Today didn't start out well. I awoke feeling ill again, and like a steam roller had flattened me while I slept. Nothing wanted to move. When I forced the issue, everything creaked and popped like sound effects in a scary cartoon. Is there some kind of weird initiation rite into the sixth decade of life that I wasn't warned about?
My only wish after breakfast was to crawl back in bed and sleep, but I dragged myself to my sewing machine instead and started sorting and pressing the pieced units for my Sunrise, Sunset blocks that I had sewn several weeks ago. As I worked, the rhythmic pace of a repetitive task that required some degree of mental concentration seemed to ease my headache and sinus pain. I think most crafts are just as good as aspirin-like medications and don't have horrid side effects!
While I was sorting, I was reminded of the value of a test block and remembered that I forgot to talk about this topic. I made a test block weeks ago for the obvious reason of seeing if I liked my chosen fabrics in this block. Colors and fabrics that look good together on paper or in software programs like Electric Quilt or Quilt Pro can look quite different in reality. A test block will show how the real fabrics play together.
There are a few other good reasons for making test blocks, too. As I assemble my test blocks, I also test my pressing chart and work out any problems I may encounter. With the Sunrise, Sunset block, I quickly learned that positive/negative blocks aren't as simple as they look. Seams have to be sewn and pressed just right or a completely different design develops. Today, I found nine units that must be taken apart and resewn because the half-square triangles are going the wrong way!
Test blocks also show me how fabrics will behave as they're worked with. I quickly learned that my light fabric ravels rather easily while my dark fabric doesn't ravel at all. As I sew, I'll take care to be more gentle with my light pieces. Another option is to starch the lights. I rarely use starch or sizing unless a fabric ravels so badly that it can't be used otherwise, but that's my personal preference.
My last reason for making a test block is that I use it as my road map for making all the other blocks. I find it easier to refer to a real block as I work rather than a diagram on paper.