Monday, February 28, 2011

... bits and blocks

what follows is a "tutorial" for making blocks for the march quilt for do. good stitches. please forgive the less-than-optimal photos: seattle is under an enormous black cloud at the moment and i needed to get this done today. also, forgive my less than stellar explanations. i have never done any kind of tutorial before, and my own style of sewing is of the "winging it" variety, so explaining this didn't come easy to me. please feel free to let me know if you have specific questions or if you need help with a step.

now that the disclaimers are done, let's make some blocks!

bits and-blocks fabrics

this month i want everyone to make 2 blocks that measure 6-1/2 x 24-1/2 inches each. the color palette is grey and yellow (one that i can never get enough of). for your solid background fabric you can use any solid grey of your choosing. i used kona coal, but you can use a light grey, medium grey, dark grey... whatever. just so long as it's solid and it's grey, it doesn't matter. for your bits please use yellow print fabrics, but with more of a greenish tinge (as opposed to orangish). i used several fabrics from denyse schmidt's hope valley collection, which i think are a good reference if you're not sure what shade of yellow i'm going for. but whatever, i'm not picky. your prints can also have other colors in them, but make sure they're neutral accents (meaning grey, black, brown or khaki, as opposed to red, purple or pink, etc.)

the technique for making these blocks is one i learned from the fabulous katie pedersen in her improvisational patchwork class. check out her lovely tumbling blocks pillow, which shows you what i'm going for. this is a technique that's also used in joelle hoverson's last-minute patchwork + quilted gifts in the "little bits" quilt. if you own this book (and why wouldn't you?) you should reference the technique here as it goes into more detail than i will.

solid cut

so, once you've selected your fabrics, you're going to start by cutting out blocks of your solid grey. to determine how much you need, you're going to need to do a little rough math to figure out how much to cut. i used five different print fabrics, so i cut five different grey rectangles. and because i know i will need these to ultimately make two blocks that are 24-1/2 inches long each, i will need at least 49 inches of finished length in grey, plus a generous amount added on for seam allowances. i ended up cutting five grey blocks (to go with my five different yellow fabrics) that are 6 inches high (this will be standard for each block) and 12 inches long. i figured that 5 x 12 = 60, and 11 extra inches would give me enough for seam allowance, but i was wrong. it ended up being just shy of what i needed, so i made one more small block at the end to round out my length (so maybe i should have made my grey blocks 13 inches long instead). if you use more prints than i did, your grey blocks don't have to be so long. yes, i said my math was rough. if you have a better way of figuring this out, go for it! but since a lot of this piecing is improvisational, it's hard to know exactly how much you will need. if you're at all worried, just err on the generous side and you should have enough.

and now we're done with math... whew!

solid diagonal cut

the next thing you will do is turn your grey rectangle on end and cut it diagonally lengthwise. you can cut at any angle you like, but just make sure you don't get closer than one inch to the corners of your fabric. also make sure you are cutting these blocks at a variety of angles (to the left, to the right, more angled, less angled, etc), as this is what will give your finished blocks the most visual interest.

diagonal strip placement

next, cut a strip of one of your prints that is long enough to fit into the middle of your cut grey rectangle. you can make this strip any width you like, but it needs to be wider than an 1-1/2 inches and probably no bigger than 3 inches.

diagonal strip sewn

now go ahead and sew that strip between your two grey pieces.

cut strips

next, just square off the edges and cut this block into strips in any width of your choosing. i think these blocks look nice with a variety of widths so feel free to free-form it here.

and, honestly, the tricky part is over. just repeat the above steps for your remaining grey rectangles and yellow prints and you'll end up with a whole bunch of strips.

strip arrangement

now the fun part comes. you get to arrange your strips into whatever pleasing formation you like. you'll notice here, though, that the strips won't be exactly the same height, but they should all be over 6-1/2 inches high. that's okay though, because you're going to trim them up when you're done.

strips pieced

go ahead and sew those strips together. if you're a fancy pants you can do some chain piecing, and if you're slow like me you can just sew one at a time. just make sure that the finished length for each block is at least 24-1/2 inches.

when you're done piecing these together, trim your blocks down so that they measure 6-1/2 x 24-1/2 inches.

trimmed blocks

and now you have your finished blocks!

(i know that was a lot of words for what you will come to realize is a really easy block to make. but please please please let me know if anything doesn't make sense and i can try and help you out!)


  1. Woah nelly! One, I love this, and Two, what are those two middle prints in the first photo?? I'm doing another quilt right now with that same shade & those two would be per.fect.

  2. Great tutorial and awesome blocks! I love yellow and grey!

  3. thanks!

    amanda: the squarish blocks are glass tiles in lemon from michael miller. unfortunately i have no idea with the polka dot fabric is or where i got it!

  4. very fun! Can't wait to try this!

  5. i'm going to try this as a gift for a baby boy, and am thinking about using different colors for the patterned parts of strips for different blocks--one in greens, one in oranges and so on. i can't wait to see how yours comes together to see if my idea will work or if i should stick to one color.

  6. i did one rectangle with a 1.5 inch patterned strip and when i trimmed the finished block it ended up being shy of 6.5 inches tall because of the skinny strip pieces. maybe i did something wrong but i think the strips need to be at least 2 inches.

  7. hi robin: the six inch block with the 1-1/2 inch strip should yield a perfect 6-1/2 inch block with 1/4 inch seam allowances, which is why i made that the minimum measurement. i think i cut my strips all slightly larger than that because i never trust my own seam allowances and would rather just trim things down when i'm done. sorry it didn't work out for you! but if it's not imperative that your blocks all be exactly 6-1/2 inches high, then maybe you can just trim yours down to the smallest size when you're done? can't wait to see how yours turns out!

  8. thank you for the tutorial. I had to stop reading and go try a block, I will post pics and a link back to you once I get it photographed.thanks again,Amy

  9. Cute!

    Made block for baby last night.

  10. This quilt is absolutely PERFECT for my boys' new bunkbed that my hubby made for them. I cannot WAIT to try it out- thank you so much for the wonderful tutorial :D

  11. I love me. What was it the end?

  12. Thanks for posting this tutorial. What a great way to use up scrap strips.

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