Birds in the Air Quilt Block

From our Free Quilt Block Patterns Library

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Birds in the air quilt block tutorial

Skill Level: Beginner

Grid: 2x2

The Birds in the Air quilt block is a common unit found within many, many other patchwork designs.

If you are making just a few blocks, traditional piecing methods work just fine.

For larger quantities, when concentration is tempted to wander, I prefer paperpiecing for two reasons:

  • Accuracy—as long as you stay on the line at the beginning and the end, you're golden, and...
  • Taming bias edges—the paper stabilizes all the edges during construction

In this tutorial you'll find:

If you'd like to print this whole tutorial, click here for instructions. Remember that you'll need to print the paper piecing patterns separately.



Hate paperpiecing?  Click here for traditional piecing directions for a Birds in the Air quilt block pattern.



Examples of designs that include the Birds in the Air unit in their construction are:

The Goose and Goslings quilt block

Goose and Goslings

Monkey Wrench

Joseph's Coat quilt block design

Joseph's Coat





General Instructions


Sample Block Size: 2-1/2"(3" unfinished)

Grid size: 1-1/4"

Technique: Paperpiecing

Machine Set-Up: 

  • Set your stitch length to 15-18 stitches per inch to help perforate the paper. 
  • Install an open toe applique foot if you have one for an unobstructed view of the stitching line. 
  • Insert a 90/14 needle IF you have trouble removing the paper.
Mary Ellen's Best Press
Available from
Amazon.com

I use starch in all my piecing—paperpiecing, too!

With it, I find that finger pressing is almost always good enough between patches, especially when they are small, reducing the number of times I need to go to the iron.

To learn more about starching your quilt fabric, click here.

If you use an iron at each step, when you see the instruction 'Press', first press the unit in the closed position. This melds the stitches with the fabric. Then press the patch open. (Otherwise, just finger press the patch open.)

Pressing instructions are highlighted in yellow.

I do not use steam for paperpiecing, but that choice is up to you. In my experience, steam has a tendency to 'curl' the pattern...which is terribly annoying.

For unbelievably flat Birds in the Air quilt blocks, use the Best Technique for Pressing Quilt Blocks.

It works just as well for foundation piecing as it does for traditional. I think you'll like it!


Step 1: Download and print pattern


Print the paper piecing patterns you need

You'll need the most current version of Adobe installed on your computer to download the pattern.

On the Adobe Print Menu page, under 'Page Size and Handling' set 'Custom Scale' to 100% before printing for accurate results. Click here to see what it looks like on the Print Menu page.

After printing, use the 1" square graphic on the printed pages to confirm they are printed accurately.

Print the Birds in the Air Units

Finished
Block Size
Link to PDF
Download
2" 2"
2 1/2" 2 1/2"
3" 3"
4" 4"

My favorite paperpiecing papers

Both are light weight and easy to tear away.



Step 2: Cut the fabric patches for a Birds in the Air


Birds in the Air quilt block designBirds in the Air design

In this rendition of the Birds in the Air quilt block, I'm choosing to reverse the light and dark patches.

Remember that, ultimately, fabric placement is your choice!

All the patches are subcut once on the diagonal.

You can download and print a copy of this design and its cutting chart here.


Generations Quilt Patterns logo

Cutting Chart for a
Birds in the Air Quilt Block

~ Paperpiecing ~

PatchFabricQtyFinished Block Size
2" 2 1/2" 3" 4"
1 A 1 1⅞" x 1⅞" 2⅛" x 2⅛" 2⅜ x 2⅜" 2⅞" x 2⅞" Symbol for a half square triangle
2, 3, 4 Bac 2 2⅜ x 2⅜" 2⅝" x 2⅝" 2⅞" x 2⅞" 3⅜" x 3⅜" Symbol for a half square triangle
5 A 1 3⅜" x 3⅜" 3⅞" x 3⅞" 4⅜" x 4⅜" 5⅜" x 5⅜" Symbol for a half square triangle
Unfinished Block Size 2½" 3" 3½" 4½" ---
Grid Size 1" 1¼" 1½" 2" ---

Learn more about my favorite, new quilting tool, the Magic Pressing Mat. A valuable addition to your quilting tools—regardless of the piecing technique you use.



These are the cut patches. You will use three of the black and white triangles, and one each of the large and small blue ones. The rest are extras.

The cut patches, there are extras


Step 3: Assemble the Birds in the Air quilt block


Cut a single block from the page you downloaded. There's no need to be exact, just cut outside the dotted line that marks the unfinished edge of each block.

You trim it to size in the last step.

With a just a dab of Elmer's Glue Stick—the one that goes on purple and dries clear—position the back side of #1 on the unprinted side of your paper pattern so that the edges of the patch touch the dashed placement lines.


Position Patch #1, red arrows point to the placement lines


With RST, align and center the long bias edge of #2 over #1 like this...


Position #2Patch #1 is completely hidden by the larger #2

...and stitch, starting before the line between #1 and #2 begins and after it ends by approximately 1/4" (as indicated by the red arrows).


Stitch the seam


Press. (Because I starched my fabric ahead of time, I was able to fingerpress these patches open.)


The HST after stitching


With RST, align the short side of #3 with #1 and stitch as before, both starting and stopping about a quarter inch before and after the solid stitching line.


