Pattern Deep Dive: "Pathfinder" by Sarah Ruiz Quilts and getting back to quilting during a break in sewjo.

draped quilt over a wooden fence

When I started Quilt Pattern Mart, I have to admit that I had not made a quilt from a pattern by someone else in a long time. 

When I first started quilting, that was all I used (and how I learned), and then I graduated to writing my own patterns. Well, not full patterns but block designs from sketches or traditional quilt blocks and enough notes that I could make a quilt. I also must admit that after I turned to designing my own quilts,I occasionally looked down my nose at people who only made quilts from patterns. (Terrible! I know! I am ashamed of myself.)

This was ridiculous, and I am embarrassed that I ever thought that way because there is no award for making a quilt you designed yourself over making a quilt from a pattern (ok, that is not entirely true as some quilt shows give awards that way but you know what I mean!). This is a hobby and it is supposed to be fun, so if it is fun for you to make quilts from a pattern instead of figuring out math and yardage and whatever else is required, please please PLEASE do it the fun way. Sure, everyone finds a different part of quilting more or less fun, but I am a strong believer that we all should be working to maximize our personal fun in the quilting process.

pieces of quilt blocks pinned on a sewing table next to the sewing machine

Then I founded Quilt Pattern Mart at the dawn of a global pandemic where I was about to lose all child care and be isolated from other people (except for get togethers in the great outdoors) for MONTHS! It would be over a year before someone else would be in charge of my child for any substantial part of the day, and I would NEED patterns to get through that!I was a new business owner, with almost no time to do my business and stress and burnout were everywhere (I suspect many of you recognize this story from your own life)! I needed sewing and quilting to make me remember about me, so of course I had nearly zero sewjo.

 How was I supposed to sew and make things if I had to make a bunch of decisions about what to sew, usually at the end of the day when my brain was done? Well, patterns! I could use patterns! Patterns would reduce my creative decision making to a pile of fabric that looked pretty together. And you know what? It was so much easier to sew when there wasn’t much to decide to get started! In fact, I first got restarted by pulling out some old works in progress that I didn’t even have to pick fabrics for! I just had to pick them up again. Then I moved on to making things that required a few more decisions and to using some of the patterns that you find here on 

large patchwork quilt blocks featuring stacked triangles, hanging on a cloth design wall tacked to the wall

Like the Pathfinder Quilt by Sarah Ruiz which frankly is an MVP level quilt pattern that should be in the stash of every single quilter! I am so serious about that. This was not the first pattern I made from the site, but as I looked at the list I planned to blog about, it felt like the one that I should write about first. I landed on this one around Christmastime 2020 as I was looking for something that had a twin sized version and that would allow me to shop my (very) expansive stash and hopefully wouldn’t need too much of a background fabric but that was also friendly to a bed quilt for a 7 year old boy’s room. 

Pathfinder fit the bill! Twin sized and no background fabric, and it called for fat quarters! I chose to use fat quarters AND quarter yards and half yards and big chunks of fabric that were neither fat quarters nor half yards (we will get back to this, but this wasn’t exactly advised by the instructions). I chose an array of prints and solids that were muted primary colors with a vague vintage vibe (fun for a little boy but not too baby so he keeps the quilt for a few years). Something I had not realized while just looking online (often on my phone) is that when you see photos of the Pathfinder quilt, you do not really get the scale of the blocks themselves which are BIG rectangles, so they actually go together pretty fast and two at a time since most blocks (all the full sized ones) all have mirror image version that are cut out at the same time! And without sashing and with the staggered blocks, there aren’t even that many points to match!

close up on a finished quilt and the quilt blocks in it

It was a fun and refreshing sew! It was manageable to sew while I was trying to get work done and entertain a 4yo at home who was in online school for an hour a day and did not really leave me a ton of time to work at all. I paired up my fabric bits and bobs into color/print combinations that made me happy, and I made at least two blocks every night. The way the pattern is written, you could very easily iron your fabrics, cut the pieces for the two blocks, and sew them up in less than an hour (even while watching tv and being very slow pokey about it or it could even be much less than an hour). This was perfect for both fitting the sewing into my schedule AND seeing very real progress as I added two blocks to the design wall every night! Some nights I added even more! It was so satisfying.

