds UFOs that I want to finish. When I was cleaning and organizing I threw away several old WIPs that I just wasn't in love with anymore and had no interest in completing. It actually felt pretty liberating as my stack of UFOs is now much smaller and more manageable. I haven't figured out what to do with the wooden box that my husband also made, but I'll figure something out.

Just a note: I kept one of our dining room chairs and put the quilts in it in the hopes that my cats would take to it. They both like to hang out in my sewing room and they are little monsters who frequently knock things off the shelves and make little nests in my fabric when they can. I made another little nook for them that you'll see later. And you know what? So far neither of them has the slightest interest in their little cubbies. I caught Wyatt laying on my pressing board yesterday on top of some WET fabric and Ellie likes to use the chair as a springboard to jump onto the cutting table. It's a losing battle, folks.

I had been using this ikea-lite cube bookshelf for holding scraps but I had way too many for this tiny little unit. I did a major reorganization of my scraps. First, I threw away the tiniest little scraps (smaller than 5" square). I figured if I need really small scraps I can cut larger pieces into smaller ones. I weeded out small, thin pieces from my strings and only kept larger and longer ones. Then I used a bunch of gallon ziplocs to sort strings by color and then by light values, dark values, and solids. I did the same with fairly small scraps. This should make it much easier to pull fabrics for a scrappy quilt. Then I divided them equally into the cube storage bins, keeping strings separate from small scraps.

The rolling cart holds all of my most-used tools like rotary cutters, marking tools, spray starch and water bottles, binding clips, and a couple of empty bins for holding scraps. I like to toss my scraps into bins when I have a cutting session and then sort through, organize, and put them away after I'm finished cutting. At least in theory that's what I do.

The built-in storage is nice but 1) it gets a lot of sun so I can't store fabric there (learned that the hard way) and 2) my cats constantly roam these shelves and knock shit on the floor, which is maddening. so I tried to store only fairly stable things here like my serger, my big shot, a bolt of fusible fleece and battings. My thread is in the shelf with the door to keep it out of the light and hopefully less dusty.

Finally, against the fireplace I have more 1/8-1/4 yard storage on rolling carts. On the fireplace mantle I have all of my tools and bag supplies nicely organized in the stackable three-drawer units. I also kept my most-used craft books downstairs. On the right are scrapbooking cases that hold pre-cut fabrics in increments of 10" squares, 5" squares, 3.5" squares, 2.5" strips, and 2.5" squares. I actually have quite a bit of room to grow in these cases because I've been lazy about cutting my scraps into those units. Plus I used most of my 2.5" strips in my recently finished herringbone diamonds quilt.

The plastic shoeboxes hold large scraps, organized by color and separating prints from solids. Going through these bins was actually kind of fun and I'm very excited about making more scrap quilts. The empty cubby with the old quilt is another abandoned cat nook, and the shelf with a door holds more works in progress, including the quilt I'm currently working on.

So that's the tour of my new sewing room! I am so motivated and excited to use it now. it will probably never be this clean ever again because let's face it--I'm not going to stop being a huge slob but at least things are in a logical place and can be easily found at the moment. And hopefully my new furniture will help keep my back healthy for the foreseeable future.

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Thursday, April 05, 2018

This quilt is driving me crazy

Do you ever have a project that just won't behave?

Prior to the beginning of this year, I really hadn't quilted much at all since 2014. But before that I was fairly prolific so it's not like I'm completely new to this. I get that it will take some time to get reacquainted and I'm not expecting perfection. but my granny square quilt is driving me absolutely insane.

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I was originally going to individually quilt the blocks and assemble them like I did my herringbone quilt. However after that experience i just wasn't ready to do that again so instead I stitched the blocks into 3 rows and am quilting them in 3 parts to be assembled after the quilting is mostly done.

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I made several practice pieces using fusible fleece and a solid fat quarter with no backing. I had no trouble at all maneuvering around with free motion quilting. so it was time to start.

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But the actual quilt just is not going well. I have broken like 10 needles so far and my aurifil 50wt mako thread kept shredding so much that i switched to superior so fine in a different color for the top thread in the middle of the quilt. i at first thought that my 80/12 needles i was using for the practice pieces weren't strong enough so i switched to 90/14 sharps. but those are breaking as well. any time i have to go over a thick seam, my machine just doesn't like it at all.

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I've been trying to quilt for about 1/2 hour every day but last night I only got in about 10 minutes before I broke 2 needles in a row, including my last one in the pack. so now i have 100/16 topstitching needles on their way to me to see if i have better luck with them.

I don't recall having this many issues with breaking needles before. i will say that i've tended to avoid quilting over thick seams in the past. my prior quilts often used stippling or loopy quilting that makes it fairly easy to avoid those spots. I think that I will definitely go back to pressing my seams open for future quilts and I will probably go back to my favorite Quilter's Dream Request batting, as it's the flattest I've used. (For the granny square quilt, I'm using Hobbs 80/20, which is a bit poofier).

I'm just incredibly frustrated right now. I want this quilt to be over and done with (off the machine?) so I can move onto other things. I'm nearly halfway done with the quilting, but I still have so much more to go. I really want to relax and enjoy this experience but it's just not working so far.

