Flying Geese are a favourite in patchwork and are used as blocks in their own right and as smaller units within larger blocks. This Essential Guide to Flying Geese is by Linda Clements was first published in Today’s Quilter magazine. “Flying Geese are invaluable for creating many well-known patchwork blocks and interesting borders,” Linda says. “Here, we’ll explore how to make and use them…”
Flying Geese units suit all fabric types, whether bold, subtle, modern or traditional and are an important part of many blocks
Let’s get started: How to sew Flying Geese
Flying Geese get their name from the centre triangle, meant to represent a goose in flight, and the two smaller triangles on each side, representing the sky.
Flying Geese units (Fig 1) are very popular in patchwork, both as blocks in their own right, and as part of larger blocks. They are also useful for borders due to the strong directional element in their design.
In this Essential Guide we will look at standard machine piecing methods for making Flying Geese. They can also be made using foundation paper piecing, but we will look at this another day.
There are many blocks that use Flying Geese units in their construction – see Fig 2 for some examples – so being able to make them easily is a handy skill.
In this article we will look at three ways of sewing Flying Geese:
Method 1 – Making a single unit from one rectangle and two squares.
Method 2 – Making a single unit from one rectangle and two triangles.
Method 3 – Making four units at once from one large square and four smaller squares.
Height to width relationship
Preserving the three “points” of a Flying Geese unit is a goal when sewing them, particularly the top centre point. In order that a ¼in seam allowance is produced at this point, there has to be a relationship between the height and width of a unit.
Using the one rectangle and two squares method and Fig 3, if the rectangle is too long the two smaller squares will not overlap at the centre to create a seam allowance. If the rectangle is too short then the squares will overlap too much and create an allowance more than a 1⁄4in.
In a nutshell, the width of the unit needs to be twice the height, minus 1⁄2in. For example, if you want the height of the unfinished unit to be 41⁄2in, then 41⁄2in x 2 = 9in minus 1⁄2in = 81⁄2in. So, the unfinished unit will be 41⁄2in high x 81⁄2in wide. The two squares need to be cut the same height as the rectangle, i.e., 41⁄2in.
Method 1: Making a Single Unit
This method uses one rectangle and two squares and makes one unit. It is the most common method for making Flying Geese but not the most efficient. Sewing the corners from squares is a little wasteful but is a more stable method. See Maths Made Easy below for calculating the cut sizes of the rectangle and squares.
On the wrong side of the two small squares, draw or crease a diagonal line. Place the small squares right side down on the rectangle (right side up), aligning the corners as shown in Fig 4A. Pin together if needed. Sew along the line (or a fraction outside of the line). Trim excess fabric at the back 1⁄4in away from the stitching line and press.
Sew the second square to the rectangle in the same way in the opposite corner (Fig 4B). Once sewn and pressed, this square will overlap the one already sewn in place. This will form the 1⁄4in seam allowance.
Maths Made Easy
Method 1: Single Unit Flying Geese
Calculate the cut size of the rectangle and squares for this method as follows.
- To determine the size of the rectangle, first decide on the height you want your unfinished unit to be − for this example, let’s say 3in.
- The width of the unit needs to be twice the height, minus 1⁄2in. So, 3in x 2 = 6in, minus 1⁄2in = 51⁄2in. Therefore, the unfinished unit will be 3in x 51⁄2in. This is also the size that the cut rectangle needs to be.
- The two squares need to be cut the same height as the rectangle, i.e., 3in. Once the Flying Geese unit is made and sewn into the quilt it will measure 5in x 21⁄2in (finished).
Method 2: Single Unit variation
This method uses one rectangle and two triangles and makes one unit. It’s essentially the same as Method 1 but uses triangles instead of squares. It wastes less fabric but it is trickier to place and sew a bias-edged triangle onto a square.
Place a triangle on the rectangle, right sides together, aligning the bottom straight edges as in Fig 5A. The points of the triangle will extend past the rectangle. Pin together if needed. Sew 1/4in away from the edge of the triangle and then press the triangle into place.
