My First Tutorial: Polar Vortex

A handful of people have written to me asking about the Polar Vortex blocks and how to make them. I thought I would try writing a tutorial. So here goes. Please keep in mind that I'm not a photographer! I'm a quilter! I think the way I'm going to do this is by posting photos of the steps and put the instructions in the captions.

First, select your fabric. You'll need three fabrics: A background, a center, and the main part of the block. Some contrast is nice. I suggest you avoid stripes; you'll be making a bunch of half-square triangles and the stripes can end up going every which way. If the main part of your block is dark, then choose a light background; likewise, if the main part of your block is light, choose a dark background. Press your fabric! Here you can see my main part at the top, my background in the middle, and my center square at the bottom. Your block will finish at 10 inches. When I made my Polar Vortex blocks, I got three blocks from each Fat Quarter. You prolly can get four blocks from a Fat Quarter. I only needed three.

Now you're going to cut! From your main fabric, you'll want FOUR squares that are 2-7/8 inches and four squares that are 2-1/2 inches. From your background, you'll need FOUR squares that are 2-7/8 inches, four squares that are 2-1/2 inches, and four rectangles that are 2-1/2 inches by 4-1/2 inches. From your center square fabric, cut one square that is 2-1/2 inches. If you are going to make a lot of blocks, think about whether you want to use all the same fabric for your main part or different fabrics. Think, too, about whether to vary the center squares or to use the same fabric for all of the center squares. Stripes are okay for the center square.

Now, the first thing you will do is make half-square triangles. Take your four 2-7/8 squares, the light ones, and draw a diagonal line on each one. Then measure precisely 1/4 inch and draw and line on either side. I save a little time by using these rulers; with them, you line up the center line and just draw the side lines. I'm not affiliated with either Omni-Grid or Amazon. I just really like these rulers a lot. I don't know what that black thread is doing there. I told you I'm not a photographer.

Sew along the lines on either side of the center and then cut down the center with your rotary cutter. Use a regular ruler for this, not that slim little Omni-Grid goody that you used to draw the lines. Trust me on this. Next, press. I was taught to press to the Dark Side (Luke!) but more and more in recent years I have been pressing seams open. I think I get better accuracy that way. Now, see the little dog ears in the corner of the finished Half Square Triangle? Snip them off. But don't say that you are going to cut off dog ears because your pooch will get nervous and your cat will gloat.

Now, lay down your center square and surround it with the 2-1/2 inch squares from the main fabric. Next, lay one of those HSTs next to each solid square, as shown.

Now, add the remaining HSTs so they are "kissing" or forming butterflies. The block should look like this.

Finally, add the background squares and rectangles.
Sew the squares together in rows and press the seams carefully.

Lay the rows back down. If the block looks like this, don't panic! You probably didn't sew it wrong. More likely, you have that second-from-the-bottom row laid upside-down! But look it over carefully.

That's right! Now you are ready to sew your rows together.
In my opinion, pin is not a dirty word. I like to pin all of the seams together. I think I get more accuracy. I usually start pinning the center row with the one above, then the one below, and finally the end rows. Stitch, removing each pin before you get to it.

Then press, and you're done! At this point, I press all the rows in one direction rather than open.
I hope this is helpful to those who wanted to know how to make the block. I'd love it if Janet or somebody would make a test block to see if my directions work.


Pat said…
Great tutorial, and very nice pictures. Good job!!!! Isn't it amazing the variety you can get just with HSTs and squares?
Janet O. said…
I doubt I am the Janet to whom you are referring (I never knew there were so many Janets until I started blogging), but I am very interested in this block. I have printed out your great tutorial and plan to make one this evening when I return home. I'll let you know what I encounter, but it looks good to me!
Barbara Anne said…
Your instructions seem complete and easy to understand - and you're so right about LOOKING at how the block rows lay out before you sew! Thanks for the tutorial!

Nicely done, Nancy! Very easy to follow. Since we have another snow day tomorrow, I may dig out some fabric and give a few a try.
I have a small (relatively) stack of HST and colored squares and beige squares - I think I need to make this block. I did something similar a year or so back and used it as a pillow cover for my girlfriend in Canada. The other side was a wolf. My thinking brain is burning it's woodpile with this gorgeous example.
Anonymous said…
Great block, love the name as it sure fits this year. Submit it to Quiltmaker! Perhaps a mug with your block could be had not to mention in their 100 blocks magazine.
Hi, Nancy! I made your Polar Vortex block today in honor of the new 10.5 inches of snow we got with last night's last storm. I shared it on my blog today, and of course, credited you and linked your blog.
Thanks so much for sharing - I LOVE it! And, I agree with Mary/Quilt Hollow - you should submit it to QuiltMaker!
Thanks again, and here's the linked posting:
LizA. said…
Lovely. And for those of us that have an aversion to 7/8" measurements, all the triangles can be cut from 2.5" strips using the Easy Angle ruler. I find this method and starching the fabric first much easier. I use the liquid Niagra starch which doesn't flake and adds just enough body that those triangles won't stretch when sewn on the bias.
Ray said…
Great tutorial! The block is great, and your quilt lovely.