My friend Linda Collins – Quilts in the Barn – has started a bit of a phenomenon. It’s called Panama Pyramids. It started with a pattern published in Quiltmania #94 of a scrappy antique triangles quilt from her collection (photo of original quilt is below and is used with permission from Linda). It has grown into “Panama Pyramids Sew-Along 2016,” a 350+ member Facebook group created to encourage those making the quilt to share their projects and cheer each other on with their stitching. Recently, she came out with a set of plastic templates that make it much easier and more accurate to cut the many triangle shaped pieces needed to make the quilt.
I was resisting starting yet another project but as you can see from my first photo, I didn’t resist long. Linda had the templates at the Zieber Quilts Retreat in California earlier this month. Several of my fellow retreaters (perhaps that is not a real word but you know what I mean) started making their own Panama Pyramids and their various color combinations were enticing. It was Brenda Papadakis’ red and green version that got me to purchase a set of templates of my own. Since our retreat this year focused partly on “name inscribed” quilts and we studied “blue” at last year’s retreat, my version will be a signature quilt and features indigo fabrics. My hat tip to you Zieber Quilts!
Many in the Facebook group are hand piecing their blocks. It’s nice to see so many enjoying the “zen” of hand sewing and seeing just how quickly a block can go together without getting a machine involved. I’m going to share a couple of quick tips to answer some questions that have come up in the FB group. First, let me address how I trace a template for hand piecing. As you can see in the photo above, the templates have the center cut out so you can trace the stitching line onto your fabric. I’ve seen people also tracing the outside of the template as a cutting line. If you cut with scissors, you need this line. However, it is much faster if you skip that line and rotary cut your triangles 1/4″ away from your stitching line. See below.
The next thing I’d like to address is grain. No, not grains of rice or grains of sand. Fabric grain. As in the pesky fact that fabric is woven from horizontal and vertical threads and fabric cut on the grain is much more stable than if it is cut on the bias. There is no avoiding bias when working with equilateral triangles but the trick is to know where to put the straight of grain side. If, like me, you are assembling the quilt in long strips and then stitching those long strips together then you should make sure the top and bottom of those strips are on the straight of grain. This will prevent many headaches (and distorted fabrics and lumpy quilt tops). The plus side of bias is that you’ve got some sides with a little stretch which is handy in case your pieced triangles don’t come out exactly the same size as the solid alternate triangles.
Also, if you look at the original quilt, there are some blocks cut in half along the sides. If you make sure the grain line runs straight down the middle of the pieced triangle block it will help avoid those annoying ripply quilt edges.
I feel like I’m channeling my fussy and fastidious 8th grade Home Economics teacher with this post. I used to thumb my nose at her insistence on lining things up correctly with the fabric grain but a few garments that bulged in all the wrong places taught me the lesson the hard way. So, I bow to you Mrs. McMurtray. Grain does matter.
P.S. If you ignore the grain and things come out lumpy then you can always quilt the dickens out of it. That’s the difference between quilts and dresses.