Be sure to check out my UPDATED Four-at-a-Time Flying Geese Tutorial and Sizing Tables. I think you might find a lot more success with the intermediate sizing I suggest there!
Over the years, I’ve learned a handful of tips that have added up to having a lot more success and confidence when piecing flying geese blocks using the no-waste method (also known as the four-at-a-time method). Today, I thought I’d put all of my current top tips and best practices together into a blog post in case there is something new here that will help you. And if you have a tip that works really well for you when you piece flying geese using the no-waste method, be sure to share it in the comments!
No-Waste Flying Geese Table and Basic Instructions
When making flying geese, I prefer to work with the block sizes listed in the table above. If, after using all the tips that I share in this post, your flying geese are ending up too small, you can cut the smaller squares ⅛” larger and the larger squares ¼” larger than listed in the table. However, I’m confident that like me, once you give these tips a try you’ll find that you are making flying geese that need minimal trimming!
1. Place (2) Fabric small squares on opposite corners of a large square, right sides together. Mark a diagonal line across the smaller squares.
2. Sew a scant ¼” seam on either side of the marked line. Press to set seams. Cut on the marked line. Press seams open. This will create (2) intermediate units.
3. Place a small square on the exposed corner of an intermediate unit, right sides together. Mark a diagonal line on the back of the square.
4. Sew a scant ¼” seam on either side of the marked line. Press to set seams. Cut on the marked line and press seams open.
5. Trim to the unfinished size as necessary, removing dog ears and making sure there is ¼” between the point and edge of the flying geese block.
For this tutorial, I am going to be making flying geese that will finish at 2″ x 4″, so I will be using (1) large square that measure 5¼” and (4) small squares that measure 2⅞”.
Tip #1 – Cut Using Rulers
The best tip I can offer anyone working to improve piecing precision is to begin with cutting precision. For years, I cut everything following the grid on my rotary cutting mats, but once I committed to changing how I cut my fabric and instead cut using my rulers, I saw a huge improvement in my piecing accuracy.
In the photo above, I have already made my first cut of the fabric I plan to use for the large 5¼” square. Because I am right handed, I then rotated the fabric to put the cut edge on the left. By aligning the 5¼” marks of my ruler with the cut edge, I’m ready to make my second cut on the right-hand side of the ruler.
As you can see in the photos, it can also help to purposefully not line up the fabric with the grid of your cutting mat if this is a new way of cutting. In the photo above, after making the second cut which was set up in the first photo, I rotated the fabric 90-degrees and then lined up the top and bottom straight cut edges of the fabric with the grid on the ruler. I then trimmed just a little off of the right-hand edge of the fabric and rotated the fabric 180-degrees to set up for the fourth and final cut (shown above). Just like in the first photo, I am making sure to line up the 5¼” lines of my ruler with the left hand edge of the fabric while keeping the top and bottom straight cut edges of the fabric aligned. After trimming the fabric on the right-hand side of the ruler, I will have a 5¼” square ready for piecing.
Tip #2 – Scant ¼” Seam Allowance
In a lot of my patterns, I call for a scant ¼” seam allowance to be used. A scant ¼” seam allowance is about a thread width narrower than a true ¼” seam allowance, but what does that really mean? For the purposes of this tutorial, I drew lines on the back of all the 2⅞” squares to help illustrate. As you can see when I place my ruler on the back of the marked 2⅞” square, the line I drew that I will sew on is inside of the ¼” lines of my ruler by about the width of one thread of the fabric.
Tip #3 – Nudge Small Squares IN 1-2 Threads
When placing the small squares, nudge them inside the larger square by 1-2 threads prior to sewing them. I know this can feel very strange, and it certainly seemed unintuitive to me, but it’s a trip I tried and I’ve been really amazed at how it helps!
The trick here is to find the sweet spot – don’t nudge the small squares in too far! Sewing a few test blocks will help you find what works best for you when making this alignment.
