Tip Jar: Half-triangle Squares Revisited

If you’ve been here before, you probably know that I love quilts made with half-triangle squares.  Like this one.

Family Tree by Sherri McConnell of A Quilting Life.  The fabric collection is the new Clover Hollow by Sherri & Chelsi.

Two years ago, we posted about half-triangle squares and the many ways to make them.  We’re going to re-share that post today because (1) we still get a lot of questions about some of the various ways to make HTSs, and (2) because we have a few updates.

So this is what hasn’t changed… the starting point is how big do you need your finished HTSs to be?

For the “old-fashioned” way of making HTSs was to cut two squares 7/8″ bigger than the finished size you needed your HTS to be.  E.g., 3″ finished meant cutting two squares 3 7/8″ x 3 7.8″.  One light, one dark.  Cut the squares in half on the diagonal and sew the long side with a scant 1/4″ seam allowance.

Press the seam to the dark side and pray for the best.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Jen Kingwell’s Gardenvale collection – from her book, Jenny From One Block.  This is my “Shamelessly Copying Jen” quilt.

Half-triangle square rulers.  Sewing two triangles together to piece the required size of HTS can also be done by using specific rulers to cut the triangles – a 4 1/2″ or 6 1/2″ Easy Angle or an Omnigrid 90-degree ruler.

Then it’s sew, press and presto – the finished HTS that measures what you need it to measure.

Using squares instead of triangles.  Somewhere along the line, some genius quilter got the crazy idea of not cutting the square in half to make triangles – instead a line was drawn on the wrong side of the “light” fabric and the fabrics were stitched a scant 1/4″ on both sides of the drawn line.

Or instead of drawing the line, you can use a stitching guide line Clearly Perfect Angles by New Leaf Stitches or Quilt in a Day’s Sew Straight.

Cut it apart on the line and press the seams to the dark side.

The only thing you needed to know was the math of what size square to cut – finished size plus 7/8″.

Some rulers make it even easier, you don’t need to know the math.  The Magic Half-Square Ruler from Quilter’s Rule is an example.  Just use the lines on the ruler that correspond to the finished size you want to make and cut the squares.

Then use the openings in the diagonal center of the ruler to mark your stitching lines or the center-guideline.  Stitch, cut, press and done – the HTS is the right size.

There are a couple more options in the “draw the line” technique that I’ll talk about in a moment – we’re still piecing exactly to size here.

Triangle paper.  There are several different brands and types, and while they basically work the same way, there are some differences that might make one more preferable than another.

Triangle paper is the best method when you’re making a lot of HTSs that need to be the same.  If you need 8 or more matching HTSs, or all your HTSs use the same background, triangle paper is absolutely the way to go.  At least that’s what I’ll be using.

Here are some of the different kinds:

  • Primitive Gatherings Triangle Paper
    • Because she does so many small quilts with little pieces, Lisa was the first to make a triangle paper specifically for 5″ charm squares.  The other triangle papers are printed on 11″ x 17″  and can be easily trimmed when only 4, 8, 12, etc. HTSs are needed.  Both are available in a wide range of sizes.
    • The paper is white, copy-like paper.  It stitches and tears off easily.
    • Lisa also does triangle paper kits for some of her “has lots of HTSs” patterns.
    • I used Lisa’s 2″ finished HTS paper when I made “Shamelessly Copying Jen”.  I trimmed the paper to a 3 x 3 grid – enough for 18 HTSs – and saved the remaining piece.

  • Moda Cake Mix & Cupcake Recipes
    • While most of the Cake Mixes are mixed size papers, Cake Mixes 3 and 4, and Cupcake Mix 2 each make a single size HTS.  Cake Mix Recipe 3 makes 2″ finished HTS – each pair of Layer Cakes will make 18 HTSs.   Cake Mix Recipe 4 makes 8 HTSs that finish at 3-3/4″ or 4″ square.  Cupcake Recipe 2 makes 8 HTSs that finish at 1-1/4″ or 1-1/2″ square.
    • The HTSs for Sherri’s Family Tree quilt were made with Cake Mix Recipe 3, and Shamelessly Copying Jen was made using triangle paper that was cut down to fit a Layer Cake square.

  • The HTSs for this Firecrackers quilt from Lissa Alexander’s Oh, Scrap! were also made with Cake Mix Recipe 3.