Friday, March 30, 2018

On a sock kick

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Socks are my favorite objects to knit. I pretty much always have at least one pair on the needles. I love how portable they are, and how there are infinite variations on construction and pattern so I don't get bored. I know that most people seem to develop their "one true" formula and then stick to it, but I guess I'm a weirdo who likes to constantly try different things. Some of them match and some don't. Some were knit cuff-down, some toe-up. some have heel flaps and gussets, some have short-row or afterthought heels in garter or heel stitch or plain. There are wedge toes and round toes and spiral toes. I ran out of yarn on two of the pairs and had to improvise.

I also enjoy using different needles. My favorites are size 0 (2.0mm) chiao-goo red lace 32". but i've also used hiya hiya sharp circs, addi sockwunder, karbonz DPNs, addi 10" circs, and probably others. i sometimes knit my socks 2 at a time in tandem, but lately i've been sticking to 1 at a time. mostly because i'm too lazy to divide my yarn cake into 2 skeins. i used to knit my socks 2 at a time on one long circ, but i've given that up as too fiddly. i hate having to constantly rearrange the yarns to keep them from getting tangled.

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So far, I've knit 3 pairs of socks a month, so I have 9 finished pairs this first quarter of 2018. You can see individual pictures on my Ravelry page. If I had to pick a favorite so far, it's probably my handspun socks from January. I do heart me some handspun socks.

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I may have a new favorite in progress though. I bought this Wren House Yarns MCN at Indie Knit and Spin in Pittsburgh last weekend. it is knitting up beautifully and the cashmere adds a bit of halo that is just lovely. Normally I like to knit patterned socks with speckled yarn but this one was just so perfect that I wanted to showcase it in simple stockinette.

My general crafting tends to ebb and flow, but sock knitting is my constant...which is lucky since i have so much freaking sock yarn. but that's a post for another day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Herringbone Diamonds

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This is by far the largest quilt I have ever completed. I haven't measured it post-washing, but pre-washing it was 96" square and it weighs about 8 pounds. I was inspired by the quilt as you go herringbone diamonds from Maureen Cracknell's craftsy class. I wanted to construct my quilt differently than her method so I used narrow joining strips based on the craftsy class by Marti Michell.

Each block was pieced as you go with 2.5" strips. The blocks are 8" x 16". I had 2 full shoeboxes when I started of 2.5" strips that were from various jelly rolls and cut from the leftovers of my bag sewing. I now have just one full box, so I used up quite a bit of fabric for the top. The back is made of blue and green stash fabrics. I also used most of the remainder of my blue essex linen for the front strips. I still have a bunch of the white back strip fabric, which is an undyed organic cotton.

The batting is Quilter's Dream Green. It was my first time using poly batting in a large quilt. The fabric did not crinkle much at all after washing, so that's a little disappointing as I'm a big fan of the vintage-y crinkle. But on the other hand the poly batting weighs less than cotton. I can't imagine how heavy this quilt would be if I had used cotton batting. I chose this batting because I had a twin-sized package in my stash that had been there forever. I ended up having to buy a throw-size to finish all of the blocks and I used about 1/3 of it. One weird thing is that my older package was much darker green than the new one. I'm not sure if it changes color over time or if their formula has changed. YMMV.

I won't lie--this project got really boring after awhile. There are 72 blocks and you keep repeating the same steps over and over again so it gets kind of dull. then the joining step is easy but also repetitive. that last long seam when I joined the 2 halves of the quilt together was pretty difficult because of the weight. I would use this technique of joining blocks again, but I would probably save it for larger blocks that don't need as many joins, and maybe also for a smaller quilt that is not as heavy. Everything is a trade-off. I got tired of the joining method, but there's very little chance I'd have been able to complete a quilt of this size using the normal method of basting/quilting. Honestly if I ever get the desire to make another large bed quilt, I might just send it off to a long-armer.

The quilt is definitely imperfect. The angled piecing led to bias edges, which made it hard to keep the blocks square. and the longer the project dragged on, the less I cared about it being perfect. and i won't even mention how wonky the binding is. but i now have a spring/summer quilt that is large enough to fit on my bed. and so i'm happy.

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Monday, March 05, 2018

Tutorial: Joining Quilt As You Go Blocks with Narrow Strips

This tutorial is compiled from a few resources, including the Craftsy class Piece by Piece: Quilt-As-You-Go Techniques with Marti Michell. I have made several adjustments that I think are easier and/or time-saving. Just a note, the scope of this tutorial is on joining blocks with narrow strips, not on how to create quilt as you go blocks. The quilt I'm working on in the tutorial is a herringbone diamond quilt. All of the blocks are already quilted with top/batting/backing and are cut to a finished size of 8" x 16".

For this tutorial, I've already joined all of the blocks into 16" square pairs and now am proceeding to join them in rows of 4 blocks. You need two sets of joining strips. The dark strips on the front are 1 1/8" wide and 1/2" to 1" longer than your blocks. The white backing strips are 1 1/4" wide and 1/2" to 1" longer than your blocks. You should also test that your machine is set up for an accurate 1/4" seam as it's very important in order to get perfect joins. If your machine has the ability to adjust the speed I also recommend slowing down your maximum speed for this process. Going slowly really increases accuracy.