Tip #4 – Use Positioning Pins (As Needed)
Which leads to Tip #4: I have found that using small pins to keep the small squares positioned on the large square when you take the unit to your sewing machine to sew the first diagonal seam can keep things in position as desired. This tip becomes especially important if you are making larger flying geese units.
Tip #5 – Check Your Seam Allowance
Once you have sewn the first two seams and cut the large square in half along the diagonal, it’s a good time to take a quick measurement to check in on your scant ¼” seam allowance. Because you likely won’t need to mark the seam lines to sew on like I did for this example (many machines allow you to nudge your needle to the right one position or you can use a laser to help track in to your ideal seam allowance, etc.), it’s good to sew one test unit and measure to make sure that your seam allowance is falling on the scant side. It’s easier to adjust now than after chain stitching a whole lot of blocks!
Tip #6 – Press Seams Open and Don’t Forget to Nudge IN
I have found that pressing seams open has made a big difference in the size of my flying geese units. Going along with this tip, I suggest sewing seams that are going to be pressed open with a smaller stitch length of 2.0. I also recommend pressing with a dry iron and not using steam.
And don’t forget to nudge the next small square in by 1-2 threads when positioning it to sew!
Tip #7 – Trimming & Lint Roller
You all know that I’m a minimalist (and doing my best to live and work in a small space), so I don’t have a lot of specialty rulers. Because I don’t use specialty rulers to trim my flying geese, I like to make my first two trims of the flying geese blocks with the flying geese block pointing to the left (if I were left-handed, I would point it to the right). In this orientation, I can align the 45-degree line of my ruler with the top half of the flying geese block, check to make sure that I will be able to maintain a ¼” beyond the point of the flying geese triangle when the block is trimmed, and make sure the the trim size of the flying geese block (2½” x 4½” in this case) falls at intersection points of the sewn seams. As you can see, I will mostly be cutting the dog ears off of my flying geese block along the right-hand side and across the top after working through all of these steps and tips. Once the first two sides are trimmed, simply rotate the block and align the trimmed edges with the trim size lines on your ruler and trim the remaining two sides.
I keep a lint roller handy when I am trimming up flying geese blocks because there is often just a small amount of fabric fuzz created in addition to trimming off the dog ears. By using my lint roller to clean up my cutting mat between each flying geese block trim, I am helping to extend the life of my cutting mat by keeping the small fibers from being forced into the mat with subsequent cuts as I trim through my stack of blocks.
Feel free to pin the image above so that you can come back and reference these tips the next time you need to make no-waste flying geese.
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23 thoughts on “No-Waste Flying Geese Tutorial and Top Tips”
Thanks for a great lesson on flying geese! I too have found that a small nudge makes a big difference.
Your tutorials are always excellent, Yvonne. I haven’t done the nudge, so I have to try that next time. Thanks for that tip!
Hi Yvonne, Wow! This was so well written and helpful. I following your nudge idea in making the flying geese for the Bokeh Quilt. I didn’t press my seams open. I will definitely try that.
Thank you for sharing your ideas!
Thanks so much Yvonne. The tips on “nudging” and “cutting according to the ruler” are invaluable. I so appreciate your excellent writing skills, and your generosity in sharing your knowledge. Hugs.
What a great tutorial! I need to work on my scan 1/4″ seam allowance and this should help. Thanks!
What a clever way to make flying geese! The nudge tip is brilliant; thank you. I’m not a student of Herrmann’s theory on brain quadrants but I know enough to realize that I’m NOT strong in the logical and analytical quadrant. And if any quadrant includes organized but scatterbrained – that’s me! I really need someone as intelligent as you who can figure this stuff out.
All I know is that I should always use my ruler(s) for measuring. On the first day of my quilting lessons, my teacher told me, “NEVER use the cutting mat grid for measuring, your pieces won’t be accurate. ALWAYS use your rulers.” If she hadn’t taught me that, I’d probably have quit quilting a long time ago due to frustration. I have only six rulers myself and that works fine for me. Then again, I cheat – I have an AccuQuilt cutter that makes perfect shapes every time. Another thing I’m not always good at is patience. Cutting lots and lots of squares is much easier and quicker with the machine.