  • Spinning Star’s Star Singles
    • If I’m making blocks where I need eight matching HTSs, or I’m making a quilt with a lot of variety for the “lights” and “darks”, this is my favorite paper to use because it’s already sized for just eight HTSs.  Anything that makes life easier is a good thing, right?

  • Triangles on a Roll
    • This paper was created by two ladies who used to own a quilt shop in Phoenix, Arizona so this is the first triangle paper I used.  It’s still a terrific product.  It comes in a wide variety of sizes and can be trimmed to any length – multiple of 4 – that you need.  The paper is also thin enough that it is easy to pin, stitch and tear off.

  • SQangles**
    • SQangles get an asterisk because they really aren’t a triangle paper – they’re an iron-on printable that transfers the same grid used on paper to your fabrics.  There are no lines to draw or papers to tear.  I’ve used them a few times and if you make a lot of matching HTSs and don’t like the time or mess involved with tearing-off paper triangles, SQangles are a terrific option.
  • Ta-Da Triangles**
    • Another asterisk because Ta-Da Triangles are a pre-printed on a thin fusible interfacing that is adhered to the fabric.  As with SQangles, there aren’t any lines to draw or papers to tear.  There are approximately 2 yards of the printed interfacing in each package and while it is sized to fit fat quarters, it can be trimmed to fit Layer Cakes and smaller pieces of fabric.  It is simply a matter of cut, press, sew, cut and press.  (That sounds like more than it is.)
  • Triangulations
    • Every size you could possibly want at the ready, just print it out on your home computer.  Triangulations works on both Macs and PCs, you just need Adobe Acrobat to run the software.  What’s good about this product is that it has all the sizes – all of them.  Paper?  Triangulations is formatted to print on Standard size 8-1/2″ x 11″ paper. And most everyone knows how to make sure their printers are set to print at the exact, actual size.  What has posed a problem for some is that the ink on some home laser and inkjet printers can smear and transfer to the fabric so running a test sheet or two is recommended.
  •  Thangles
    • If you have a lot of pre-cut strips – including Jelly Rolls – Thangles are great because everything is based on the 1/2″ and 1/4″ increments – not the 7/8″ measurement.

Trimming to size.  Finally, right?

If I’m making a lot of very scrappy HTSs, this is my “happy place” – it’s where I get the best results for me.

And where the little extra-triangles get trimmed off in the same step – those do need to be removed.  Always.  No matter what method you use.

I use the draw-the-line method and just add 1″ to the finished size of my HTSs. Some people prefer to add a little more – 1 1/8″ or 1 1/4″ – to the finished size but 1″ works for me because I always stitch them with a slightly-smaller than scant 1/4″ seam allowance to get a teeny bit more wiggle-room.  Trimming-to-size also works with other methods, a sweet friend and amazing quilter trims down HTSs that she’s made with an Easy Angle ruler.

What kind of ruler to use?  There are several – hundreds?

  • A regular, old-fashioned square ruler measuring 4 1/2″, 6 1/2″, 9 1/2″, etc.  I like the Olfa Frosted 4 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ ruler.
  • Bias Square Ruler from That Patchwork Place.  This ruler is designed for trimming HTSs and if you make anything that needs “finished” HTSs in 1/8″ sizes – e.g., Feathered Stars – this is a terrific choice.
  • Itty Bitty Eights by Lisa Bongean for Primitive Gatherings.  I love these rulers with their 1/8″ markings.

  • Bloc-Loc.  When the first Bloc-Loc rulers for HTSs came out, you needed a different ruler for each size HTS.  That didn’t seem very practical to me… and my regular Olfa was working just fine, thank you.  Then the Bloc-Locs got regular ruler-markings and it was all over – I fell in love.  Swoon-city!

Quilters who don’t like trimming-to-size usually cite one of these reasons – it takes time, it wastes fabric, and an accomplished quilter-sewist should be able to piece things exactly to size.

Does it take time?  Yes, but I think this is so much of a personal preference.  It’s odd but I like the repetitive nature of trimming half-triangle squares – and flying geese.  I can be listening to an audio book or something on television and it goes more quickly than you’d think.  And trying to fight a block that isn’t square because one or more pieces isn’t square is more frustrating.

If you doubt the wisdom of triangle paper, consider this Block Heads quilt by Lisa Bongean.  Each block is surrounded by 24 1″ finished HTSs – or three sheets worth of Primitive Gatherings’ 1″ Triangle Paper Designed for charm squares… though you don’t have to use those.

