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Why We Tear Our Fabric

When I was a child, growing up and learning to sew, I was always taught to be sure that the fabric I was cutting was on the grain of the fabric. In sewing class in school, before we could make our dirndl skirt, we had to pull a thread across the width of the fabric and then cut along that pulled thread to make sure that the grain would be straight. This would be the top of the skirt that we gathered and would assure that the skirt would hang straight.

Later, when I learned to make draperies, we always pulled a thread across the width and then cut along that thread to make sure, as I did with my garments, that the draperies would hang straight.

I have transferred those lessons to quilting to insure that the quilts are straight, the patches not distorted, etc. The equivalent to pulling a thread is to tear the fabric. The tear is always along the grain line giving you the true crosswise grain of the fabric.  I created this video to show the importance of fabric grain when cutting patches.

We start every bolt in the Studio with a tear strip to determine the crosswise grain.  If you order a yard of fabric, we measure out one yard plus extra to account for the torn edges. That way you will have a full yard of on-grain fabric to use. You can straighten the grain by gently tugging the yardage diagonally until the torn edges and the selvage edges are squared.

When fabric is cut from a bolt with a rotary cutter, it is cut at a 90-degree angle to the fold. However, how do you know that the fold is lined up with the lengthwise grain? After the fabric is woven, it goes through several processes including printing, finishing, winding onto a huge roll and then being folded and wound onto the bolts shipped to fabric stores.

All that processing and winding can pull a fabric off-grain. At Jinny Beyer Studio, all our fabrics are manufactured by the same company but some bolts are almost perfectly on grain and a few are off by inches.

The pictures below show an example.  The first picture is of the edge of the fabric as it came off the bolt, cut by the manufacturer. The second picture shows the true crosswise grain of that same bolt of fabric. It’s off by inches!  This shows why we prefer to tear and find that grain line.

FabricTearing - Combo

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Anatomy of a Border Print

Early quilt made with Indian fabrics & Indian border prints
Early quilt made with Indian fabrics & Indian border prints

Through social media such as Facebook and this blog, I have had the opportunity to be in touch with so many quilters around the world. Many of you have recently discovered our website and the techniques I’ve been teaching for years. I’m very excited that through this blog I’ve been able to share my methods of quiltmaking with you. This week, I would like to cover a basic topic, one which you will find in most of my quilts, namely, border prints.

I started quiltmaking when I lived in India and was using Indian fabrics exclusively. Most Indian fabrics have some type of border print and I loved using them. However, when I returned to the United States, few could be found. When I started designing fabrics, I made sure that each collection and my quilt designs incorporated these border prints.

What is a border print?

Bedfordshire border print
Bedfordshire border print

When you look at my border prints, each one has a wide and narrow stripe. To make the best use of each of these stripes, I put a one-half inch area between them. When you cut down the middle of this area, you will have a perfect one-quarter inch seam allowance on each side of your stripes.

Wide and narrow copy

All of my border prints also have at least four repeats of the stripes across the width of the fabric. This allows for at least one stripe to go around each side of your quilt. To estimate the yardage necessary for your quilt, just measure the longest side of your quilt and add 18” for mitering and centering the design.

Double mirror image copyThe designs also always mirror-image meaning that each side of the design is identical to the other but reversed as in looking in a mirror. Some are vertically imaged motifs (single) and some are both vertically and horizontally mirrored (double).

Mirror line for border print placemats
Using a template for mirror images

Of course, I don’t believe in limiting the use of these borders to simply framing a quilt. In future blogs, I hope to open your eyes to the endless possibilities I’ve discovered in using these wonderful designs. In the mean time, go to and look at the images of the border prints themselves. When you click on each image, you will be given the number of repeats and the width of each stripe.

Border with measurementsAlso, you’ll find a lot of material on Working with Border Prints on my website.

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It’s not always about quilting!

SourdoughWhen you put a lot of time and effort into a quilt, it would be a personal disaster to lose it. Well, other things are similar.

I almost had a disaster the other day. My cleaning lady was in the kitchen and I just caught her in time as she was about ready to rinse out a bowl that appeared to have nothing but a little white substance in the bottom. Mind you, the bowl was covered with a dish cloth, but when she looked underneath,  she didn’t see anything special and was ready to clean the bowl.

