Last time I checked in RE: Bowie pillow, I shared fabric choices. The next step is cutting triangles for the flying geese blocks.

And when it came to calculating triangle dimensions for my custom design, I did it the hard way. Then I did it the easy way.

I will show you the easy way first, and then we can giggle over my overcomplication. Follow these steps to cut your own custom-sized flying geese blocks, you quilt designer, you!

Step 1: Understand what you’re cutting.

To make custom-sized flying geese blocks, cut one large square and four small squares. These five squares will yield four flying geese blocks. Check it out:

One large square makes four “geese.” Four small squares make eight pieces of “sky.”

Think about this as you work up your flying geese design. There’s a opportunity to reduce fabric waste.

Step 2: Determine square widths.


Please note that finished widths do not include seam allowances.

Finished widths confused me when I started making my own custom-sized flying geese blocks for the Bowie pillow.

The finished width for the small square is the length of one of its sides. That I understood, no problem.

But when I looked at the finished width for the large square, all I could see was the hypotenuse of a right triangle.

Don’t make your brains hurt by only seeing the hypotenuse. Instead, use the above handy-dandy flying geese block diagram. So. Much. Easier.

Flying geese blocks always are one square tall by two squares wide. That said, the small square finished width always is one-half the large square finished width.

Look at your custom flying geese design, and, based on how big you want your quilted object to be, determine your large square and small square finished widths.

Step 3: Perform flying geese math.

Here’s how to calculate the side lengths of the squares — including seam allowances. These formulas are from “1, 2, 3 Quilt“:

Large square side length = Finished width + 1 1/4 inches
Small square side length = Finished width + 7/8 inches

For example, if the large square finished width is 9 inches, add 1 1/4 inches to get the large square side length (10 1/4 inches).

Step 4: Cut one large square.


Use the large square side length (calculated above) to cut one large square. Then cut the large square, corner to corner, into four triangles.

Step 5: Cut four small squares.

Use the small square side length (calculated above) to cut four small squares. Then cut each small square into two right triangles.

Hooray! You just made eight small triangles, and you’re ready to sew the blocks. I’ll cover sewing blocks in a future post with diagrams and pictures.

How to overcomplicate custom-sized flying geese blocks

I didn’t pick up what “1, 2, 3 Quilt” was throwing down when it came to figuring out custom-sized flying geese blocks. You can see from my drawing that I figured out finished widths for small and large squares (4 1/2 inches and 9 inches, respectively).

However, there wasn’t a drawing like the one I made in Step 2 above to spell out WHERE I could find these measurements. Instead, when referring to the square side length formulas, the book read, “The finished width … refers to the finished size of the block once it’s sewn into the quilt top.”

So naturally I turned to the Pythagorean theorem to calculate the large square side length. Behold:

Yeah, I was really hung up on that hypotenuse thing, and it overcomplicated everything. Sometimes your brain struggles to look at a picture from a different angle.

In the end, I found a video or another blog post that set me straight. My gut told me I was making this harder than it needed to be and that the measurements should come out “nice” — not 6.36 inches (yuck). This is a case of taking the scenic route through a challenge.

My Bowie pillow flying geese blocks came out a-OK, and I was inspired to share my missteps to aid other novice quilters.

Over to you: When was the last time you used the Pythagorean theorem? How do you deal when directions don’t make sense? Are you inspired to draw tons of flying geese blocks in a graph paper notebook ? Please share!

P.S. Thanks for hanging on till the end! I have big Sie macht news! I will write exhaustive directions for the Bowie pillow. So, if you dig on this flying geese pillow pattern, I’ll provide you with all the fabric dimensions and whatnot so you can make your own!