That’s it for today – Happy Tuesday!

P. S. There’s some Blockheads news tomorrow!

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21 comments on “Tip Jar: Half-triangle Squares Revisited

  1. susanskuda says:

    Love love love Bloc-Loc and magic 8 method of making HSTs – even created my own pdf chart of magic 8 block size requirements with a little extra built in for forgivability. Perfect HSTs every time!

  2. Jody Randall says:

    I like the size up 1″ and then trim down. I find that is just as quick as the papers and all are still perfect.

  3. Maria Zook says:

    I always love your tips and helpful hints and the quilts you show to inspire us. Really love your Jen Kingwell quilt. Great colors.

  4. Barbara Yoder says:

    As soon as my head stops spinning I will re-read this wonderful article. Each time I look at a project I think I would love I stop because I’m afraid of all those HST’s. Now I think I could take that leap and, following your excellent advice, try one of these methods. Thank you so much for all your instructional articles that help me navigate the wonderful options quilting experts have given us.

  5. Jacque says:

    Great post

  6. Kristie Michalowski says:

    Love your comments on each type. I do use many of these for different reasons. Recently tried the Bloc-Loc for flying geese and find I do like it.

  7. Hildy says:

    Thanks for this great post!

  8. Martha Followill says:

    Love the post. Always want to learn more.

  9. piecrust says:

    I’m a jelly roll junkie and Thangles are the icing.

  10. fiberthyme says:

    I have used one more method for HST. You cut the square finished+1 inch. Out of template plastic (or the lid of a whipped topping) make a half square finished size + 1/4 inch on 2 sides. Use two rounds of blue painter’s tape to apply onto one side of the square. Stitch next to the plastic. Turn around and apply to the other side and stitch. Cut apart, press, remove tips. No squaring up is necessary.

  11. Helen G says:

    This is such a helpful article. Thank you for all the great info. Will give some of them a try!

  12. Michelle says:

    Thanks for this!

  13. Janice Rampton says:

    I made my version of your version of Jen’s yellow sashing quilt and love it. I just finished a king-sized HTS quilt that had 900 of the little darlings. If I hadn’t squared all of them up I would have gone nuts trying to make sure they were all lined up. I appreciate your advice, your good humor and you attention to detail! Another great post, Carrie!

  14. stephanie woodward says:

    great, I’ve always said 1/2 square triangles aren’t as easy as people make them out. I also love to trim.

  15. Sharon Bennett says:

    Wow! That Blockheads quilt is fabulous!
    Thank you for all of the HST info! I think 1″ larger than finished size and then trim is the method I will use for now. If I plan on making a specific quilt design that calls for a HUGE amount of triangles… I’ll definitely give the papers a try.

  16. Susan R. says:

    Always love your posts and they are always so informative! I’ve never made HST because I’m kinda afraid! There are soooo many methods – wow! I’ll have to try to make them soon and I’ll surely read this post again and make some notes! Thank you!

  17. Kimberley says:

    I used the Star Spinners for a queen-sized quilt that was made with just 2 colors. It was the perfect choice. My only issue was that the finished size printed on my package was wrong (thankfully it made LARGER HST’s), so I had to trim them all. Otherwise, pulling the papers off would’ve replaced the trimming step. (I did go back to my quilt store with the package so they could inform the manufacturer of this mistake. I would recommend making one page’s worth to make sure the finished sized matches your size.)

    • Kimberley says:

      I forgot to mention the technique from Jenny Doan of Missouri Star Quilts. She sews 1/4″ from all sizes of a charm square and then cuts it diagonally for 4 identical HST.

  18. I saw someone (I think it may have been Aneela Hoey) using a 1/2″ wide ruler to mark her lines on the back of squares – she lined the centre line of the ruler along the diagonal (using the corners of the fabric square to help with the alignment) and then drew either side of it to get her sewing line. I don’t make enough HTSs to warrant ordering another ruler, but if I ever see one in a shop when I’m buying something else, then I’m treating myself to one! Thanks for the great post!

  19. Christine Lynch says:

    This is a great resource. Thanks again for the review.

  20. Kat says:

    Depending on the project, I use the drawn-line+scant seams, magic-8, or sometimes the sew-around-the-edges-cut-on-diagonals method (which makes 4 bias edge HSTs). And I love my bloc-loc. I have a small (8″?) rotating cutting mat so that I can sit and trim HSTs while watching a TV show.

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