Step 1: Fold one side of the backing strip in 1/4" to the wrong side and press. To facilitate this I use a hera marker and my quilting ruler to crease 1/4" in from one edge before pressing. I find this makes it easier to accurately press a 1/4" fold.

Note: I use 1/4" wide Lite Steam a Seam 2 double-sided fusible tape to hold the backing strip in place. It's important to use the Lite version as the join does get a bit bulky with multiple layers and the heavier version can gum up your sewing machine needle. I am in the process of making a queen sized quilt and I have needed at least 2 packages of tape so far. Although this method does use a lot of this product I have found it simpler and more accurate than pinning or gluing.

Step 2: Stick a piece of 1/4" Lite Steam a Seam 2 tape on the back side of one of your blocks (on the side you are joining) lined up with the raw edge. Tip: if your tape doesn't want to stick to the fabric, apply it with your fingers and then set it with a non-steam iron for just a few seconds. After it cools, peel off the paper backing. Line up your back joining strip with your block right sides together with the raw edge of the strip aligned with the raw edge of your block with just a bit of extra strip length overhanging on each side. The tape should be sticky enough that you can temporarily hold the strip. Readjust as necessary and then press the strip in place with lots of steam. Wait for the strip to cool before proceeding. The backing strip is now held permanently in place and will not shift during the next step.

Step 3: From the front, line up your front joining strip with the raw edge of the block right sides together. Leave a small overhang at the beginning of your block, just like you did on the back as this will be trimmed later. Stitch a 1/4" seam through all layers. I found that I did not need to pin since the back is already held in place with the tape. I lined up the front strip with the edge and stitched, adjusting this alignment every few inches as needed until I got to the end of the strip. Make sure to sew completely off of the block onto the overhang a bit.

Set your seam with a steam iron for a few seconds and then finger press just the front strip away from the block edge. Press (do not iron) the strip, being careful not to distort the edge. The picture below shows what it looks like from the front.

And this shows what it looks like from the back. (This is a different block--I forgot to take a picture of this step the first time around).

Step 4: Next, line up the raw edge of the front strip with the raw edge of your second block, right sides together. I am sorry that this picture doesn't show it super clearly, but you want the two blocks to be stacked on top of one another so that the placement is exact. You shouldn't be able to see the other block at all from a front-facing view, just like the picture. I pinned the strip to the second block in three places, one at each end and one in the middle. I only used three pins because my fingers do most of the work when stitching the seam.

Note: You could use the 1/4" tape to hold the front strip in place on the second block, just like you did in step 2. I chose not to do this because you would end up using twice as much 1/4" tape and the join would start to get bulky with all of those layers. However, if you are very concerned about accuracy you could use the tape instead of pins.

Step 5: Stitch a 1/4" seam on the second side of the front strip and the second block. Because the strip is so narrow I had to hold the first seam out of the way so that the block would move under the feed dogs. You may or may not have to do this. Also, I used my right index finger to keep the raw edge of the front strip lined up with the raw edge of the second block. It's not pictured only because i had to hold the camera with my right hand. You could also use a stiletto for this step instead of your finger. Sew off the edge of the block into the overhang as before.

After both blocks have been sewn to the front joining strip, press the seams flat from the back, then the front. The two seams on the back will almost touch with a narrow channel in between. Finger press the backing strip seam towards the second block, then press to hold a crease. Unfold the backing strip so that the raw edges are exposed.

The back is joined to one side with the hemmed edge ready to fold over the seam.

And the front is joined to both blocks with no seams visible.

Step 6: Stick 1/2" wide Lite Steam a Seam 2 tape in between the 2 seams on the back. The 1/2" tape should just fit in between the stitching lines. Peel off the paper and fold the backing strip over the join making sure that the stitching lines are completely covered by the backing strip. Press into place with a steam iron and wait for it to cool before stitching.

Note: The gap between blocks needs to be stabilized in some way. Other tutorials I have seen call for either hand-stitching the two blocks together (which I hate doing) or using fusible batting tape to close the gap. You would then need to glue or pin baste the backing strip down before sewing. Using double sided tape does this in just one step and the seam gap is permanently fused to the backing strip giving you the stability you need at the join.

Step 7: Stitch in the ditch right in the seam line from the front to secure the folded edge of the backing strip in place. You can instead choose to hand sew the backing strip if you like, but as stated above I prefer to machine stitch. Go slowly and make sure you stay in the ditch all the way down the seam. Note: You may want to use a busy fabric for your front strips like I did just in case you have to go back and stitch a bit on the front strip in order to completely catch the edge on the back with your stitching. I did have to do this a couple of times because I'm not perfect.

Step 8: Trim the overhang even with the blocks on both sides. You now have a finished join! Repeat with your remaining blocks to form rows and then complete the same steps with longer strips to join the rows together into a quilt that is ready to square up and bind.

Here's what it looks like on the back.

And here it is from the front. I hope you have found this helpful.

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