Sewing Tumbling Blocks Patchwork

How to Sew a Tumbling Blocks Quilt

From the Sewing Room – Sewing the Jewel Tone Diamonds Tumbling Blocks Quilt (Part II)

Jewel Tone Triangles color scheme from Clever ChameleonOver the last few weeks I have been working on a new project stemming from Colour Inspiration Tuesday. It all started with the Jewel Tone Triangles colour scheme. What was supposed to be a quick example of how to use this colour scheme has turned into a significant part of my recent quilt story! My daughter has convinced me to actually make her a Jewel Tone Triangles-derived quilt. This quilt is my first effort at tumbling blocks and is now called Jewel Tone Diamonds.

Original Jewel Tone Diamonds quilt idea
Original Jewel Tone Diamonds quilt idea

Firstly, my daughter and I redesigned the quilt idea to fit her bed and the fabrics available locally. Together we cut the diamond pieces and did a trial layout. Then I set about finding out how to sew the Y-Seams of the tumbling blocks. I wrote you a tutorial about that process here.

Now I am in the process of constructing the Jewel Tone Diamonds quilt top. Some people have asked how to put the tumbling block units together. The short answer is…. You don’t. While the illusion of this quilt is of lots of three-unit pieces stacked together, this is not the simplest way to construct the patchwork. Let me tell you how……

The process I use to construct the Jewel Tone Diamonds Tumbling Block Quilt.

Tumbling blocks layout diagram
Here is the basic tumbling blocks design. Fabrics of three colour values are arranged in a repeating pattern to get the 3D effect.

The method I use is a divide and conquer process – breaking the patchwork up into pieces that will sew together most easily. This process will work for any tumbling block design. This is because it ignores the pictorial design and only relies on the grid-work of diamonds that underlies the tumbling blocks design.

Here is a basic diagram of the tumbling blocks design carved up into sew-able pieces.

Tumbling blocks layout diagram
Here is the same basic tumbling blocks design carved up into the pieces I believe are the easiest to sew

So, what I am sewing as my basic patchwork unit is actually a six-pointed star within a hexagon. Not a three-diamond unit tumbling block. Let me step you through what this looks like in real life.

How to sew the basic Tumbling Blocks Hexagon Star Unit

Step 1

The very first thing to do is to lay out your diamonds for the section of quilt you are working on and separate them into the units that need to be sewn. This makes it easier to see what has to be sewn to what next. Unless you have a cat or small child to keep disturbing them for you…..

Anyway, pets and small children aside, this is what you are aiming for:

tumbling blocks units
Separate your Tumbling Blocks diamonds into hexagon sewing units.

Make sure each diamond is in it’s correct relative position in the quilt, but otherwise ignore the tumbling blocks design. Right now we are trying to see stars and hexagons!

Step 2

Let’s use a methodical way to sew the hexagon-star units together.

sewing tumbling blocks step 2
Start with these three diamonds first. Sew them together starting with the top two. Don’t forget to leave the seam allowances un-sewn where the broad corners meet.

Start on the left side of your hexagon unit and sew the three leftmost diamonds together in order from the top down. First sew the top two diamonds together, leaving the seam open one quarter of an inch at the broad angle end.

sewing tumbling blocks
Sew the first two diamonds together from the narrow point towards the broad point.

If you are not sure how to stop at the quarter seam allowance without marking it, I have covered this in detail in my post on how to sew great Y-seams.

sewing tumbling blocks step 2
Your first seam should look like this

Open it up and press the seams open.

sewing tumbling blocks step 2
So far, so good.

Now add the third diamond in this group in the same way. Sew from the pointy end to the the broad end and leave the seam allowance un-sewn. Press with seams open.

sewing tumbling blocks step 2
Your sewing will now look like this

Step 3

Now we need to do two Y-seams. We want to add in these two diamonds next:

sewing tumbling blocks step 3
Next sew in these two diamonds

I usually sew the bottom one in first, as it causes the seam allowances to nest better later and reduce bulk in the middle of the hexagon star unit. But don’t get too uptight about this if you  accidentally start with the top one instead. It will be fine.

If you need help sewing the Y-seams, I step you through this in the previous post about sewing the Jewel Tone Diamonds quilt. 

Once you are done, flat press with seams open and you will have a piece of patchwork that looks like this.

Sewing tumbling blocks step 4

Step 4

The next step is simply to repeat steps 2 and 3 with the other half of the hexagon star diamond set that you laid out in step 1.

