Many people say that they find liberated or wonky piecing difficult and I hope that this tutorial will alleviate some of that concern. The real trick is to stop trying to control the exact placement of the piecing and trust that the block will make you smile when it is all done. You don’t need to plan the wonk, just let it happen.
Follow along and I will share the recipe and method with you to make this little 36″ square quilt. It is important to read the whole tutorial before you start.
For the front of the quilt, you will need 72 background squares. I used Kona White. Cut these squares to 4.5″ square. You will need 9 centre pieces also cut as 4.5″ squares. I used Kona and Bella solids for this quilt, picking a darker shade for the centres and lighter shades for the Shoo Fly arms. I chose a ROYGBIV rainbow plus pink and light green to give me 9 blocks.
For the Shoo Fly arms, cut two pieces about 5″ square from your chosen fabrics for each Shoo Fly – so a total of 18 arm fabric squares. You want the arm squares to be just a little bigger than the background foundation squares but it is not necessary to be precise in their size.
Make a nice straight diagonal cut across the square. The diagonal cut is the only cut that needs to be straight, you can use oddly shaped scraps for the arms as long as they are big enough because you will later be trimming those edges. You will then have 36 arm fabric triangles.
To make the 4 Shoo Fly arms for a block, position the arm triangle on top of the background foundation piece. Look at the above picture: the finished unit will have the red arm positioned approximately where the bottom right white triangle is showing in this picture.
Position the arm piece (right side down if you were using a print) so that the foundation shows a nice size triangle that is not quite as big as half the foundation. You position each arm slightly differently and that is what gives the quilt its wonk – remember don’t over-think the positioning.
Take the arm unit to your sewing machine and stitch along the angled side of the arm fabric using a 1/4″ seam.
I check the size and position of the arm by flipping it over, just to make sure it completely covers the background foundation. If it does not, then you need to rip it out and reposition it. Then trim off the unneeded foundation leaving a 1/4″ seam. I uses scissors for this step but a rotary cutter will also work.
Flip the arm fabric over (so that the right side shows if it is a print) and press. I do not use steam because the wonky angles mean you are working with bias cut fabric that stretches easily. Trim the unit back to the original size of the foundation, in this case a 4.5″ square.
Once you have all 4 units for one Shoo Fly completed, layout the 9 patch block. Sew the three units in each row together, press and then sew the rows together. Press your seams any way you like.
Admire your dancing Shoes Fly. I see it as dancing because the different size arms make it look like it is moving to me. And it reminds me of dancing Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoon. Now make 8 more.
Once you have the hang of this block, chain piecing works well and is really fast. Remember, it not important to precisely place the arm fabric on the foundation in an exact spot, which makes the piecing fast and easy.
Then you can trim them all at once.
When you have all 9 blocks made, arrange them as you like. Sew each of the 3 blocks in a row together, press and then sew the rows together. Stop and admire your quilt top of dancing Shoo Flies.
Here is what our back will look like. A very large wonky star with a smaller one in the centre. This takes even less time than the front to make. I chose to use a dark Kona Coal background so that the new mom would not hesitate to throw this little quilt on the floor or the grass for the baby to play on.
Now, here is where I confess to not thinking well ahead. I made my back and front identical sizes which makes the basting and quilting far more challenging. So I am going to tell you how to make the back about 2″ larger than the front so you can baste it and quilt it with that extra room and trim it down later just before binding.
You need to cut eight 14.5″ x 12.5″ background fabric squares for the large star and eight 4.5″ background fabric squares for the centre star.
Choose a rainbow of prints for the star points. I later decided that I wanted different prints for the small middle star so I picked a second rainbow as well. You will need large pieces of the large star point fabrics, at least a 13″ square for the large square prints. A fat quarter will be more than enough or even large left over scraps.
For those of you who will ask, the prints, from left to right, are designed by: Monaluna, Sweetwater, Kate Spain, cannot remember, Denyse Schmidt, Jennifer Paganelli, Robert Kaufman, and Tula Pink.
Unfold your prints and eyeball a 13 or 13.5″ square of the print. Cut along the diagonal of that square to get a nice edge on the triangle of the fabric. Again, the only nice edge that you need is the diagonal cut, don’t spend time making the other triangle edges straight or neat
For the centre small star, you can do the same but you need about a 5″ square of each colour and then you cut the triangle from that square. You need 8 star point fabrics for each star. Pick a nice fabric for the very centre of the small star and cut it to a 4.5″ square. This square is a good opportunity for a fussy cut of something cute.
