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  • Nicola

British Sew-a-Row: Raining Cats & Dogs

Welcome to week one of the British Sew-a-row. Before I introduce you to my row, Raining Cats & Dogs, let me remind you of our summer sewing schedule:

16th May - Raining Cats and Dogs - Machine Piecing and Dresden Blocks

30th May - Conversation Starter with Lou Orth - Foundation Paper Piecing

13th June - Royal Row with Yasmeen K Branton - Needle turn hand applique

27th June - Afternoon Tea with Jo Westfoot - Foundation Paper Piecing

11th July - London, Baby! with Sonia Spence - Raw edge applique, curves and FPP

Are you ready? Gather your supplies (and your snacks) and we'll make a start...

My Jubilee Edition Baker's Dozen Fat Quarter bundle

When we were discussing our ideas for rows, we were all keen to showcase our favourite techniques and I've always gravitated towards conventional machine piecing. You may recognise the Dresden fan umbrellas in my block from my very first pattern, but as my Jolly Brollies block uses a little raw edge applique I've devised a pieced handle to keep on theme!

The Dog was inspired my lovely and much-missed lurcher, Sparky - I had plenty of practise watching him running away from me at speed! - and the Cat by those of our neighbours, who have now claimed the garden as their own. And being British I've had lots of opportunity to study raindrops...

And that name? The quirky description for torrential rain was in common usage by the beginning of the 18th century when satirist Jonathan Swift quoted it in Polite Conversation in 1738, a ‘Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, According to the Most Polite Mode & Method Now Used at Court, & in the Best Companies of England’ which poked gentle fun at popular sayings. But where it came from, no-one really knows.

You will need the Raining Cats & Dogs PDF pattern to follow my tutorial and you can find it here.

A Note about Quarter Inch Seams:

Before we begin, how is your quarter inch seam? I almost hesitate to ask, because it's not the most scintillating subject. I'll confess that when I first started quilting I thought the edge of my standard machine foot gave me a ¼" seam and it honestly never occurred to me to measure it. Although my quilts did turn out rather small!

Most of us pop that ¼" quilting foot onto our machines and call it George, but if you stop to actually measure your seam you might find that it's still slightly off. Even tiny inaccuracies can add up as you assemble your blocks, but just half an hour spent playing with your machine settings - go on, break out that manual - will repay you a million times over in time saved unpicking.

My accuracy was transformed when I realised I could move the needle position (or needle drop, as it might be described in your manual) on my Janome from the standard 3.5 to 4: it's a fraction of an inch but it really does make all the difference!


Follow steps 1-5 in your pattern...

TIP: If you're looking at that cutting table and feeling a bit overwhelmed, just cut the width of fabric (WOF) strips and subcut pieces as you need them.

Piecing the Raindrops

Follow steps 6-8 in your pattern...

First make a pair of half-square triangles (HSTs). We'll be making our HSTs slightly oversized and trimming them down. I prefer to do this before I press them open and for these smaller HSTs I was able to use the diagonal mark on my 2½” wide ruler - lining it up with the stitching line, but I also have a Quilt-in-a-Day Square Up ruler for larger HSTs which I used when I made my Brolly handle.

Snowballed Corners: you may know this as an Easy-Corner-Triangle or a Sew-and-Flip-Corner. Whatever you call it, it's an incredibly useful technique, simplifying cutting out, minimising bias and keeping the edges of your units nice and square. I like to press my corners 'open' before I trim away the back layers so that I can check their accuracy first.

We are using quite small pieces to make the Raindrops, but please use your standard stitch length. It's tempting to make your stitch length shorter when sewing with small pieces, but if you make a mistake it will be a pain to unpick the seam. Rather, turn down your machine's speed: you are far less likely to make a mistake.

Piecing the Brollies

Follow steps 9-15 in your pattern...

A Note about Dresdens:

I first saw this technique in Joanna Figueroa's Craftsy Class Simple Fresh Quilts - which I can highly recommend - and it was a bit of a eureka moment for me, as I'd struggled making accurate Dresden units with acrylic templates. You, however, may be less ham-fisted than me, so go ahead and use your acrylic Dresden templates if you'd prefer.

I use my small scissors to get a nice tip on my Dresden blades, tucking them along the length of the seam and pulling gently on the fabric. Don't be tempted to push out the tip, as you might end up making a hole (ask me how I know...).

You'll be using the template in your pattern to mark a stitching line, which is a similar technique to the snowballed corner: stitch first, trim later.

TIP: You may find it easier to trim your Dresden fan from the right side, as all those seams can be a bit distracting.

If you have a gap at the tip of your Dresden, please don't panic: you'll be covering that up in a later step!

Apologies for having to 'fake' the next photo - I got a little carried away making my block and forgot to take a picture - but you can see how I line up the edge of the Dresden with my machine foot to get a consistent line of stitching.

Piecing the Dog

Follow steps 16-22 in your pattern...

Both the Dog and the Cat are made using the simple snowball technique we used for the Raindrops. You will be trimming away some larger pieces, but don't throw them away: they'll be perfect for creating a teapot handle or crown adornment in future rows.

I always find it helps to lay out the pieces in my block before I start sewing, returning each unit to the 'picture' as I make it. Not only does it keep me organised, but it's fun watching the block emerge.

Laying out the pieces

Assembling the block

The back of the fully assembled block, showing seam direction

Piecing the Cat

Follow steps 23-29 in your pattern...

Assembling the block

The back of the fully assembled block, showing seam direction

Assembling the Row

Follow step 30 in your pattern...

The vertical sashing between the first Brolly and the Cat will give you a little wiggle room. If you think your row is too short, cut a slightly wider piece of sashing. Or if it's too long, trim it the sashing down.

The completed Raining Cats & Dogs row


Bonus Block

Well done for making it to the end of the tutorial! Your reward is a 12" finished bonus block to use in a cushion or tote bag (I have a simple tutorial for the latter here).

To make the bonus block you will need...

1 Brolly block

10 Raindrop blocks

1 2½” x WOF background strip subcut into 1 2½” x 8½” piece, 1 2½” x 6½” and 10 2½” squares.

1. To make the top row, alternate 3 Raindrop blocks and 3 2½” squares, taking care with the placement and pressing away from the raindrops.

2. The second row is made in the same way, reversing the placement of the Raindrop blocks.

3. To make row three, join a 2½” x 8½” background piece to the left of a Raindrop block and a 2½” square to the right, again pressing away from the Raindrop.

4. To make the bottom row, first join 3 Raindrop blocks and 3 2½” squares in three rows of two, taking care with the placement and pressing away from the raindrops.

5. Then join this unit to the right-hand side of the remaining 2½” x 6½” background piece and the Brolly block to the left, pressing towards the background.

6. Finally, join the four rows of the block, pressing the top two seams open and the bottom seam away from the Brolly.

Your block should measure 12½” square


I'd love to know how you get on with your Raining Cats & Dogs row. You can leave a comment, below, tag your blocks #britishsewarow on Instagram or come and join the British Sew-a-Row Facebook group. Thanks for your company this week and look out for Lou's post on the 30th!

Until then, happy sewing,

Nicola xx


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