Sew the second triangle to the rectangle in the same way in the opposite corner (Fig 5B). Once sewn and pressed, this triangle will overlap the one already sewn in place. This will form the 1⁄4in seam allowance.
Method 3: Making four at once
We rarely need just the one Flying Geese unit − it’s far more likely that we will need lots of them, so this method, which makes four identical Flying Geese units, is very useful.
Measurements and fabric descriptions are given for 5in x 21⁄2in finished (51⁄2in x 3in unfinished) units, but you can of course change them to your preferences. See Maths Made Easy, below, for how to calculate sizes.
You can also vary the colours of the small squares, for mixed-colour units.
Cut one 61⁄4in square and four 33⁄8in squares. Place two small squares right sides together with the large square, aligning them in the corners. Draw a line from corner to corner. Pin the pieces together and then sew 1⁄4in away from the line on both sides (Fig 6A). Press to set the stitches. Cut apart along the line (Fig 6B). Press the triangles outwards (Fig 6C).
Place one small square right sides together with one of the sewn units. Draw a line as before and sew 1⁄4in away from the line on both sides. Cut the units apart along the marked line and press (Fig 6D).
Repeat this with the last small square and the other sewn unit (Fig 6E). You will now have four identical units (Fig 6F). Check they are the size required and trim off dog’s ears.
Maths Made Easy
Method 3: Four-at-once
Calculate the size of the starting squares for this method as follows.
- Decide what the finished size of the Flying Geese need to be. Let’s use an example of 5in x 21⁄2in finished units (51⁄2inx3in unfinished).
- Cut one large square 11⁄4in larger than the longest side of the finished unit. So, 5in + 11⁄4in = 61⁄4in. Cut the large square 61⁄4in.
- Cut four smaller squares, each 7⁄8in larger than the shortest side of the finished unit. So, 21⁄2in + 7⁄8in = 33⁄8in. Cut four smaller squares 33⁄8in.
You can also make Flying Geese four at once using a scrappy approach – great for using up spare fabrics.
How to make Flying Geese Quilts
Flying geese units are very versatile, especially if you play around with the colour combinations and scale
Flying Geese in blocks
Flying geese make great blocks, see some examples in Fig 2. You can also vary the scale of the units and mix them up in one block. The easiest way to do this is to make some units half the size of others, so they can be easily pieced together.
Use the Maths Made Easy sections to work out the sizes you need.
Fig 7 shows two different sizes used to create a block. Rotate four blocks to form a star pattern. In Fig 8 a pattern is created using three sizes of Flying Geese.
Flying Geese in borders
F lying Geese are perfect for borders or sashing as their strong directional elements bring great interest to a design. One simple way to use them is in rows that rotate around a quilt centre as in Fig 9A. For added interest you could combine the rows with cornerstone blocks as in Fig 9B.
For a more dynamic-looking border, Flying Geese units can be made to zigzag by using squares and rectangles on either side of them (Fig 10A). For a different look, if the “sky” triangles of the blocks are made from the same fabric as these background squares and rectangles, then the “geese” triangles will appear to zigzag (Fig 10B).
Piecing the Goose
There’s nothing to stop you piecing the triangle that will become the “goose” (or the “sky”). One easy way to do this is to strip piece the fabric before making the unit (Fig 11).
About the designer
Linda Clements is a leading technical quilting expert, editor and writer who, for 25 years, has worked on many fabric and craft titles for David & Charles and other leading craft publishers. Among the many quilters who have trusted Linda to ensure their books are both accurate and reader friendly, are Lynne Edwards MBE, Susan Briscoe, Pam & Nicky Lintott, Pauline Ineson, Mandy Shaw and Lynette Anderson.
Linda’s own book, The Quilter’s Bible, is the must-have guide to patchwork, quilting and appliqué, and includes everything she haslearnt working with the industry’s best designers. For Today’s Quilter, Linda is working with the team to select practical and creative techniques. She will then go in depth, exploring the methods, taking them from the basic premise to their full technical and creative potential. You can see more of Linda’s Essential Guides in every new issue of Today’s Quilter magazine.