Set out your foundation pieces and position the first point fabric with the right side of the print facing the right side of the background foundation fabric. It is important to remember that you are not working with a square background foundation because it is 12.5″ x 14.5″. Positon the star point so that the 12.5″ side of the foundation will be at the bottom of the point unit (bottom of the picture).
The star point will end up being approximately where the background fabric triangle on the left of each unit is in this picture (It does not matter which point you make first). Because we are working with rectangles designed to give you a back which is 2″ larger than the front, be careful not to position your star point any more than about 2.5″ from the top of the foundation background piece. You need to leave the 2″ space of background at the outer edge of the point blocks because you will trim it off when you do the final trim of the quilt just before you bind it.
You will notice now that this step is exactly the same as making the Shoo Fly arms. These blocks are related.
As for the Shoo Fly arms, sew along the star point fabric, 1/4″ from the edge of the printed fabric. Trim off the excess foundation – check first to make sure the star point will cover the entire foundation before you trim by folding it over. If not, you need to rip out the seam and reposition the point fabric and sew it.
Flip the star point fabric to the right side, and press. Notice that at the top of the unit there will be at least 2.5″ of foundation from the top of the star point.
Trim the unit back to the foundation’s original size. Don’t follow this photo exactly (remember I planned my quilt badly), trim your unit back to 14.5″ x 12.5″.
Position your second point fabric on the unit. You want the star points to cross along the 12.5″ side of the foundation background fabric – it is easy to get these units turned as you work. Imagine the finished unit – the star arm will be approximately where the foundation and bottom bit of the first point are seen – in this photo on the bottom right.
Sew the second point in place with a 1/4″ seam. Ensure that there will be at least 2.5″ of foundation at the top of the star point. So, you are doing the exact same step as the Shoo Fly arm a second time facing the other way.
Check the size and then trim off the extra foundation and the bottom bit of the first point.
Press the second point to the right side and then trim the unit again. You are trimming it to be 14.5″ x 12.5″ (not the square seen in the picture). The 12.5″ side should be where the star point fabrics cross (the right edge in this photo). Admire your work and than make the other three point units for your big star. Again you can chain piece these to speed up the process.
You also need to make the smaller centre star point units, using the same steps with the smaller background and point fabrics. For the smaller centre star unit, make the final result a 12.5″ square block. As this smaller star is in the centre of the overall large star block it needs to be an unfinished 12.5″ square even for the larger size back that you are making.
Here is an example of how you arrange the units of the 9 patch star to sew either the larger or smaller star together. You need to finish the smaller star first so it can be the centre square of the larger star’s 9 patch. I did not end up using this particular centre star on my quilt, so don’t let the picture confuse you.
Once you have pieced your back together, stop and admire your wonky stars. I have to say that wonky stars are my most favourite block ever to make. The little bit of work makes each one different and they all make me smile.
Then you need to sandwich and baste your little quilt. I used a thin, 100% cotton batting for this quilt.
Once the quilt has been basted, quilt it as you like. I decided to do an all over stipple with a few loopy loops thrown in. This is also an ideal size quilt for hand quilting if you enjoy that or have the time. The picture above is what the quilt looks like after machine quilting but before it is washed, so you can see how your quilting might look as you are quilting. The quilt is fairly flat and reasonably stiff.
After you have quilted the quilt, trim it back to nice square about 36″ square (or the size you need so that both the front and the back fabrics reach the edges) and apply the binding. However, I never bother with clips or pins when I am doing the hand stitching part – I just snuggle under the quilt and pull the binding in place as I go. For this quilt I used a print for the binging from Jennifer Paganelli’s Honey Child fabric line which I also used on the back.
Here are some closer shots of the quilting after washing. The washing will transform the quilt into a soft blanket with a lovely hand or drape. And since it is for a baby, do wash it before you give it away – it is going to be washed often. You don’t want new mom to be the one who finds out the fabric colours run or a seam opens, it is better that you solve those issues for her before you give it.
I debated using a different coloured thread on the back than front but in the end decided that I like the softening effect white thread had on the darker back. I used Superior Threads King Tut thread in a creamy white for the quilting.
This quilt looks very complicated yet it is fast and easy. I started it on a Wednesday night after supper, worked on it a bit each evening and finished it Saturday of the same week. For me that is lightning speed to finish a whole quilt – a perfect solution for that last minute gift.
I love how the liberated Shoo Flies are bold, graphic and full of movement. This age old block can be still be so modern and fun. Now I want to make a much bigger quilt of Shoo Flies, which is easy to do by the way – just add more blocks until it is the size you want.