Tips And Tools Tuesday – Less Marking, More Sewing

You’ve heard the old adage “Less is more”, right? Well, it’s true in quilting, too. Especially when applied to “prep” work. The less steps I have to do to prepare fabric for sewing, the more time I have to sew it! Makes sense.

If you’ve ever made Half-Square-Triangle units, Flying Geese units, or Snowball blocks, you’ve probably read directions that go something like this…

To make the 8″ snowball block, cut a piece of fabric 8 1/2″ square. Cut four 2 1/2″ squares of fabric from a contrasting color. On the back of each 2 1/2″ square, draw a diagonal line from corner to corner. Place a 2 1/2″ square right-side down on a corner of the 8 1/2″ square. Sew on the drawn line. Press and trim. Repeat on the other three corners. Etc.


Well, I have a method of marking, that only involves marking one thing once, and not marking every single square of fabric to be sewn.

I mark lines on my sewing machine table. Yep. Well, actually on masking tape on my sewing machine table.

Place a piece of masking tape, or painter’s tape if you prefer, on your sewing machine table. Begin as close to the needle on the throat plate as possible.

My machine has a table attachment that extends the table surface area for sewing.

If yours does not have that, just make the tape as long as you can.

Next, put your needle in the down position.

Lay a ruler so that it just barely touches the left side of the needle. Square it up using a guide. It may be your machine’s throat plate, or as in my case, my table extender has a ruler on it. (The thick black line at the bottom of the photo.) I lined up the horizontal 1″ line on my ruler with the edge of the black line.

Carefully, lower you presser foot to hold the ruler in place. Using a fine permanent marker, draw a line from the needle to the end of the tape.

Raise the needle and the presser foot.

Shift the ruler over so that the 1/4″ line on the ruler is over the drawn line.

Carefully, put your needle down to just touch the 1/4″ line on the ruler. This is just to make sure the needle and drawn line are lined up correctly.

Lower the presser foot and raise the needle. Draw another line the length of your tape.

Lift the presser foot and shift the ruler over so that a 1/4″ line on the left side is now on the first drawn line.

Carefully lower the needle to touch the 1/4″ line. Use the lines on the ruler to square up the ruler with the previously drawn lines.

Lower the presser foot and raise the needle. Draw another line along the left edge of the ruler.

Lift the presser foot and remove the ruler.

You should now have three lines drawn on the tape. One in the center, and a line on either side that are 1/4″ from the center.

Now you’re ready to sew.

Let’s start with the Snowball block scenario again.

Take your 8 1/2″ square and lay a 2 1/2″ square in the corner. Line up the corner edges of both squares. You can pin if you like. I usually do.

(Since I’ve used a pink square in this sample, I’ll simply refer to it as “the pink square”.)

Next, take it to the sewing machine and insert it so that the top corner of the pink square is at the needle first. Lower the presser foot and lower the needle at the top pink corner.

Line up the bottom corner with the center drawn line. Begin sewing and just keep the lower pink corner lined up with the center drawn line. (Even a thread to the left of the center line is okay, just not to the right of it.)

Sew all the way to the corner. Cut threads and fold back the corner to make sure it’s squared.

Always sew a test corner to make sure your outside edges line up.


Continue sewing pink squares to the other three corners. Checking for square on each. Press.  When all four corners are squared, trim the back two layers behind the corners.

The block should now look like this.

Another handy use for drawing guide lines on your sewing machine table are for making Half-Square-Triangle units.

Again I’ll be using the pink and floral fabrics as examples

Lay two squares right-sides together. I like to pin them just to keep anything from shifting.

Align the top and bottom corners on the left line. Sew, keeping the bottom corner along the left line. Remove pins as needed. Cut threads.

Insert the squares again, but this time line up the top and bottom corners with the right line. Sew, keeping the bottom corner along the right line. Cut threads.

Notice how the sewn lines line up with the right and left drawn lines?

Cut the sections apart between the sewn lines.


Press the seam flat as sewn. Then open the unit and press the seam toward the darker fabric.


Trim the “dog ears”, and, Ta Dah! Two Half-Square-Triangle units and you didn’t drawn a line. On the fabric, that is.

Now, I use both the “draw-on-the-fabric-square” method sometimes and the “no-draw” method sometimes. It just depends on the size of the squares that I’m working with.

I just wanted to give you another method for making Half-Square-Triangles units, etc., that may help you get more sewing done in less time.

As always, I hope this tip makes your quilting easier. And, faster!


P. S.

Another great use of the “lines-on-the-machine-table” is when making straight-grain or cross-grain binding.

Cut strips the desired width. I usually just cut them cross-grain (from selvage to selvage).


Align strip ends perpendicular to one another.

As you can see here, I let the selvage ends overhang. They will be trimmed away later. (One less “prep-step” before sewing.)

Place one corner intersection at the needle and line-up the opposite corner intersection with the drawn center line.




Sew from one corner intersection to the other, keeping the lower intersection along the center line.


Press flat as sewn, then press the seam open and trim to 1/4″.


Connecting binding strips end-to-end this way is quick and easy.

I think you’ll find that you’ll be using these lines often. I use the lines as guides when piecing. They are especially helpful when sewing long strips. It’s just another visual tool to help me keep sewing lines straight and the 1/4″ seam allowance at 1/4″.





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