It was my 44 year old sourdough starter!!!!

Let me backtrack. My husband and I and our three children lived in India from 1970-1972. At that time, it was impossible to buy good bread and it was also difficult to find yeast that was reliable. So I did some research and decided to make a sourdough starter.

It was easy enough to make. You need raw milk (I used water buffalo milk), a cup of flour, a wooden spoon and a glass or pottery container (never use metal bowls or spoons).

I mixed the milk and flour together and covered it with a dishtowel and left it at room temperature for about five days. You want it to be about 80 degrees…..not too hot and not too cold. If it starts to dry out during that time, add a little lukewarm water. Once it has a good sour aroma and starts to bubble, it is ready to use.

I always keep about two cups in the refrigerator. Most recipes will call for a cup of starter. When I want to use it, I take it from the refrigerator, let it get to room temperature and after I take the cup for my recipe, I add a cup of flour and a cup of water. I let it sit overnight until it bubbles and then I have my two cups again to put in the refrigerator.

My most recent almost disaster occurred when I realized I had not used my starter for a while. When that happens, it is apt to get black on top…….not to worry. It has happened to me many times. I pour off the liquid that has formed on the top, then take a wooden spoon and scrape off all the black. I keep cleaning my spoon each time and scraping until I get down to the white dough. In this case, I was practically at the bottom of the crock when I got to the clean starter. In fact, I only had about two tablespoons.

But that is fine, I just mix it with two tablespoons of water and two tablespoons of flour and let it sit overnight until it bubbles. Then the next day, I add four tablespoons of flour and four of water and keep this up until I have my two cups once again.

My starter was at the two tablespoon stage when Maxi thought it was just something left over in a bowl. Thank goodness I caught her in time!

Sourdough starter can be used for any bread recipe. The night before, mix a cup of starter with about 2/3rds of the flour called for then, in the morning, proceed with the recipe. You can eliminate the yeast.

My Grandkids helping me make chocolate sourdough cake
My Grandkids helping me make chocolate sourdough cake

I use my starter for French bread, other breads, waffles, pancakes, English muffins and, our most favorite, Sourdough Chocolate cake.

I would be devastated if I lost my starter……it has been like an old friend all these years.


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Nothing Lasts Forever

Nothing lasts forever and no matter how carefully we plan, we eventually run out of a border print used in a favorite quilt design. When that happens, I am faced with the challenge of replacing it with a current fabric. When we update kits, we’ve already done the calculations for you. But what happens if you have an old pattern of mine, you want to use a new border print and you have to figure it out? Let’s take a look at how to replace one border print for another. Sometimes the switch is easy. Some quilts, however, require a little more consideration.

Summer Lily with the original border and the new border.
Summer Lily with the original border and the new border.

We recently used up the last bolt of one of our favorite border prints, a lovely teal and blue print that complimented several quilt designs. It was featured on two quilts, Shimmering Sea and Kinabalu in the Ocean colorway. The quilts are very similar in construction style but the symmetry and use of border print are very different. Planning the substitute border print for these two quilts shows just how easy or complex this process can be.

AshfordI selected the teal colorway of the Ashford border print. The color balance and flavor were very much the same; both teal and blue with curves and flourishes, but there are a few key differences that I had to take into account when making the switch.

  • Value: A darker or lighter background behind a print will change the overall value of the border print.
  • Repeat: The width of the border stripes and the distance between the mirrored elements can change the yardage required to piece the quilt.
  • Layout: Each of my border prints has a filler strip between the wide and narrow stripes to allow for a ¼ inch seam allowance for each strips. This section is either solid or filled with additional design.

Now, let’s take a look at the two quilts.

shimmering seaShimmering Sea, does not use the border print in the block. It simply frames the assembled blocks to highlight the rich, jewel tones. The Ashford Border Print is slightly lighter than the original fabric and is slightly narrower. The lighter border print changes the balance of the quilt but requires nothing more than swapping one for the other. The final quilt is slightly smaller and the overall effect is similar.