Especially once I got the hang of the cutting! The cutting comes with a diagram for how to cut from a fat quarter that requires paying close attention. Well, it is a very clear and easy to follow diagram if you do not have a very set way that you cut from fat quarters that is the opposite of the diagram–for example, you have to, at the very least, not be me! If you are someone like me who has a strong preference and muscle memory for cutting from a fat quarter that starts by laying your fat quarter on your mat so that it is a tall rectangle, so strongly that you literally cannot seem to realize that there are other ways that you could do it, you too may need to heed the following paragraph!! 

partially sewn mirror image pathfinder blocks

The diagram cuts from a short rectangle, and if you cut it the tall way, you definitely will not QUITE have enough fabric to make the block (unless you just decide to piece some of it together to make it work with a little interior seam or two which is absolutely what I did to solve my self created problem). If that sounds like a problem you might have, add a little reminder sticky to your cutting table or ruler or wherever you will see it! If that sounds like I am getting a little worked up about nothing, well I applaud your ability to follow directions and be flexible at fat quarters but some of us apparently need more help. What I am really saying is that if you follow Sarah Ruiz’s very clear instructions, then you will get great results but double check at this step that you are actually following her instructions!! Because several times I was NOT doing that!

paper template and fabric on a cutting mat

Remember earlier when I mentioned that instead of using fat quarters I used big chunks and quarter yards and other sizes that were not fat quarters? Well that mostly worked out great! From half yard cuts, I just turned it into a fat quarter easy peasy! I had to be creative for the miscellaneous cuts–including using many of these for the half sized blocks that appear in each row (staggering the row seams and making this VERY beginner friendly) where a triangle template allowed a little more leeway in the layout and not as much fabric was needed. In the pattern, it has instructions to repeat those fabrics but with my scrappier version, I just didn’t repeat. Quarter yards were where things got a little bit more challenging. One cutting step requires a big square that is longer on both sides than the 9” quarter yard, so what can a quilter do? This quilter used that triangle template that was created for the half blocks to cut the triangles individually from the quarter yardage strip (instead of from a square), and there was more than enough fabric this way! I only had one fabric that I had to really eke it out with some re-assmbled fabric bits to make it work!! BUT using the template like this, it meant that I could be a little more scrappy on the full blocks as well and I know I made a few of them from a fat quarter of fabric/color A and from big scraps of two fabrics for color B, so instead of a perfect mirror image set of blocks, I had a nearly mirror image set of blocks where fabric A was the same in both and the fabric B was cut from two fabrics that used slightly different amount of my scraps (perfect when pulling from the scrap bin).

triangle in a pathfinder block extended with a different printed fabric

For the back of the quilt, I pieced together a back from a combination of yardage and half yards many of which had been in my stash a while as I tend to piece my quilts from smaller prints and solids nowadays, but early quilting me sure did love much bigger prints!! There is a bit of an accidental homegoods theme in these fabrics that I ran with as I was puzzling together the back. I know not everyone loves a pieced back, but I think they can be a fun design exercise. I don’t think this is my most successful back, but I was in a bit of a hurry to get this done in time for his birthday and maybe did not take the most time with it.

pieced back of a patchwork quilt laid out on my tiny backyard

I sent the quilt out to be quilted by a local longarmer (and friend) Sarah Evans of Sparklesax Designs who used an all over digital design that had circles linked along lines reminiscent of molecular diagrams (and similar to one of the more colorful prints in the quilt) and stitched it out in golden thread that blended perfectly into the fabrics that made up the quilt! I finished it with a dark teal print with pops of green and yellow for the binding that I found in my stash. I loved the end result and so did my sister, but most importantly my nephew LOVED it as his quilt for his bed!!

finished multi-color primary quilt

I cannot recommend this pattern highly enough! I loved making this quilt, the end results were fabulous! I would say it is great for newer quilters looking to make something that doesn’t require too much point matching or difficult piecing. It is also great for using larger scale prints and gorgeous fat quarter fabric bundles. It can be an all solid color burst or a busy scrappy  festival of prints and everything in between! It is one of those quilt patterns that seem to work with almost any fabrics and any color combos. If you don’t own it, you should. It will be a go to pattern for when you need a quilt that could work for anyone that can come together fairly quickly or that can be worked on in manageable bits between the rest of your life!

fun multicolored blockcat on quilt inside the house

detail of one of the corner half blocksfinished quilt draped on my back deck

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