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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

How to make a Cat's Cradle quilt block without a specialty ruler

You may have noticed an upsurge of popularity for Cat's Cradle quilts in the last 5 years or so.

That popularity coincides with the release of a Cat's Cradle specialty ruler from Creative Grids designed by Deb Heatherly.

The ruler makes sewing the Cat's Cradle pretty dang slick.

Even though the block is made of mostly triangles, when you use the template no triangles are cut to make the blocks.

And you make them 2 at a time, so that's a bonus.

Here's the down side:
The ruler only makes blocks up to 4" finished.

A larger version of the Cats Cradle ruler has recently appeared on the scene, but I don't have it.

Speaking of Cats... and other small animals...

With recent, and seemingly ongoing, natural disasters there is an uptick of small animals in need of help. One way to comfort these needy, lost and often afraid animals is to provide Kennel Quilts or Cage mats to shelters and other places of refuge. The 12" x 18" quilts go home with the pets to provide a sense of security.

The Quilt Pattern Magazine has partnered with a number of pet shelters to provide Kennel Quilts. They are hosting a special online event "Piece for Shelter Pets" on May 17 - 19, 2019. If you'd like to join the Kennel Quilts Team for this event there is a coupon code at the end of the post. Find more information at the Kennel Quilts website.
The event is THIS weekend so don't dawdle!

Give me an inch and I'll think I'm the ruler:

I wish I knew the history of the Cat's Cradle block. If you know, please share.

(There is another block with the name Cat's Cradle. Among other differences, the light and dark fabrics are switched.)

All I know is the Cat's Cradle is a traditional block used mainly as a component of larger blocks.

Old Maid's Puzzle Quilt 1880's
As you see in the Old Maid's Puzzle quilt here, the "kissing fish" are 2 Cat's Cradle units touching nose to nose.

Technically, these are split Cat's Cradles because the "fish tails" are made from half square triangles rather than a solid square. That's what we're making today.

We're going to learn to make these awesome and useful units without using a specialty ruler.

It's always nice to know the fundamentals ... in case you are marooned on a desert island without your specialty ruler and have to make an emergency quilt... Or... you need a block size the ruler doesn't accommodate.

Or... if a little birdie tells you there's a quilt pattern coming up soon that requires this skill. Ahem...

Size Matters

 As mentioned above, the Cat's Cradle (CC) unit is traditionally used as a component in larger blocks.

The first thing to know is how large you want your finished block to be.

I'm going for a 12" finished Old Maid's Puzzle block, like in the quilt above. I'll want my CC units to be 6 1/2".

Each block requires 2 CC units, which is convenient when using triangles.

Cut and Sew 2 - 6 1/2" CC units

Call me pessimistic, but when working with triangles I prefer to cut large and trim to size. That gives me some room for imperfection when cutting and sewing.

From the background fabric, cut:
3 - 4" squares

Draw a diagonal line on the back of 1 background square.
Cut the other 2 squares in half diagonally, forming 4 triangles.

From the focal print (blue), cut:
1 - 4" square
1- 7" square

Match the 4" square, right sides together, with the marked background square.

Cut the large square in half diagonally, forming 2 large triangles.

How to Sew Half Square Triangles

Sew 1/4" away from both sides of the drawn line on the small squares.

Carefully, so as not to distort the bias edge, finger press the seams to the dark fabric, then press with an iron.

Cut along the drawn line creating 2 half square triangle units with 1/4" seam allowances.
Tip: most people cut the HSTs apart before they press. I like to finger press, then cut them apart, then do a final press. I feel it gives more stability to the seams so the bias edge is less likely to stretch.
Trim the half square triangle blocks to 3 1/2".

Get it together

When sewing the side triangles to the HST unit, match up the 90 degree corner of the triangle with a corner of the HST that has a seam.
Tip: When sewing triangles, feed the square corner under the presser foot first if that's an option. If there is no 90 degree angle, lift the needle and put the angled corner past the needle so it won't push the fabric into the bobbin abyss. In either case, either use a thread charger, or hold onto the threads so they don't tangle with the point of the fabric.

Sew one triangle to each side of the print side of the HST forming a large pieced triangle.

Press to the background triangles.

When the unit is laying flat and straight, use a ruler with a clearly marked 1/4" seam allowance. Trim the long side of the triangle 1/4" away from the point of the focal fabric.

Next, match up the large focal triangle with the pieced triangle, right sides together. Sew the long sides together. This seam should run very near, but not over, the point of the small focal triangle.

Gently finger press, then press the seam toward the large triangle.

When you trim the Cat's Cradle unit to size, 6 1/2" in this case, remember that the pieced side has already been trimmed. Use that corner as your guide to trim the large triangle.

Tip: Use a square ruler to square the block. Place the ruler so the 1" marks are in the upper right corner over the point of the large triangle. (upper left if you are left handed) The 3 1/4" mark should be right on the point of the small focal triangle.

That wasn't hard at all! 

However, if you thought it was...

Another option
Pretend this is square.

Another, possibly simpler way of making the Cat's Cradle unit is to use foundation paper piecing.

This is a simple block to draft. Just make sure you end up with 6 1/2".  You don't even need graph paper for this one.
Tip: Paper shrinks when it's ironed. If your paper is shrinking a lot, distorting your block, consider running it under an iron before printing. 

Start with a 6 1/2" square. Draw a 1/4" seam allowance around the inside Creating a 6" finished square.

Draw a line diagonally.

Use a square ruler to draw a 3 1/4" square in the corner of the bottom triangle, include the seam allowance.

Draw a line diagonally in the small square so it intersects with the seam allowance at 1/4".

Label the inner triangle 1, the small triangle in the bottom left corner, 2, the side triangles 3 and 4 and the large triangle 5.

Print as many copies as you need, 2 for each block.

Follow the link above if you aren't familiar with foundation paper piecing.

Also easy.


Fireflies Quilt Kit - Connecting Threads
I've been having fun with the Cat's Cradle unit. A google search of Cat's Cradle quilts might inspire you to make something awesome.

I've got a CC quilt kitted and in the queue. Just a few UFO's in line before I can start it. It gives me incentive to finish some of those neglected projects.

This offer came in my mailbox just last week from Connecting Threads. Beautiful use of the Cat's Cradle and Old Maid's Puzzle blocks.

Leave a note in the comments if you've been inspired to make a project using the Cat's Cradle.

You can leave photos of your CC units on the Facebook page.

Please join our blog followers by clicking the button in the right sidebar.

We're also on Pinterest.

Next week we are back to the Part and Parcel Mystery quilt along. How is yours shaping up?

See you next time!

PS. Wanna see where I hang out when I'm not at Seamless Piecing?

The Quilt Pattern Magazine is an online, monthly magazine where I publish some of my designs.
AND... it's not just a magazine. It's also a delightful, private, online community of some of the best quilters in the business, and others, like me, who just want to rub shoulders with them.
It's a safe place to ask questions and get mentoring from those who know and care.

AND... If you go there from here you can use a special Seamless Piecing coupon code for a discount.
Here's the link. The code is: SP

Need another incentive?
I have a pattern in the May issue of the magazine. On a Summer Afternoon is part of my Table Runner Marathon series along with Witches Pickets, Bargello meets Roy G. Biv and others. TQPM is the only place you'll be able to get this pattern until I finish the series and publish them as an ebook.
On a Summer Afternoon - only available in TQPM

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