The Ocean colorway of Kinabalu is another story.  In addition to the framing stripes, the border print is used in the block design, fussy cut and filling the corner of each block to accentuate the curved illusion. The 36 blocks require 36 identical triangles cut from the wide section of the border print.  The design repeat in this print is 12” between identical images rather than the 9” in the previous border print and the stripe is not wide enough to cut two, point to point one above the other, from each repeat. I can only cut 3 of these identical triangles from each running yard of border stripe. Yikes! That is only 18 triangles per yard of fabric. That yardage adds up quickly and leaves excess waste behind.

SS Borders copyAshford Ocean Template A Guide 6By using both mirror images, I can eliminate a good portion of that waste and drop the yardage bock down to a reasonable amount.  The triangles from Position 1 will be used in the blocks where the triangles will touch and form a larger mirrored image (see diagram). Triangles cut using position 2 are for the remaining blocks where they will not touch those from Position 1. The variation in triangle design will add to the movement in the quilt design.

Here is what those changes look like in the finished quilt:

Kinabalu copyYou can use this approach in any of my quilt designs that use a border print.  Each of the border prints currently in stock has the width and repeat information available. Just click on the small fabric image on our website to view the enlarged fabric with the design information attached (see image below).  Calculate the amount you will need for the framing borders by following the pattern and then map out any additional border print you might need to include in the blocks.

border swatchIs there a pattern on our website where you would like to change the border or color?  This is your chance to play around, experiment and have fun!

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Is There a Pattern for That?

Often on our Facebook page, we show pictures of quilts our customers have made using my fabrics and, inevitably, someone will ask if there is a pattern for it. Of course, we are more than happy to provide them with a pattern if it is one we carry or send them to another source, but sometimes we just don’t know. What, then, is a quilter to do if she falls in love with a block but can find no pattern? You can draft it yourself. Really, you can do it. It is not hard at all.

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I figured out years ago that most square patchwork designs were based on a grid such as a 2 x 2, 3 x 3, 4 x 4, 5 x 5, etc.

Starstruck side by side
A block from Starstruck* – this years’ block-of-the-month – with and without the grid.

Through the years, I’ve written several books on patterns and drafting with my most recent and comprehensive being, Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns, which has over 4000 pieced block patterns. It gives quilters a way to recreate each and every block in quilts of their own without all of the complicated math. (Don’t spread this around, but I really don’t like math.) All you have to do is look up the name of the block and see what grid is used.

QA with grid

Now, here is something that even people who have owned the book for a while sometimes don’t notice. Hidden in the back cover, under the jacket flap, are two plastic sheets full of grids. (Be sure to pull off the protective film.) Find the corresponding grid on the plastic sheet, place it over the design, and…..viola!  You can see which lines of the grid to connect to draw the design.

A block from The Quilter's Album of Patchwork Patterns with the transparency grid provided.
A block from The Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns with the transparency grid provided.

What do you do if you don’t own the book or don’t have it with you when you need it? I learned a valuable tip from a fellow passenger on an airplane years ago. Go to my “Tips & Lessons” page and click on “Drafting Quilt Blocks” for this easy technique.

*If you want to receive our free block-of-the-month patterns sign up for our monthly newsletter.

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Fibonacci and the Golden Ratio

A few blog posts ago, when I talked about the Golden Ratio, (1 to 1.618 or .618 to 1) there were several questions about how the golden ratio relates to the Fibonacci number sequence.

Leonardo Fibonacci was an Italian mathematician (c. 1170-1250) who devised a number sequence where the relationship of one number to the next or previous one provided perfect proportions. Mathematicians and artisans have been using this number sequence ever since. Some quilters use these numbers to plan proportion for their designs.

Da Vinci - the strips and the interior as well as the borders follow the Golden Ratio proportions
Da Vinci – the strips and the interior as well as the borders follow the Golden Ratio proportions

Fibonacci’s number sequence goes like this:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, etc.

Can you see how the numbers are determined? Here’s how the sequence works. Start by adding our first two numbers: 0+1=1. Go to the second and third numbers, 1+1=2, then 1+2=3 and so on. Each successive number is the sum of the previous two numbers.  You can select any number in the sequence. It is always the sum of the previous two numbers.  For example 21 is obtained by adding 8 and 13.