Stitch Patch 3 to Patches 1&2


Press.

Add #4 in the same manner.


Adding #4At this point we haven't done any trimming yet.

After stitching, now trim any dog ears and thread tails in the center of the block. (Trimming the block to size at the end will take care of the rest of the thread tails!)

Press. (Here I did press with my iron. I wanted the unit nice and flat before trimming.)

At this point we create a placement line for Patch #5.

Match the edge of your rotary ruler to the solid stitching line between #3, #4 and #5.


Align ruler with stitching line


Crease the paper with your finger and fold the pattern back on this creased line. (You need to gently tug to pull the paper away from the stitches.)

Now align the 1/4" mark of your ruler with the fold and cut along the edge of the ruler with your rotary cutter. You've just created a 1/4" seam allowance.

You might like an 'Add-a-Quarter' ruler for this type of trimming.


Trim for a seam allowanceRed arrow points to the quarter inch mark. The edge of the ruler is a 1/4" away from the folded edge of the pattern.

With RST, align the long bias edge of #5 with the long side of the sewn patches.

Stitch, again starting and stopping before and after the line by a generous quarter inch.

Press.

This is the stitched block.


Before the final trimThe block before trimming

Up 'til now, we haven't bothered to clean up the thread tails along the outside edges. When the block is trimmed to size, it's done automatically. There's no need to make extra work for ourselves.

Trim the block to size by placing the 1/4" line of your ruler on the solid outside line. Trim.

Repeat for the remaining three sides.


All sides are trimmedTrim all four sides

Your finished Birds in the Air quilt block looks like this.


The finished Birds in the Air quilt block


For traditional piecing instructions to make this block, click here.

To see blocks that have the same name, but look completely different, click here.


Variation on a Birds in the Air block


Birds in the Air variation

This paperpieced variation adds one extra patch, #6. It is used in several other blocks. (For traditional piecing of this unit, click here.)

I'm using a different sample to stitch on for this unit.

Use the cutting chart below. You'll have the same leftover #1, #2, #5 plus one #6.

You can download and print a copy of this design and its cutting chart here for use at your cutting table.


Generations Quilt Patterns logo

Cutting Chart for a
Birds in the Air Quilt Block

~ Paperpiecing ~

PatchFabricQtyFinished Block Size
2" 2 1/2" 3" 4"
1 A 1 1⅞" x 1⅞" 2⅛" x 2⅛" 2⅜ x 2⅜" 2⅞" x 2⅞" Symbol for a half square triangle
2, 3, 4 Bac 2 2⅜ x 2⅜" 2⅝" x 2⅝" 2⅞" x 2⅞" 3⅜" x 3⅜" Symbol for a half square triangle
5 A 1 3⅜" x 3⅜" 3⅞" x 3⅞" 4⅜" x 4⅜" 5⅜" x 5⅜" Symbol for a half square triangle
6 Bac 1 2⅜ x 2⅜" 2⅝" x 2⅝" 2⅞" x 2⅞" 3⅜" x 3⅜" Symbol for a half square triangle
Unfinished Block Size 2½" 3" 3½" 4½" ---
Grid Size 1" 1¼" 1½" 2" ---


Print the pattern to match your chosen Finished Block Size.

Print the Birds in the Air Variation Units

Finished
Block Size
Link to PDF
Download
2" 2"
2 1/2" 2-1/2"
3" 3"
4" 4"

To make it follow the instructions for Patches #1-#5, just leave out the last trimming to size—we've got one more patch to add.

At your cutting mat, paper side up, line up your ruler with the solid line between #5 and #6. Crease the paper along this line with your thumbnail.

Fold the paper back on itself and place the 1/4" line of the ruler on the fold. Trim away the excess leaving behind a quarter inch seam.


Remove the excess #5


After trimming #5 this is what it looks like from the fabric side.


Unit with #1-#5 prepared to add #6


Align the long bias edge of a #6 with the cut edge of #5. Stitch as before starting and ending a generous 1/4" from the solid line.


Sew on the mark between #5 and #6


Give your block a press before trimming.

Now to create our perfectly sized block and get rid of thread tails.



To trim, lay the quarter inch markings of your rule (red arrow) on the solid outside line and trim. Repeat for the remaining three sides.



Our finished Birds in the Air variation after trimming all four sides.



Here is our Birds in the Air variation from the back.


Link to Free Quilt Block Patterns Library


For even more blocks to make...


These are my go-to resources for quilt block ideas. Click the images to learn more.


Maggie Malone's 5500 Quilt Block Designs is my all-time favorite quilt block resource!

It's in color.

It's got a ton of blocks.

What's not to love?



Next on my 'must-have' list is Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.

Unlike the Maggie Malone book, the blocks in this volume are hand-drawn and in black and white—no color—personally, I prefer colored drawings to work with.

This book is no longer in print. If you can come by a copy expect it to be wickedly expensive.

However...


BlockBase is the computerized version of the Encyclopedia.

It can be used with Electric Quilt and is a Windows based program.




Finally there is The Quilter's Album of Patchwork Patterns by Jinny Beyer.

Lots of detail and in color, it is a beautiful volume. That said, I check it out of my local library on a regular basis instead of purchasing it.

Why?

Simply because I own the previous three references and find this the least user-friendly of the group.

It does make a fabulous coffee table book.



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