Sewing tumbling blocks step 4
Sew this group of diamonds next, exactly as you did in steps 2 and 3.

Then your layout assembly should look like this. Two sewn half-units and two loose diamonds. We are going to get this done before those kids and cats mess this up after all……

Sewing tumbling blocks step 4
Two half units finished and ready for assembly

As an aside, you might notice if you compare this photo to the last, that I have changed my mind about the position of several diamond colours. It’s called designing on the fly…. or quilting your own story! I tend to do this quite a bit. In all likelihood, it won’t be the last deviation from the “pattern” that my daughter and I settled on. She won’t mind…. the original layout was a bit arbitrary anyway.

Step 5

Now we need to get those two half-units sewn together. Basically this is just a straight seam. But there are two things we need to achieve in this seam, and therefore to keep in mind.

The first thing is that we need to remember is to keep the seam allowances open on both ends of this seam. If you forget this, you will be grumpy! Both ends of this middle seam are going to eventually be Y-seams.  To get those last two diamonds in we will be returning to our set-in seam strategy.

The second thing is: you need to get those points lined up as best you can in the middle of the six-pointed star. Everyone’s tolerance of how well points need to match is different. I’m pretty fussy, and I wish I could be more relaxed about it. Some care here is advised though, as points that are too sloppy are going to make your tumbling blocks look like they are not well stacked! I will aim to write a tutorial about how I match tricky points another day soon, but in the meantime you will need to use your favourite method to get your points matched to your satisfaction.

sewing tumbling blocks step 5
Two half-units joined with centre seam. Don’t forget to leave the seam allowances un-sewn at both ends!

Step 6

Sew in the last two diamonds with your amazing Y-seam skills (revisit the method here if you need to, but you should be a pro by now!). You will now have a completed hexagon star unit to add to your tumbling blocks quilt.

Sewing tumbling blocks quilt step 6
Hexagon-star tumbling block quilt unit all finished.

Step 7

Continue dividing and sewing your tumbling blocks quilt into manageable units like this. At the edges of the quilt you will have partial units. Remember this original diagram? These part-units are fine. They are supposed to be incomplete.

Tumbling blocks layout diagram
Divide your diamonds into sewable units.

Here is my stack of units finished ready to complete the Jewel Tone Diamonds tumbling blocks quilt top.

sewing tumbling blocks units step 7
Tumbling block hexagon star units all done.

How to sew the Hexagon Star Tumbling Blocks Quilt Units together

Once you are ready to start assembling the tumbling blocks quilt from your hexagon star units, the process is relatively simple. Start with the top row of units and simply sew them together down the straight seams. Remember, leave the seam allowances open!! Add in the loose diamonds that go in between the large units, to complete the very top of the patchwork.

Also at this point I sew the 3-diamond units on the lefthand side of the quilt to their neighbouring hexagon star unit. Your pieces will now look like this. One completed row, plus some fish-shaped units down the lefthand side.

Sewing tumbling blocks together step 1

Then add one unit at a time to the next row. Sew the seams in the order shown in the next diagram. Sew the first straight seam and press. Then sew the second straight seam that makes up the first Y-seam. Don’t forget to always sew from the middle of a Y-seam outwards to the free end. That way you not push any excess fabric into the Y-seam and everything will sit flat. Sew the third seam, also from the middle out. Great! First piece in.

Sewing in the second row of tumbling blocks

Sew the next piece in, in the same way, etc., etc. until you are all done!

sewing tumbling blocks units together

I’ll leave you with a photo of my Jewel Tone diamonds quilt progress to date. I like it. So pretty!

Jewel Tone Diamonds quilt progress | Clever Chameleon Quilting

Clever Chameleon logoFinishing up

One final comment. I can hear some of you wondering why I didn’t just sew it together as a series of tumbling blocks. Well you could. But I didn’t fancy trying to line up the points at the junctions at the same time as pulling off a Y-seam.

tumbling blocks sewing alternative
Is it possible to get all this lined up nicely?

Remember, until I started this quilt, I had never sewn Y-seams before. But even now, I don’t think that this would be fun. And quilting should definitely be fun! If you do your tumbling blocks this way, I’d love to hear how you manage it, and how hard it is! Maybe it is easier than I expect?….. Perhaps it gives you more control over how the points line up? Please let me know.

PS. These hexagon star blocks also work to make other designs based on diamonds. Just rearrange the colours differently and you have a star quilt instead. (Or is it circles of tumbling blocks?) Designs abound! Quilt your Own Story!

Diamond star quilt layout

Now it's your turn.... what do you think?