But in actual fact, this is virtually the same as the Golden Ratio.  As the numbers get higher the relationship between two adjacent ones approximates the golden ratio.  In fact from the 10th number on, you will get a value of almost 1.618 or .618 every time!

The rectangles and spirals shown here, illustrate exactly how the Golden Ratio relates to the Fibonacci sequence of numbers.

fibonacci golden ratio comparison both

Fibonacci Spiral:
Fibonacci begins with two squares, (1,1,) another is added the size of the width of the two (2) and another is added the width of the 1 and 2 (3). As more squares are added the ratio of the last two comes closer each time to the Golden Proportion (1.618 or .618). Put quarter circles in each of the squares to get the Fibonacci Spiral.

Golden Spiral:
The Golden Spiral begins with a square and a rectangle is added whose width is .618 of the first square. Another square is added that is the width of the first square and rectangle (1.618) This proportion continues so that all the relationships are either .618 or 1.618. Once again the spiral is achieved when quarter circles are drawn in each of the squares.

Comparison of the two spirals:
An overlay of the two spirals shows that at the beginning they do not match up but as Fibonacci’s numbers grow the two spirals are virtually the same. The Golden Gauge Calipers show that the spiral is in perfect Golden Ratio proportions, 1 to 1.618!

fibonacci golden ratio comparison1

All of this fascinates me. And I discovered that you can do the same type of number sequence starting with a different number. For example, we can call this one “Jinny’s Sequence”.

3, 3, 6, 9, 15, 24, 39, 63, 102, 165, etc.

Once again, by the time you get to the 10th number, and divide the 10th by the 9th you get very close to the Golden Ratio….1.6176

It seems to come out this way no matter which number you start with. So you may be asking yourself, do quilters really use this? My quilt, DaVinci was something of an ode to the proportion with the strip widths determined by this mathematical ratio.  I am a huge fan of the work of Caryl Bryer Fallert, who has created an entire Fibonacci series of quilts. Why don’t you give it a try?

If you find all this fascinating check out the previous blog posts on the Golden Ratio.


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Quilter’s Design Board

design board blocksHow many of you have never played around with our Design Board? Did you know that there are 223 free patterns in three different sizes (6, 10 and 12 inches) and that a new pattern is added each month?

The blocks are grouped by how they are drafted such as 4-patch, 5-patch, 8-pointed star, etc. First, choose a block. You can print out templates for three different block sizes along with a template guide. Then the blocks can be put into a quilt and borders can be changed. There is a yardage calculator that gives the style numbers of the fabrics used in the block and also will determine how much fabric you need based on how many and what size blocks you want to use. It will even give you an estimate of the cost and put your fabrics directly into your shopping cart.

You can view the design in color or by the line drawing.  You can also change the border selection.
You can view the design in color or by the line drawing. You can also change the border selection.


This months’ block is Golden Tile. First and foremost, the block gets its name because it contains the Golden Proportions as was explained in a recent blog post. If the Golden Gauge Calipers are opened so that the smaller space fits on the shorter segment of the design, the larger opening fits on the longer segment.

calipers on Golden Tile 2 The design board is limited and is not meant to take the place of your graphics program but serves as a jumping off point. There are some wonderful software programs available which provide you amazing design possibilities. For blocks such as Golden Tile which are directional, you do not get the chance in the design board to see some of the other possible layout variations. If you have a graphics program that allows you to tile, rotate and flip blocks, experiment with different layouts. Here are some variations.

All blocks are oriented the same way.
All blocks are oriented the same way.
Four blocks are pinwheeled and that unit repeats.
Four blocks are pinwheeled and that unit repeats.
In any four block unit, opposite blocks are reversed.
In any four block unit, opposite blocks are reversed.

I hope you take the chance to play around with our Quilter’s Design Board and don’t forget to send us pictures of the quilts you make from it.

P.S. Golden Ratio by accident or design?

