The Vintage Home Quiltalong: Sewing machine block

Todays Quilter Vintage home sewing machine quilt block

On our sewing tables this month… we’ve been getting busy piecing Jo Avery’s vintage sewing machine quilt block today, from issue 38. Here are our top tips for piecing this beautiful pattern…

We can hardly believe it but 10 issues have passed since we first launched Jo Avery’s Block of the Month series, and seeing all your blocks come to life at home in the photos you’ve shared is a huge treat for us! Since we revealed Jo’s first teapots design back in issue 21, the hashtag #tqvintagehomeqal has been steadily filling up with your own interpretations of our patterns. And now it’s our turn to share how we’re getting on here at TQ Towers!

Our Digital Editor Zoe has been sewing up Jo’s vintage sewing machine block. Here she shares her favourite things about this design and a few tips for if you’re sewing this block at home…

This block might look intricate at first but it’s really simple to piece, as there’s no foundation piecing or curves or embroidery to worry about – just straightforward cutting and joining of units. Jo has helpfully divided the instructions into four sections so you get to see each part come to life gradually before your eyes as you sew (and it’s helpful when ordering all the small pieces of fabric before you start to sew, too!).

Quilt block piecing detil

I’ve long been a fan of vintage sewing machines. If I ever stumble across an old Singer in a charity shop or antiques store, my family and friends lose me as I spend ages admiring it’s design and pondering whether I can justify taking it home (one day!). So this block is my favourite design in our The Vintage Home series yet (though I did say that with the commemorative mugs, and the teapots too!).

I wanted to choose fabrics that were in keeping with the vintage theme, but also appealed to my personal fabric taste, so I raided the Today’s Quilter fabric stash (which our Technical Editor, Laura, keeps remarkably tidy!) The hardest bit was trying to dig out small scraps for the cotton reel and needle sections – I have a huge box of these at home but most of our team fabrics are in larger sections and I hate to cut them for tiny pieces.

Ready to cut

My first attempt at fabric cutting (at home on the sofa with my husband Ross wanting to chat to me as I worked) one evening was a bit futile and I gave up after several mis-measured units and a realisation I hadn’t picked a large enough piece of background fabric. You can see my original background fabric in the above shot!

This may be a tangent but do all non-quilting partners lack comprehension of how much you have to concentrate on measuring when cutting out a large batch of different-sized units? 

So I started with fresh eyes the next morning in our magazine office with no distractions and managed to cut everything in one go. We even took some video of the process which we’ll share here soon. In a way the cutting was the trickiest part as the piecing was very straightforward, I just had to avoid the smallest units snagging in the sewing machine when I joined them.

Quilt block piecing detail needleOnce I’d assembled each of the four units I was relieved to find they all fit together easily and I opted to use real buttons to replace the appliqué circles in Jo’s original design (purely as appliqué is a technique I’ve yet to master and for some reason it eludes me – it’s on my 2018 quilty resolutions list!). I think the buttons look pretty good though. In fact I love this project so much I’m planning to turn it into a mini quilt and frame it in our home.

Here are 5 top tips for sewing this block

  1. Selecting your fabric: two of the fabrics you need for this block do require some largish units, so if you can, opt for a full fat quarter to cut the main background and patterned fabric from. I tried with a long thin piece of background fabric twice but soon realised I didn’t have enough.
  2. Set aside a bit of time with no distractions to do the cutting: none of these pieces are hard to cut but you do need to concentrate! If you can, find a nice big space to spread out your units into 4 sections as you cut. This will make life easier for you when you come to piecing.
  3. Avoid machine snagging: To help avoid the smallest units scrunching up when you piece them in your machine, use a scrap piece of fabric and feed it into the machine as you start to stitch then run straight on to your actual units.
  4. Take your time with piecing the smaller units: I’m notoriously haphazard with my quilt block piecing (some quilters are built to sew with precision but it’s just not in my nature). If you can, slow down and level up all your edges and pin everything properly before you sew, and always square off each section when you finish it to help join the 4 sections at the end.
  5. Don’t worry too much about pattern matching: This one depends on your fabric choice obviously but at one stage I considered cutting all my units facing the same direction to pattern-match a bit, and then realised this way madness lies! So I relaxed and just pieced as they came. When I look at the finished block I’m really pleased with it and don’t notice small differences in the pattern directions (unless I look too closely!).

You can find the pattern for this Sewing machine quilt block in issue 38 of Today’s Quilter magazine, in shops now or available in our online store.