Stay Gold Quilt Along, Part 2: Counterchange Cross Blocks

Welcome back to Week 2 of our Stay Gold Quilt Along. If you are new to us, follow this link to Week 1 where I discuss modern traditionalism, supplies, materials, and fabric measurements. This week, we’ll start with BERNINA Patchwork Feet and finish with sewing our first eight Counterchange Cross Blocks! Get ready for a lot of pictures!

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BERNINA Patchwork Feet

A patchwork foot is a general sewing term for a presser foot that is made to sew a 1/4” seam allowance. BERNINA has 3 patchwork feet and each one comes in 2 versions. The 3 patchwork feet are numbered 37, 57, and 97.

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BERNINA Patchwork Feet #37 and #57 are made for 5.5 mm machines. If your machine has a maximum stitch width of 5.5 mm, they are a great option. The difference between the two feet is that 57 has an attached guide on the right side.

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BERNINA Patchwork Foot #97 is made for machines with a 9 mm stitch width. The sole of this foot is wider accommodating the wider feed dog in the machine. Also, 97 comes with a separate guide that attaches to the bed of the machine.

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The picture below shows the markings on the foot that indicate the 1/8” and 1/4” marks in relation to the needle or the sole. The main difference between the two pictures is on the left side of the needle. Always have your needle in the center position to avoid broken needles.

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Patchwork Feet #37, #57 and #97 come in 2 versions. Depending which version you have, the foot will have a label with the number only or the number plus the letter D. The letter D stands for Dual Feed and should only be used with machines that have Dual Feed, a mechanism on the back of the machine that comes down and attaches to the foot. Dual Feed helps keep the top and bottom layers together while sewing. Note that it is not the same as a walking foot. Dual Feed works with 2 layers and works from the back of the foot. The Walking Foot can work with several layers and works with the entire foot. We’ll look at the Walking Foot in detail when we quilt the top. Below is a picture of the Dual Feed mechanism attached to the back of a dual feed foot.

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Seams and Seam Allowance

It’s time to piece our first block! Like most things, there is more than one way to do something. I’ll show you the order in which I pieced this block together, but it is not the only way. Before we start, let’s talk seams.

Many modern quilters press their seams open. Traditionally, seams were always pressed to one side. This was a big rule in the past because it created stronger seams and quilts were used for practical reasons, not as decoration. Today, many quilts are used for decorative purposes and/or have dense quilting, so pressing seams to one side is not as crucial. If your quilt will get a lot of wear and tear or have very little quilting (quilt lines spaced 3” apart), I would recommend pressing to one side. When I learned to quilt I was told always, always press seams to one side. So, of course, I would break out in a sweat when quiltmakers started writing patterns with seams pressed open. I got over it and today I make decisions about seam pressing based on three factors.

  1. How it will be used—lots of cuddling or displayed on a wall?
  2. Who is the recipient—baby, child, adult, or childish adult?
  3. What is the pattern (sometimes pressing to one side is not an option because of bulkiness). The first picture below is with seams pressed to one side and the second picture is with seams pressed open.

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Let’s talk about the elusive 1/4” seam allowance. Why do quilters make such a big deal about it? Well, it is a big deal!

If you don’t have a great 1/4” seam allowance, you will have problems down the quilt, literally. Blocks that end up too small or too big can be very frustrating and is one major reason I think many beginners quit quiltmaking. With a little practice, testing, and BERNINA Patchwork Feet, quiltmaking will turn into a relaxing and exciting (all at the same time) hobby.

So, how do we find that elusive 1/4” seam allowance? I’m glad you asked! The red arrow below points to the 1/4” mark on the stitch plate. Place your fabric a hairline to the left of this mark. If you can’t see the mark on the stitch plate, your seams will be too big making your quilt block too small. It’s a beginner mistake you can easily avoid!

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When you place the fabric under the foot, align the raw edge of the fabric with the right side of the foot. If you can see the fabric peeking out on the right side of the foot, your seam allowance will be too big.

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If you are using a foot with a guide, place the guide butted up against the right side of the foot. In summary, keep an eye on both the ¼” mark on the stitch plate and the right side of the foot. If needed, you can slow down your machine speed until you feel comfortable. Eventually, you will not have to pay so much attention and it will feel as easy as pie.

If you want to test your ¼” seam allowance first, here is a great exercise:

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  1. Cut 3 fabric strips 1 ½” x 3”
  2. Sew together lengthwise with ¼” seam allowance
  3. Measure middle strip – it should be 1” exactly
  4. Is it too big? Your seam allowance is too small
  5. Is it too small? Your seam allowance is too big
  6. Adjust accordingly and try again!

After all that, there’s one last thing – the 1/4″ seam allowance we have been perfecting is actually a scant ¼” seam allowance! BERNINA Patchwork Feet make a scant ¼” seam allowance. When you get your 1” strip, measure your seam allowance. You will notice it is a hairline less than 1/4″ or a scant 1/4″. This is because a perfect 1/4″ seam allowance for piecing needs to be a hairline smaller to accommodate for that hairline of space created when folding over the fabric. This is called the fold-over allowance. Here is the formula: Perfect ¼” seam allowance = scant ¼” seam allowance + fold-over allowance. Are you still with me? It’ll make sense when you get to your machine and start experimenting with the seam allowance. If not, trust me!

Counterchange Cross Block

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for – let’s sew! I use a felt board (12” x 12” foam board with felt) to take each block to the machine. I find I am less likely to inadvertently switch fabrics around.

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I break up the block into 3 rows.

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Pin and piece Row 1 together and then Row 3. No need to press seams yet.

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This is what your block should look like so far.

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Row 2 is next. There are several ways one can piece Row 2 but I found the following way best for nesting my seams. Lay the top pieces over the bottom pieces, right sides together as pictured below.

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Sew pairs together.

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The reason I sew the pieces together this way is so they will nest together nicely. Look at the picture above and notice how the dark (or printed) side alternates. This is ideal since we press to the dark side. When you pin the units together, the seams will nest nicely! If you are pressing your seams open, sewing in this order is not as important. Finish Row 2.

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This is what you should have now—three block rows finished!

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Almost done with our first block! If you are pressing to one side, press Rows 1 and 3 to the left and Row 2 to the right. If you are pressing seams open, press open!

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Pin Rows 1 and 2 together. If you are pressing to one side, butt seams up against each other. I add a pin just below the stitched line; sometimes, I will add one above the stitched line too. I get really close to my pins but never sew over them.

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If you are pressing seams open, pin on both sides of the seam to keep the fabric from shifting.

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This is how your block will look on the back with seams pressed to one side.

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This is how your block will look on the back with seams pressed open.

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Congratulations on your first block! For this week, finish 8 blocks and give yourself a big hug and piece of cake! Next week, we will finish the rest of our blocks, discuss sashing and add sashing. Stay gold and go sew!

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