Today we are going to talk about doing the angles on the trees. This technique is a great skill to have.
The technique works with lots of angles, so it isn’t something that you will just use to make these trees. With the teaching that I have done on this technique, I have found that many people don’t know how to align the angles when they sew. This results in their points being off and their blocks aren’t the correct size. This will be a long post, but I really want to show in detail how this is done so you can avoid these problems.
I have already done a tutorial on this technique, so you might have seen some of these pictures before. Here is an excerpt taken from that tutorial to get us started:
My experience with teaching has been that once the angle is changed from the standard 45 or 90 degrees, many people have no idea what to do, so they just kinda wing it. Sometimes it works, but most of the time the points are chopped off, don’t meet, or they end up with A, B, or C cups. Sound familiar? And in this case, a C cup is not better than an A cup. In fact, totally flat is best. Case in point? A cup to the left, flat on the right.
But – getting back to what I started talking about – How to align angles. The technique that I’m going to explain works for many different angles. For example, all of the rulers shown below cut different angles, but you would align them all using the same technique.
The samples that I have prepared to show the technique all use my Triangler ruler. First up, just sewing two triangles together.
Nothing complicated here – just lay them right sides together, align them evenly at the top and bottom, and sew. This is the easiest of the angles to line up and sew.
The main thing to watch out for here is that you sew with a perfect 1/4″ seam allowance and that you have cut the top point accurately. If you don’t have the little flat top of the ruler aligned perfectly with the top of the strip when you cut, it will throw you off in two ways. If there is excess fabric to the top of the flat point, your point will not be 1/4″ from the raw edge of the block after you have sewn the triangles together. Then, if you alter your seam allowance to make sure that the points meet in the center of the block, that will cause your block not to lay flat. You also want to be careful when working with the bias edges because if the bias gets stretched out, that can also cause your block to be wavy and not lay flat.
If you take that same ruler and cut up a skinnier strip, you get pieces that look like this. I am going to sew them together as laid out below.
Lay them right sides together and align as shown.
The trick to knowing exactly how to align them is to make sure that your 1/4″ seam allowance aligns perfectly with the valley at the top and bottom of the pieces. Do you see the valley? It’s very important that you know what I mean by a “valley”. See the little yellow dash in the photo below? It is aligned in the bottom of the valley. That is where your 1/4″ seam allowance needs to be – right in the middle of the valley.
I think the easiest way to see this is to draw a 1/4″ seam allowance on the block. Then slide the piece up and down until it lines up perfectly with the valley, as shown below.
In this sample you can see that the 1/4″ seam allowance isn’t lined up with the valley because the red piece is way too high
In this sample you can see that the 1/4″ seam allowance isn’t lined up with the valley because the red piece is way too low.
You won’t need to draw the seam allowance on every piece that you line up – it just helps as a guide until you get the hang of the technique. Another thing that helps is to set your sewing machine so that the needle is always down. Then you can see right away if your valley is going to line up with the 1/4″ seam allowance. See the sample below – I have made the needle bright yellow so you are sure to see it. I also put a yellow dash in the valley so you can see how they line up. See how much easier that makes it? If your needle is left up, you have no reference point and keeping the needle down gives you something to watch for.
After sewing and pressing, the top edge of the unit should be nice and straight (see sample in the top part of the photo below) – not jagged (as shown in the bottom of the photo below). If your unit looks like the one in the bottom of the photo, you just need more practice aligning the valley with the 1/4″ seam allowance.
Now let’s practice the angle again – this time by sewing two half triangles to a full triangle.
The concept is the same – Lay right sides together, and line up the valley with the 1/4″ seam line. With these pieces, the valley is much harder to see.
It’s there – you just have to look a littler harder to see it. It’s a teeny, tiny, baby valley. But again – the concept is the same. You need to align the valley with the 1/4″ seam allowance.
I think one of the things that gets people confused, is that after they press, their point isn’t exactly in the corner of the block. See how the point is about 1/8″ in from the right bottom corner?
