Pinwheels, Whirlygigs, and Lots of Whirlygiggles

Whirlygiggles have been turning their scrappy little cartwheels across my sewing studio floor, tables, and sewing machine for a very long time. So, I thought I'd share one of my many tutorials to get us going for 2014. We can all do scrappy whirling, giggling, and lots and lots of cartwheels!

Also known as Scrappy Cartwheels, the template based quilt block is an oldie but goodie, with a new twist and a slightly different turn.

The carefree term 'whirlygiggles' has actually been around since 2002, but it was used by computer geeks, video game players, and home brew makers for various techniques or concepts as a modern twist on whirlygigs. Used as a twist of the tongue malapropism, it makes for a cute name for an old favorite...a variation of the pinwheel or windmill block, known as the scrappy cartwheel.

In the quilting world, the basic quilting designs for pinwheels, cartwheels, whirlygigs, and their name variation, whirlygiggles, have been around for a long time, as have templates and the much newer strip cutting techniques.

And of course, 'everything old is new again'. So, when whirlygigs and whirlygiggles(aka scrappy cartwheels) made a resurgence in popularity...and just re-purposed into its newer, more liberated version.

Patterns and templates have long been created and used for many versions of pinwheels of all kinds. Our our own mothers and grandmothers had already made quilts from the pattern using cereal box cardboard and pencil drawings for those very same blocks and turned them into beautiful and varied quilts.

Still, the free-wheeling spirit of all of the pinwheel and cartwheel shapes brought in a resurgence of its popularity. And, while credit may have been given many times (for the both the name and the pattern design) just like all of our memes or transmissions of information that mutate as they spread, the cute little whirlygig changed derivation, creation, and accreditation, as it whirled, gigged, and no doubt giggled, through time.

Similar to a basic pinwheel block, but with slanted, unequal fans or blades, it requires either template or pieced cuts, and not just strip cutting and piecing. It's a bit more work, but creates such a fun look that it's almost worth the extra work ;)

My whirlygiggles were made with the traditional template most of you have used, rather than the paper piecing that some have put out this year as an alternate variation to scrappy cartwheels. Using simple cutting and piecing, with a similar, but still different look.

Directions/Photo Tutorial: How to make a pinwheel, scrappy cartwheel, whirlygig, or whirlygiggle quilt:

Step 1. Design
Make a pattern/templates from cardboard or plastic. I made 3" individual sections, 4 of them go into one finished 5" block.

There are four sections to a block. Each section consists of a blade and a background. I used dots versus plain wedges to show the use of contrasting fabric sections. Each section is drawn by making a dissecting line across the mid-line. (see photo above) On one side the dissecting point is 1/4" above the mid-line. On the other side, the dissecting point is 1/4" below the mid-line.

Each segment requires 2 light wedges, and 2 dark wedges. A total of 4 each per block. My 36" quilt required 6 blocks x 6 blocks or 36 blocks. 4 x 36 = 144 lights, 144 darks.
A 42" quilt would require 7 blocks across x 7 blocks down. Repeat the math.

Step 2: Cutting
Rotary or scissor cut 3" strips of both focus (print) and background (dots) fabrics. (Be sure to check quilting assistants for missing pieces.)

Now using your print or focus fabric cut wedges by hand with scissors, from layered strips. I cut 4 at a time, moving wedges down the strip as you cut.

For my quilt I needed a total of 144 light dots, and 144 dark print wedges. Continue to cut all of each set of wedges.

Step 3: Sewing of first segments
Begin sewing one light wedge to one dark wedge on one side as shown. I chain sewed the sets and then snipped the sections apart from the chain and pressed them each open.


Step 4: Sewing of block formation
Once all of the individual wedge sections are finished you then sew sets of two to another set of two as shown. This creates the windmill affect.

Step 5: Trimming and design placement of blocks
Each finished block should be trimmed down evenly. Mine became a 5" block, which were then placed into block formation in preparation for sashing strips around all sides of the block.

Step 6: Add sashings and borders
Sashings are cut and sewed on as for any quilt. Mine are 2 1/2" strips placed both vertically and horizontally to further enhance the spinning effect. I added 3" borders to the sides and later used, a deeper binding seam for stability with the flannel sashing.

Again, check your multiplying quilt assistants for any missing sections! My assistant works as a"liberated front freedom fighter".....rather than members of the quilt police.... and not only make quilting more interesting, but keep me working on the forefront of task at hand and not on perfection. That translates to a lot of trouble and extra work with any of my quilt loving cats ;)

Step 7: Quilting
I choose to use black crochet cotton and tied my quilt. I wanted that old fashioned soft look and because I loved the look of black on the black and white with brown and gold, I did get what has been called 'little flies' on the back. Mine are tied in the center of each whirlygig. I loved the quirkiness of little black flies with all of my 2 x 2 animals in the whirlygigs.

(I named my quilt 'Shoo Flies, Don't Bother Me' and laughed the whole time I was tying them ;)

Step 8: BindingMy binding is sewn front over to back, with a naturally mitering corner that is extra deep. A look that I love in old quilts made without rules. Using my 3" binding strips gave me the soft rounded corners I wanted in contrast to the geometric look of the whirlygigs.

To keep the corners rounded without caving in, I simply inserted a small 1" square of batting into each corner to maintain each corner's shape. Add your own homemade label...mine are photo paper transfers I made myself...and you're done! My finished quilt is 47" x 47"of fun.


'Shoo Flies, Don't Bother Me'...a fun, quirky, free-wheeling quilt made entirely from scraps.... cartwheeling and whirlygiggling with great action and soft rounded corners, bringing delight to my quilting assistants and myself...all across my studio floor.

And the shoe flies? Those are the little black crochet thread quilting knots...which I just love! ...adding so much visual and tactile interest!

Michele Bilyeu blogs With Heart and Hands as she shares a quilting journey through her life in Salem, Oregon and Douglas, Alaska. Sewing, quilting, and wildcrafting, with small format art quilts, prayer flags, and comfort quilts for a variety of charitable programs. And best of all, sharing thousands of links to Free Quilt and Quilt Block Patterns and encouraging others to join her and make and donate quilts to charitable causes. Help us change the world, one little quilt at a time!