Dana, our staffer who did the layout for the blog sent it to me for approval. As soon as I saw her layout, I couldn’t help myself. I had to get out the calipers. So often when we are doing design or layout work, we select the proportions that are most pleasing to us and so many times it seems to fit the proportions of the golden ratio!

golden ratio by accident or design

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The Magical Golden Ratio

It’s been said that the golden ratio (also called the golden proportion, golden mean or Phi) is the perfect proportion. The golden ratio certainly seems to have magical properties. It occurs in nature, in the human body and in animals, in ancient art and architecture, even in many of our quilt designs. Let’s do a little test. Pick out the illustration you find the most pleasing in each row. test I have given this test many times over the past decade and usually 75% will pick A, B, and B. If you picked these, you picked the shapes which have the Golden Ratio. So what is the golden ratio? OK, here comes some math. (Warning! Your eyes may be in danger of glazing over and your mind may wander. Never fear: it is only two sentences long.) It is the division of a line segment where the ratio is 1 to 1.618, one being the shorter length and 1.618 the longer one. It can also be the ratio of .618 to 1 where .618 is the shorter segment and 1 is the larger.

Most spirals found in nature fit the proportions of the golden ratio.

You will find that this ratio has been used throughout history. Some examples include the Greek Parthenon, the Great Pyramid at Giza, the paintings of Leonardo DaVinci. However, a truly fascinating aspect of this magical ratio is that it occurs so often in nature. For example, in a beehive there are fewer male bees than female bees. The ratio of males to females is the golden ratio! A pinecone has two sets of spirals, one with less spirals than the other…..the relationship between them is again the golden ratio. Look at the photos above of the shell and Romanesco broccoli as another example. The golden ratio is even evident throughout the human body, in the measurement from the top of the head to the chin and from the chin to the navel and from the navel to the floor. Measurements from the elbow to the wrist and wrist to the tip of the middle finger also fall into the golden proportion. If you are like me, you don’t like carrying a calculator around all the time and doing math, but you might be curious as to the proportions of various objects. Because of this I developed the Golden Gauge Calipers. This is a handy tool that eliminates the math and lets you see the golden proportions in objects. As the calipers are opened the shorter segment in relation to the longer one is the golden ratio and vice versa. 2. calipers open and closed When the calipers are opened so that the narrow space is the size of the width of oval A you will see that the wider portion of the calipers is the height. The same is true with triangle B. If you open the calipers to the narrow portion across the base of the triangle, the height will be the space between the wider portion of the calipers.

3. calipers on oval
Oval A

With the calipers on the Mariner’s compass B notice that the width of the smaller center circle is in “golden proportion” to the distance from the edge of that circle to the edge of the larger circle. calipers on compass Many patchwork designs contain divisions that are either very close to or exactly the golden ratio. Are designs with golden proportions more pleasing to the eye?  Take a look at Duck and Ducklings and Whirling Five Patch, shown here. It is apparent that the designs have the same basic pattern. The difference is that one is drafted on a 5 x 5 grid and the other on a 14 x 14 grid. Which one is most appealing to you? I personally find Duck and Ducklings a little clunky and like the fact that Whirling Five Patch contains divisions that are not all the same. The Golden Gauge Calipers placed on the design shows that the width of the center division to the adjacent one almost fits golden ratio proportions.

two blocks side by side
Duck & Ducklings and Whirling Five Patch

The Whirling Five Patch with calipersUnknowingly, quilters when planning widths for borders automatically choose this proportion because it “feels” right. In one of the upcoming blogs we will take a look at borders and how to determine a pleasing size.

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How to Get a Quilt Book Published…By Accident

People often ask me how I got into writing books. The first one came as a fluke and the others just fell into place.

I started teaching patchwork to small groups in my home in the mid 70’s and there were very few quilt books or patterns available. If you wanted a pattern for a quilt you had to draft it yourself. I figured out that most square patchwork designs were based on a “grid”. The square was divided into a grid of 3 x 3, 4 x 4, 5 x 5 etc. If you knew what grid was used for the block, it was simply a matter of following the lines of the grid to get the design.

