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Piecing with Placement Templates

When two of my lovely customers write within days of each other asking the same question, I know I have a really good subject for a blog post. Plus I don't run the risk of breaking their email inboxes by sending them eleventy million photos...

Both were having trouble getting to grips with placement templates. This topic was the subject of one of my first blog posts - you can read about the triangle-in-a-square block here - because developing this method of piecing opened up so many possibilities for me, from creating old-fashioned gables and dinghy sails, to dancing ladies and bird beaks (you can read more about that one here!).

And if you're now wondering what on earth a placement template is, I hope this post will enlighten you.

OK then, what is a Placement Template?

Many of you will be familiar with templates used to CUT fabric and many of the ones we use now are made of acrylic so that we can use them with rotary cutters. Placement templates are used to MARK fabric, so the sharpest thing you'll be using with them is a pencil.

When we use templates to cut fabric, we often end up with small, irregularly shaped pieces with stretchy bias edges that can distort as we sew them together. Starching fabric before you cut can help, but it's an extra step and doesn't always work with pre-cuts, like charm packs or layer cakes.

Using templates to mark placement lines allows us to add a slightly oversized piece, stitch first then trim to size. Simple, starch-free and pre-cut-friendly!

It borrows a little of it's method from foundation paper piecing (without having to piece everything back to front, or tear out foundation papers, phew!) and the stitch-and-flip method we use for snowballing corners.

Let's Make a Pine Tree...

Before I start, I should probably mention that my cutting board is not looking its best in the following photos. It's probably time for a new one!

As my writers were both making Dalarna quilts (if you're inspired to do the same you can find a Paper Pattern here and a PDF here) I'm going to demonstrate by making the pine tree branches.

In most of my patterns the angle I use is a 1 in 2 diagonal (for reference, a half-square triangle is 1 in 1), but as Dalarna is pieced with a jelly roll it uses an unusual angle which would have been hard to achieve without placement templates.

Let's start by cutting out our pieces, following the cutting directions in the pattern. You'll note that we're starting with rotary-cut squares and rectangles...

these are all of the pieces for the pine tree branches, plus the templates we'll need...

We now need to prepare the background pieces. Why do we need to do that, I hear you ask (and you might be sighing a little, too)? Well, by trimming a matching angle on our background piece, the unit will have straight grain edges when it's stitched in place. This makes units lovely and stable when you join them together, setting you up for success as you assemble your blocks (and we all like that!).

As it's an unusual angle, there's also a template in the Dalarna pattern for preparing the background pieces. When I made my quilt I marked the measurement on my cutting board with washi tape, which is a useful shortcut when doing lots of trimming.

preparing the background pieces...

The branches are all pieced with the same angle, but the tiered effect is created by using it in a different position on each row. So, let's use template A to mark the lower branches. I like to use a water-soluble pen and tend to dot along the edge of my template, which is more accurate than drawing a wobbly line {I also tend to use a lightbox rather than cutting out the templates, but it doesn't make for a good photo}.

positioning template A; marking a dotted placement line; pinning the trimmed background piece in place, trimmed edge aligned with the placement line; stitching with a 1/4" seam...

Now on to pressing and trimming: the background pieces are slightly oversized, to give you some wriggle room. We are going to set our seam, then press towards the print before we turn the unit to the wrong side. We'll use the print piece to trim away the excess background fabric accurately (which is where this technique borrows from foundation piecing). Once the block is trimmed to size you can snip away the back layer.

pressing; trimming to size; snipping away the back layer; one perfect unit!

And just to reinforce the technique, let's make some middle branches with template B:

marking a placement line with the template; placing the trimmed background piece and pinning; stitching and pressing; and trimming, using the print piece as your guide...

And just once more, using template C to make the top branches:

marking; placing; pressing; ready to trim...

Now that you're familiar with the technique, we can have some fun chain-piecing the other side of our pine branch units:

turn the template to the wrong side to mark mirror-image placement lines on the units...

before trimming them down as before...

trimmed pine branches ready to assemble...

If you'd like to practice this technique - and grow a darling pine tree - but aren't ready to make a Dalarna quilt quite yet, then refer to the triangle-in-a-square tutorial I mentioned at the top of this post and pop over to this post.

Does that answer the question for you? I'd really love to know. As I mentioned before, this technique has completely changed the way I create quilts, opening up so many design possibilities and making hitherto 'impossible' blocks attainable. I truly hope it will do the same for you.

And a final thank you to my lovely email correspondents for a fantastic question and an excuse to spend the morning playing with gingham, polka dot and ditsy print scraps,

Nicola xx


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2 comentarios

Miembro desconocido
17 mar 2023

Thank you for taking the time to prepare and share this lovely clear tutorial. Very helpful :-)

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Miembro desconocido
17 mar 2023
Contestando a

Thank you so much, Allison, that’s lovely feedback and it’s really appreciated xx

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