Sorry you weren’t taught the same thing early on; you must have dealt with some frustration and discouragement. But you sure overcame it!! Perhaps some lessons are better learned the harder way? I don’t know, but I certainly don’t have your talent.
Another easy way to sew scant quarter seams: If you happen to have a machine that allows you to move the needle position, you can shift it a tad to the right, still use the edge of your 1/4″ pressure foot as a guide and you’ll have a scant quarter-inch seam. If you’re worried about the needle hitting or scraping the edge if the hole, there are large hole 1/4 inch presser feet available. I have one and it works just fine.
Hope all is going well in paradise!
A well written tutorial & I appreciate your tips, especially the nudge one on placing the smaller squares. I’ve made flying geeses like this now for about 20 years & did a tutorial on my blog (many years ago), but yours far exceeds mine, so big thank you for that. Are these blocks going to be used in anything? Take care, stay safe & hugs from down under.
Great tips, Yvonne! I’ve always used the grid on my ruler for cutting. I might have to give cutting by the ruler a try, though I can imagine making the switch would be hard. I’ve never heard of nudging the smaller squares before…interesting!
Great tutorial – I love making flying geese! I like you illustrations too! very nice!
I’m a new quilter and i was having trouble with perfecting the flying geese. I figured if I “nudged” a bit on the squares it might help. It did, but I wasn’t consistent enough. Then I read your post and my idea is a real thing. You perfected it and I can’t wait to try again with better results–consistant! Thank you!
Thanking you for that detailed rite.
When making the geese would you clarify which side of the sewing line you sew the scant 1/4″. You stated inside, thus I am thinking that is the line further away from the cutting line. Correct?
I’m not entirely sure I am fully understanding the question. If you draw or sew a perfect ¼” line away from the diagonal cutting line, to create a scant ¼” seam, the sewn line needs to be closer to the cutting line.
Yes, that makes sense and appreciate your help. Thank you
These are very valid tips! Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to put these in such a useful guide!
I have never heard of the ‘nudge’ tip, but it makes sense. I will definitely use this tip. Thanks so much for sharing!
Thanks for putting all these tips together Yvonne. I still have trouble with my Flying Geese turning out wonky or varying in size. I will put your tips into action.
These are so helpful! I’ve tried the method once before and think this is my path forward because “no waste”!
I love doing the 4 at a time. One tip that I learned from Karin Hellaby, is when you place the first two small squares is to trim off the overlap on both squares to reduce the bulk in the tip.
Yvonne, I love how concise, thoughtful and well written your tutorials are. The photos and examples that go along with them are so helpful, too. I love making flying geese 4 at a time and usually make them oversized and then trim them down. I am really curious about the nudge technique (new to me) and will give that a try next time. Thanks for this!
Thank you for your superb flying geese tutorial and top tips. I love that you go into great detail to explain very clearly your technique and that makes it easy for me to understand. The photographs are excellent and very effective.You’re a wonderful teacher. All your tips work and my flying geese blocks are improving! My heartfelt thanks to you. I really appreciate your time and effort you must have put into your tutorials.
I am having a lot frustration. I have a 5 in square. If I add the measurement s you state my “goose” end up too long for my square. What am I not seeing?
I am sorry you are having so much frustration. Note that I have an updated tutorial that I recommend here: https://quiltingjetgirl.com/2022/09/30/updated-four-at-a-time-flying-geese-tutorial-and-sizing-tables/
Is the 5″ square the large or the small square you want to use? The “goose” should be the large square, and you will need 4 smaller squares that will become the background.
Any more details that you can provide me (or a photo) in a reply to the email reply that I sent might help me work with you to find what you need to move forward.