Mosaic together

I figured out a no math way to fold paper to get the designs and after teaching it for a few years people were amazed at how easy it. Let’s use the block above, a 4×4 grid which is simpler than it seems. Decide what size block you want and make a square that size out of paper. Fold the square in half, side to side, then in half again, bottom to top. This will produce a “grid” of four squares. Can you see now how the design is created? If not, fold it in half each way again. Now you can see that is made up of simple half-square triangles.

So one day, my Quilters’ Newsletter magazine arrived and in it was an article on how to draft an eight-pointed star. It talked about the Pythagorean Theorem, pi and all sorts of other math terminology. I was completely confused, particularly since I had figured out a very easy way to draft the design by folding paper.

Bonnie Leman_1991_LCPQ_74
Bonnie Leman

I wrote a letter to Bonnie Leman, founder and editor of Quilters’ Newsletter, and showed her my method. In a rash moment, I also wrote, “Furthermore I’m explaining this and how to draft other patterns in the book I am writing on pattern drafting.”

Bonnie phoned me when she received my letter and said how she was so excited about my book and who was publishing it? I kind of hemmed and hawed and said I didn’t have a publisher yet. She said that she might be interested in publishing it and could I bring what I have done so far to a conference we would both be attending the next month. I didn’t want to tell Bonnie that I hadn’t actually started the book, so for the next month I prepared outlines, did illustrations, wrote sample chapters, etc.

Patchwork PatternsWhile it turned out to be a larger project than Bonnie imagined, she encouraged me to find another publisher, and I did. My first book, Patchwork Patterns, had 500 patterns and was organized in categories according to the grid used for drafting them. The book is out of print and I’ve written other, more comprehensive ones since, but that one is still special to me. So that, my friends, is how you accidentally get a quilt book published.

An upcoming blog post will show you how to figure out the grid.

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How to Cut Perfect Diamonds

feature photo ruler diamonds blog

In the last few years, I’ve been revisiting the diamond shape in patchwork, exploring new design possibilities and experimenting with shading and color. Although I love my chalk and scissors, I had to admit that rotary cutting fabric strips and patches was much faster. But I soon became convinced that there wasn’t a good ruler available to streamline the cutting, trimming and marking of diamond patches. (Trust me, I tried a bunch!)

Finally I decided to design my own ruler, which I call the 60 Degree Perfect Cut Ruler.  With it, you can measure and cut up to six inch diamonds, as well as equilateral triangles for six-pointed stars, that come out perfect every time.


Just line up the ruler with the strip to cut perfect diamonds
Just line up the ruler with the strip to cut perfect diamonds


You can also use the ruler for strips, so you don’t need one ruler for diamonds and triangles and another for strips. This ruler is great for cutting strips of the desired width, cutting out diamond or triangle patches, and trimming points. You can even mark intersecting angles when cutting Y intersections: simply mark the dots with a chalk mechanical pencil and then sew between the dots. It’s so easy! (There’s a video on my website where I demonstrate how to both machine sew and hand sew inset seams.)


It's easy to mark intersecting angles
It’s easy to mark intersecting angles


The ruler is small enough to slip into your bag when you travel but large enough so you can cut up to six inch fabrics at 1/4 inch intervals.


The ruler works well on any color fabric, light or dark.
The ruler works well on any color fabric, light or dark


Some people have asked me why I chose the green color for my ruler. The color may seem bright, but we experimented with many different colors, and this one shows up on any light or dark fabric – including prints.

My latest quilt, Florentine, includes 60 degree diamonds you can quickly and accurately cut and mark using my Perfect Cut 60º Diamond Ruler. The pattern is a free download from either RJR Fabrics or our website, and you can choose from two rich colorways. The quilt is made from fabrics from my Milan fabric collection, which is available from your local quilt shop.


My Florentine Quilt comes in two colorways
My Florentine Quilt comes in two colorways


I also make two additional sizes of diamond templates for cutting, trimming and marking seam intersections when cutting diamonds from 2 1/4″ or 2 1/2″ strips. They are available separately, as a set of two or in combination with my Perfect Cut 60 Degree Ruler.

To get more tips on using your Perfect Cut 60 Degree Ruler, visit the Tips section of our website.

Happy Quilting!

signature Jinny