Depending on the angle you are working with, this distance will vary a bit, but the trick is that after you sew a 1/4″ seam allowance on both sides, then the point will be right in the corner. On the sample below, I have drawn in the 1/4″ seam allowance and you can see how the point is perfectly in the corner now. That’s how it’s supposed to work. (I say supposed to work because I will be the first to admit that my points aren’t perfect. I know how to align the angles, but they are tiny, bias angles after all, so they don’t always behave every time.)
Now, let’s move to the other side. Again, align the piece so that your 1/4″ seam allowance will align with the valley at the top and bottom.
Press and double-check to make sure that the top point is 1/4″ in from the top edge of the block.
Now, I want to add a little more to the tutorial, with a few things that are specific to the “Let It Snow” project. I’ve laid out the pieces for one of the trees below. It is possible to get the triangle on the wrong way, so I find it helpful to lay out a sample block like this by my machine.
As you can see below, the long edge of the triangle can fit on either side of the tree, but it’s easy to see that the one in the bottom photo is wrong. I just point it out because you don’t want to rip out if you don’t have to – especially with those long bias triangles because they can become distorted easily.
I start by lining up the valley on one end of my tree, then sewing about half way down.
At this point, I pause and look down to the valley at the bottom of the block. If it looks like the valley and my 1/4″ seam allowance aren’t going to just line up perfectly on their own, you need to make them line up. In the photo below, you can see that I lined them up and put a pin to hold the pieces in place. Because the edges are bias, you can easily make them fit by stretching or easing a bit.
Lastly, I just want to mention pressing. When quilting, I think it’s very important to press carefully so you don’t distort your shapes. As shown in the photo below, I just use the very outside edge of the iron to press the seam allowance toward the blue triangle. It’s a small, careful movement, rather than a “slide the iron all over to try to flatten this thing”.
In the photo below, you can see that I wasn’t careful with my pressing and the bottom corner of the tree wings out.
Now is your chance to go and practice this technique. You may even want to try it out on a few scraps if you haven’t done this before. You can also add the tree trunks if you want.
As a reward for completing the hardest step, don’t you think there should be a little prize? How about a Layer Cake of Cookie Exchange by Sweetwater, another book to help you use the ruler from the QAL and couple of patterns?
Here’s a closer look at the fabrics
The giveaway is available to anyone doing the Let It Snow QAL. All you have to do is leave a comment telling me what step you are on and what fabric you are using. To get a second entry, share a picture of your QAL project on Instagram using the hashtag #letitsnowqal
If you have any questions on this step, be sure to leave that in your comment as well.
Thank you for this tutorial! I think this will help me with sewing angles quite a lot! I’m using Winterberry and I’m working on part 3.
Thanks for the refresher on using the Triangular. I think this is what is keeping me from moving forward. I’ve selected my fabrics from my stash, but haven’t cut yet. Last week was super busy, guests for the weekend, and my kids finally go back to school tomorrow. (Whew!) I’ll be sewing tomorrow. Can’t wait to get to it now!
Nice tutorial! Just starting step one, using scraps from my stash.
Excellent tutorial ! I haven’t decided on whether to use one fabric for all the trees, or three
This is very helpful, especially the visuals. One question — if you incorrectly press an angle (like the bottom of the tree) is there a way to correct that, or is the block a loss? I’d find a way to use it, but I’m asking for the beginner quilters out there. I’m not doing the QAL yet, but it’s really pretty!
Hi Wendy – I would still use the block too. It isn’t horrible and once you add the trunk unit, that will help pull that bottom corner in. Then a little steam to flatten the block, and some machine quilting and I think you would have a hard time finding it in the finished quilt. I just used it as an example of what can happen if you aren’t careful, but yes – there are definitely ways to use it!
