Recently, AccuQuilt introduced five new dies for the AccuQuilt Studio called “Setting Triangles”. What are these and how are they used? Let me explain.
Setting triangles are used when you want to lay out your quilt in an on-point setting. We are used to quilts that are laid out in horizontal and vertical rows, like so:
But what happens when we want to lay out that block in a different setting, like on the diagonal (on-point)?
Now the quilt has a strange shape, and if I want it to be square, I need to add triangles to the sides and corners to square it up. These triangles are called “setting triangles”.
Before we get into the setting triangles, we need to talk first about some of the basic shapes of quilting.
Let’s start with a square.
The humble square! Let’s think back to our geometry class back in grade school. A square is a shape that has four sides, and all four sides are equal. We typically use easy measurements for these squares, because they are easy to cut and easy to match with other shapes.
When we cut squares out of fabric, we want to make sure that our squares are cut on-grain, so they don’t get all wonky and stretchy. If you need to learn more about fabric grain, you can refer to this article.
Squares are fun! Squares are great! But it can be a little boring to only have one shape to work with. So in quilting, we add a little bit of interest by introducing triangles.
Enter the Half-Square Triangle (HST)
The half-square triangle, or HST, is what happens when you slice a square along one diagonal from corner to corner. The resulting triangle will have two edges that are the same length, and one edge (the diagonal) that is longer than those two edges.
We have to take fabric grain into account here when we are cutting. If we are trying to finish this off into a square, we still want the outside edges to be on the straight grain. Doing so means that diagonal cut (the long edge) is on the bias. You have to be careful not to stretch this edge when sewing it together.
Sometimes, the dies aren’t labeled in a way that makes it easy to understand what shape it makes, so I created a reference chart called EDeN to help people match up finished sizes and rotary instructions to dies. Learn about the Equivalent Die Notation System…
Introducing the Quarter-Square Triangle (QST)
If one triangle is fun, then another triangle is double-fun!
QSTs are created when you cut a square on both diagonals, from corner to corner. When you do this, the longest side of the triangle is on the outside, and the two shorter sides are on the diagonal.
This keeps the straight grain on the outside edge of the square, and here’s where you can see the main difference between HSTs and QSTs.
Technically, they are both right-angle triangles, but how we cut them, and the size we need, determines how they should be used in a quilt.
Revisiting the on-point setting
Let’s go back to that on-point quilt. I know this looks weird right now, but what I’ve done is just replaced every square block with an HST, so you can see a pattern.
Technically, if I wanted to square up this quilt, I could just eliminate some of the half-square units, or add some half-square units to give me a straight line, right?
If you do that, the outside edge of your quilt is completely on the bias. That means your outside edge will be really stretchy, and the bigger your quilt and the heavier it is, the more it will stretch out.
We don’t want that, so what we need is something that is the same size as that half-square, but has the outside edge on the straight grain to stabilize the quilt.
What shape gives us the long edge of a triangle on the straight grain?
A QST! But isn’t that confusing?
Introducing the Side Setting Triangle
It might be a little bit easier to see why this is a QST if I alter the previous image a little.
All I’ve done in this image is rotate four of the HST blocks to make it easier to see the pattern. Can you see now that these side triangles are actually part of a larger quarter-square?
The problem now is that we don’t really know the size of that quarter-square, because we were dealing with the original block, and not thinking of our blocks as part of a larger unit.
There are formulas to figure out the size of this new unit, and while it’s not hard, it can be a little frustrating because you usually end up with some weird measurement. And nobody likes weird measurements.
Resources for Setting Triangle Math
This is the main reason we distinguish side setting triangles from regular QSTs. QSTs have nice, round measurements for the outside edge, but setting triangles do not, because we’ve had to flip the triangle around in order to take advantage of the straight grain.
What About the Corners?
The corners are actually a little bit easier to see, and to explain!
If we go back to our original image, where all the blocks were half-squares, you can see that the corners are smaller than the original half-squares. In fact, they are a quarter of the size!
The issue is the same as with the setting triangles. If you use a QST in this location, the bias grain will be on the outside, so what we need is a unit that is a quarter of the size, but has the straight grain on the two outside edges.
Technically, that’s a HST, but just like with the side triangles, it’s an HST with funny measurements, so we distinguish these by calling them corner setting triangles instead of HSTs, because the math to figure out their size is different.
Here’s where the dies come in…
AccuQuilt, in an effort to eliminate this whole calculating and measuring and cutting by hand, has come out with 5 setting triangle dies for the Studio and Studio 2 cutters.
The five dies are for blocks that finish at 6″, 8″, 9″, 10″ and 12″. Each setting triangle die has both a side setting triangle and the corner setting triangle on it.
What about seam allowances?
Dies are great, because they take these seam allowances into account already. All we need to know is the finished size of the block or unit that we’re trying to make, and the die will take care of the rest.
Of course, if you decide to make a 14″ finished block or a 5″ finished block, you’re back to calculating your setting triangles by hand or ordering a custom die.
Would I buy these dies?
Here are my thoughts on these particular dies.
First of all, I can be quite picky when it comes to die layouts, and I don’t find the layout they’ve chosen to use on these dies to be particularly efficient or the best use of fabric. I would prefer to have the corner triangles on a separate die, in a layout with two nested shapes. That way, I don’t have fabric that overlaps or that gets wasted in huge chunks.
Second, on all the dies they’ve placed the corner triangle at a different angle to the side triangles, so even if I did want to cut from one length of fabric I couldn’t, because that cock-eyed angle puts the corner on the bias, which completely defeats the purpose of cutting a corner triangle.
Third, on any given quilt, you only need four corner triangles, and I don’t make that many on-point setting quilts (in a specific size) that cutting four corner triangles is a $140 hardship (times five). If I were cutting kits, maybe, but again, a custom die would be more efficient.
Lastly, on-point settings have weird measurements when they are all done, and setting triangles actually give you an opportunity to resize the quilt to something more standard, which can be particularly helpful for adding borders.
If you cut the setting triangles larger than you need them, after sewing the entire top together, you can square it up to whatever size you need. This will make the blocks appear to float on their background, makes sure you don’t cut off any points, and gives you round measurements for adding borders or other blocks.
So maybe the 12″ setting triangle die is great for blocks that are smaller than 12″, so you have the option to float, but then I go back to that cock-eyed corner and decide against it.
On the other hand, I absolutely LOVE my HST and QST dies, and wouldn’t be without them. I wouldn’t be the quilter I am today, or be able to make as many quilts, without those dies. But setting triangles? Meh. Even when they are on sale, they don’t make my must-buy list.
What do you think? Do you own these setting triangle dies? Do you find them useful? If you don’t own them, would you buy them? What other dies would you like to see?Sound off…