Pitching a Fit Over Cutting NotQuilt Strips to Fit

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This post is part of a series about sewing NotQuilts. If you’re unfamiliar with this method, The NotQuilt series begins here.

Dragon Princess continued to put up a fight. I’ve ripped out and sewn down the 16 dark purple and green strips. I spent time fretting over the orientation of my strips; I needed eight horizontal and eight vertical pieces. Then I spent more time cutting NotQuilt strips “just so” preserving the orientation.

To my intense annoyance, when it came time to sew them down a few days later, I didn’t seem to have any orientation on the strips. Maybe I didn’t cut so carefully after all. Nevertheless, I had the strips and I didn’t have enough fabric left to cut out many more to keep the orientation up and down or side to side. So I pinned down the dark purple and green strips, working my way around the perimeter of Dragon Princess and came up one strip short!

cutting notquilt strips

The strip on the left was sized properly to fit the whole. Getting the rest to do so was … challenging.

I have no idea how that happened. I am positive I counted correctly and tore out 16 strips. I may not have gotten the orientation correct, but I know I can count to 16. This is deeply frustrating and makes me doubt my sanity and my skills. It is possible that a Bad Cat ran off with one of the strips, and I will find it later on, underneath the couch. More likely, I miscounted. Argh.

cutting notquilt strips

Confess, Ivan! You stole the fabric!
“Meow!” (“Up yours, copper.”)

Fortunately, I had enough fabric left to cut out one more, and it, of course, has a strongly vertical orientation, unlike all the rest. Maybe, due to lack of cloth, I did cut them all going in the same direction. I don’t remember now.

Using Paper Patterns

Because I am cutting many, many rectangles all about the same size, I made myself a set of rough patterns. I cut three rectangles of paper, each about 10½ inches by 2½ inches. I can lay out these strips on a scrap piece of cloth and guesstimate how much fabric I will need. Using these paper patterns may be why I chose to cut the number of strips I needed of the dark purple and green fabric and didn’t try to keep them oriented up and down or side to side. I didn’t have enough cloth. Good thing I had enough left for strip number 16. I doubt if anyone but me will see that its orientation is different from the rest.

The paper patterns — the first I ever used for any of my NotQuilts — are making it much easier to tell at a glance if a scrap is large enough for my needs. Previously, I eyeballed the cloth and if it wasn’t large enough, I sewed it down anyway and filled in the gap with something else. I squared up scraps as the fold-under hems are far easier to make with a straight side as opposed to a curved side. My designs, to date, have been irregular enough that I didn’t sweat the exact dimensions of my patches.

Dragon Princess however, due to those Roman stripes, needs regular rectangles and plenty of them. I can see I will want to use this method if I do another regularly planned NotQuilt. Thus, we return to the traditional way of cutting out regular pieces and sewing them down, even though I’m still not piecing the quilt top.

But my paper patterns are not foolproof. Dragon Princess’s grid bars, both horizontal and vertical, are not spaced evenly and exactly. That means that about 90% of the time, a 10½-inch-long rectangle is long enough to span the empty block, get its fold-under hems, and cover the raw edges.

But not always! On a few of my dark purple and green rectangles, I have had to use the selvage as the finished edge in order to squeak out that last quarter-inch. If your selvage is plain, looking like part of the fabric, this works out okay.

Back to Eyeballing

I don’t want to make my paper patterns longer to accommodate the few spots in the empty blocks that are wider than 10 inches, finished size. This will force me to pay attention when I cut and measure my strips. Dragon Princess will not allow me to use a standard pattern for all of her stripes. I could cut my paper rectangles to 11 inches, which would be long enough, but I’ll be wasting an inch or more of fabric for the majority of my rectangles. I don’t like using more fabric than I have to and because, often, that paper pattern will give me the idea that a given piece of cloth isn’t big enough to use when it actually is.

Thus we return to eyeballing each and every piece of cloth, ensuring that it is the correct length for a given empty square, before tearing it to size, ironing down the raw edges, and pinning and sewing it down.

I may be setting myself up for a problem later, after I have put down the two outermost strips of purple on each empty square. Already I can see that, despite the fact that all of my rectangles are about the same width, the empty space between the sewn down rectangles is not. Those empty spaces vary, not just in length, but also in width.

When it comes time to add the lighter pink strips, filling in the empty squares, I’ll either cut new paper patterns, or eyeball the measurement of each strip.

This problem arises because the Dragon Princess pink grid is not regular. There is nothing I can do about this and I may just be borrowing trouble. After all, I still have to sew down the remaining outer purple strips. With that job done, I will move onto filling out the Roman stripes, and then I will know. I don’t know, not yet, but I can guess. Meanwhile, this potential problem hovers in the distance, waiting for its turn to strike.