I have a little forest of scrappy green trees completed. I am doing the runner. Your explanation was perfect. I added 2 things to make it work even better for me, I used a stiletto to hold it in place at the end and I finger pressed those little points before hitting it with the iron. I don’t do instragram.
This is so fun. I’m still on step two – using a wide mixture of scraps from my stash.
Really appreciate the way you break down the various steps to make it easier, and provide guidance on what happened if things don’t quite work out the way it should. Thank you for making angles easy.
Thank you, Heather, for that tutorial and all the illustrations. That is SO helpful, especially showing how to line up the “valley.”
I’m a little behind, I’m still in the planning stage. I’m going to get out my stash of Christmas fabrics and will probably make it scrappy.
Great tutorial-Thanks for sharing!
Great tutorial! You make it look so easy;)
This tutorial is fantastic! Thank you so much! I’ve made good use of some scrap fabric with lots of practice now! I appreciate having something to show for it!
The pictures that you use are so helpful. My trees are scrappy with a blue-gray background. I am cutting background pieces. Thank you for doing this QAL!
I have finished piecing the runner. Your instructions made it easy and the pictures were extremely helpful especially for cutting the angle pieces for the trees. I used scraps from my Christmas stash. Thanks for a fun and challenging QAL.
Great tutorial, so very helpful. I have my fabrics laid out, but have not progressed beyond that stage. Now I feel more confident about getting started. Thanks so much.
Heather, thank you for this post. It is clear and understandable. Your explanations and photos have really demystified the whole process!
Thank you so much for this tutorial. I’m using scraps and am doing stage two at present. I’m new to quilting so very slow!
I got my book today. I’m joining in late but so excited.
Hi Heather, I just caught on to this quilt along last night. I found it on instagram. I bought the book and Evergreen by Basicgrey today. After looking at the book I’m planning on making Paperweights with Vintage Modern too. So happy that I bought this book.
Great tutorial. I worked ahead thru step 6 last weekend and as I was “unsewing” some of my trees I was thinking, “I bet Heather is going to have some good tips on how to line these triangles up.” LOL! 😄
I do have one question….do you find it easier to line things up by starting to sew at the tip of the trees as opposed to the bottom, or it doesn’t matter as long as you are lined up with the valley? Thanks, loving this QAL!
I’m using batiks from my stash, but am only on Step 2. Thanks for the tips along the way.
Great lesson! I appreciate it! Thanks!
Your tutorials are great! Thanks!
My book just came in to my LQS last week so I am on the cutting step…I am using my scraps from other Christmas quilts as well as a few pieces from the 20+ years of buying fabric…just sorting thru them has made me happy. Don’t need the book as I already have it! 🙂 I keep telling myself that this is going to be a Winter quilt and not a Christmas quilt.
This tutorial is so helpful, thank you! This is the step I am on right now & was wondering how to sew the background pieces to the trees. With your description of the “valley” along with the photos, I should be able to finish the runner. Yay! I haven’t used instagram yet so not sure if I will be able to get it to work.
Great tutorial, thank you!
Step one, using fabrics from my stash!
I commented above, but thought I’d share again. I got a little carried away. I currently have enough trees cut to make 3 table runners! I guess I have a head start on Christmas gifts for my mom and sisters! I don’t have enough of any single background fabric, but using different backgrounds for each will make them unique. I’m using all fabrics from my stash that are either Christmas, or coordinate with Christmas. Reading through all the comments makes me want to make one with Batiks and one with a gray background.
I finished all three table runner tops and made backing for each. Now just waiting to set up for some quilting. Thanks again for the great tutorial.
Kris – You have been busy! I found that these trees seem to multiply too. When I first started making them, I had enough leftover from the big quilt to make the runner. Thanks for sharing!
Such a great tutorial, thank you! The odd angles are always tough because we get in the habit of the 1/4in dog ear from 45degree in hsts. The pictures with bright markings are a wonderful visual.
Great tutorial! I’m sewing trees….these pics really helped me
And I’m using one of your Christmas lines