Virtual Quilting Bee – Square in a Square tutorial

Welcome to part 1 of Finishing Your Quilt as part of the Virtual Quilting Bee! (Apologies for it being a little lot late in the day. It’s just been one of those weeks.) There will be three most posts after this one to help you finish your quilt! That’s it!

If you are new and wondering what the Virtual Quilting Bee is, or looking for links to past blocks, etc. visit the Virtual Quilting Bee page here.

In this post we are going to add corners to our sixteen pieced blocks to make them larger. This block is traditionally called a Square in a Square. I’m also going to talk a little bit about color and fabric choices.

The Square in a Square block is a very traditional block where a square is set on point, with four corners added to create, you guessed it, another square. In this case we are going to take our 8″ (finished – 8 1/2″ unfinished) blocks and set them on point with a triangle on all four sides. For the blocks in the Kona solids version, I am putting white corners on every block. (I’m using Kona Snow as my white.) I’m going to used colored solids for the sashing for this block, hence the reason the setting squares are all white.

For the print blocks with I am using assorted prints from the Happy Go Lucky collection from Moda. So lets talk about prints and colors for a minute. I want the setting triangles to be contrast and show off, not compete with, the prints in the blocks. I am purposely using the colored prints from the Happy Go Lucky collection that will definitely ‘read’ a specific color: navy, green, orange, yellow, red and aqua.

Here is an example of some of the prints I’m not using. On the left the prints have a white back ground making them a “low volume” print with less contrast from the busy pieced block. The prints on the right are also low volume as well as large scale prints. There is not a dominant color in these prints so I personally chose not to use them as my setting triangles. (Does this mean you have to it just like me? No! I just share what I choose and why.) For more review on choosing colors and fabrics read here.
Once you’ve cut your setting triangles (we’ll get to that part in a second), audition them before you sew. One of the things I found though as I auditioned them, is that the gray I’d intended to use (middle center) was more washed out than I wanted, compared to the other blocks. So I decided not to use the gray. You can use the same fabrics for all four setting triangles, just the same color, or a variety of colors and prints. 
When I made this similar quilt last winter, I was originally going to use a variety of fabrics and colors for each block’s setting triangles, but I thought it looked to busy, so I went with just one color – though different prints – for the triangles for each block. I liked that it still looked scrappy, but a little more controlled. Again, do what you want to do!

Cutting requirements: For the setting triangles you will need 32 squares 7″ x 7″. Cut each square on the diagonal once to create 64 setting triangles.
(In a previous listing I mentioned cutting 32 squares 6 1/2″ x 6 1/2″. If you have already done that, you can use them. That is what I did with the Happy Go Lucky prints in this post. Those triangles will work, you just won’t have much room to square-up if needed. Make sure you sew with a scant 1/4″ seam allowance.)
Choose four triangles for each block. Again, I recommend laying out all the blocks before you start sewing.
Start with two opposing triangles. Fold the triangle in half along the long side and pinch to create a crease in the center of the long side. (See arrows.) Match up center crease with the center of the side of the block. Put right sides together and pin in place. Sew with a 1/4″ seam allowance.
Open up sewn triangles and press seams toward the outside triangles. Repeat process with 2 remaining triangles.
Trim triangle ‘dog-ears’ and square up block to 11 3/4″ inches. (If your blocks are measuring bigger or smaller than 11 3/4, just make sure to square them up to the same size. And be careful not to trim sides too close to the intersecting inside-square-points. You want to have a 1/4″ of fabric there so you don’t cut off the points when you sew your blocks together.)
Here is an example of where I used the 7″ squares cut-in-half for the setting triangles. As you can see, there is more fabric on all four sides so that you have more room to square-up your block accurately. 

When I’m squaring off the sides, I like to use a ruler with 45 degree lines that lay right on the edges of my center block, with a built-in-guide giving me my 1/4″ seam allowance.

I rotate the ruler to all four sides, trimming and squaring-off each side. If you’re looking for a ruler like this Simplicity makes one called Simpl-EZ Pineapple Tool. I know Creative Grids made one too. Sometimes specialty Square-in-a-Square or Flying Geese rulers have this mark as well.

Again, make sure to square-up blocks to 11 3/4″.  (Important to remember. When you’re squaring up your blocks, be sure to find the center of the block and use that as your guide on all four sides. (See Squaring up Half- Square Triangles and the Hour Glass Block tutorial for examples.) I know it’s a little more effort to really square-off the blocks, but the crisp edges are so much easier to sew down the road.

And there you go! Here’s how the Happy Go Lucky blocks are looking so far! Next time (2 weeks) we’ll add the sashing (strips that hold all the blocks together) and the borders!  We’re getting close! The sashing for the print blocks will be a solid strip. I’m going to try something new for the solid blocks and do a colored, pieced, sashing! It’s going to be fun to see the varations.
If you’re looking for other inspiration for using the Square in a Square block check out Red Pepper Quilt’s example here (one of these is on my ‘to-do’ list) and this tutorial by Lori Holt. If you’re looking for a simple calculator to make different sizes of square-in-a-square blocks, I found one here. I also love the free Quilting Calulator App by Robert Kaufman and have it on my phone. Although I would recommend rounding up 1/2″ on the sizes for the squares that become outside setting triangles (don’t change the size for the center square!), just so you have a little extra wiggle room as we already discussed today.

Happy Go Lucky yardage, precuts and some bundles, is still available at The Little Fabric Shop, Poppyseed Fabrics, and Southern Fabrics.

Great selection of Kona solids and bundles at Christa Quilts and Mad About Patchwork.

Feel free to ask any questions in email or in the comments!

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  • Reply
    October 18, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    I'm hoping to be able to get started on this to at least get the top done and quilt next year :0) thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!

  • Reply
    October 19, 2013 at 12:33 am

    Loving your square in a square blocks.

  • Reply
    October 19, 2013 at 1:05 am

    I'm working on a Square in a Square quilt, I wish I knew about the pineapple tool. It's seems to make it easier to get the final square square.

  • Reply
    Katy Cameron
    October 19, 2013 at 7:26 am

    Looking good, so close to the end now :o)

  • Reply
    October 19, 2013 at 8:46 am


  • Reply
    Amy Corbett
    October 19, 2013 at 11:01 am

    For the solids quilt, do you suggest using the same background color or all the squares?

    • Reply
      amy smart
      October 19, 2013 at 10:36 pm

      Great question. I need to clarify in the post what I'm doing. For my solids, I'm using white for the setting triangles of ALL the blocks. Then I'm going to make the sashing colored and have the contrast there.

  • Reply
    Gotcha Covered Quilting
    October 19, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Fantastic tutorial and love your blocks!

  • Reply
    Brenda Ratliff
    October 19, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    oh these are so cute!

  • Reply
    November 1, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Thanks for heads up on the triangles I had actually cut a few 6 1/2 so good to know to use that scant seam! I'm a little intimidated about getting it all squared up but can't wait to get working on it!

  • Reply
    Virtual Quilting Bee - Sashing and Borders - Diary of a Quilter - a quilt blog
    January 31, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    […] done two versions of each of the blocks. This is the Kona Solids version of the blocks. I added white (Kona Snow) corners to all of the solids blocks. See the finished sashing on this version at the end of the […]

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