I added a Works In Progress page to the masthead — go look!

I know that there are more UFOs from pre-2013 in here somewhere, but these are the ones that I could immediately identify. The ones from 2013 aren’t up there yet, but I’ll put them there soon.

In other news, I’ll leave you with this funny picture:


This is from a few years ago (2011, I think?) when my dear friend Sue (and others!) came down from Michigan to retreat with me at the Red Rooster Retreat on Smith Lake. She and Jerry are friends too, so he came down to say hello. This pic was taken during the group photo session outside that always seems to happen on the Saturday of a retreat with a bunch of women. It always makes me giggle when I see it. I’m the grumpy one in the background.

“I’m glad [you] happened to be awake.”

If you don’t know that line, it’s from Jane Eyre, and it was posted on Facebook on the morning of March 19, 2012 by my dear friend, Christa.

You see, the night before, she had been house-sitting for us when the smoke alarms went off. She rescued all four of our geriatric animals from our house before the fire department arrived. She ran back into the building again — in bare feet — and opened the front door so that the firefighters wouldn’t break it down. And she threw a quilt onto the fire, which horrified me at the time but ultimately probably kept the fire from reaching the ceiling and attic. She saved our house from being more damaged than it was, and I had been uncertain about how to repay heroism like that. Jokingly I had told her “I’m going to make you a superhero cape,” but decided that would be a little silly. And not really practical. We live in Alabama, after all. People would stare.

In any case, we saw her once after the fire, after the house had been fully gutted but before any real work had been done to put it back together again. We took her out to dinner, and that was all we had done to say thank you. It bothered me for a year, really — I wanted to do something more tangible than just thanking her, you know? But how do you really say thank you?

And then in May of this year, it hit me. I was pressing the final block in a Block-of-the-Month program from the Fat Quarter Shop that I had signed up for last summer. Suddenly, I knew who that project had been for the entire time and why I had been so driven to stay caught up with it. Even the colors were right — Christa’s favorite color is red. She also likes green, but not usually those two colors together because her birthday is really close to Christmas. I know this because I asked her last winter, casually, what her favorite colors were so I could start formulating a plan for a quilt for her. I was going to do library books on a shelf — she’s a graduate student in English Literature, after all — but that felt kind of cheesy, somehow.

… To tell this story right, I have to go back to last summer.

Last summer was REALLY hot here. And it was really hot very early, too. There was a week in June that it was 106F for the whole week, and that was the week Helen was at Camp McDowell without any air conditioning. That was also the week that Alice and I were trapped inside with all of the blinds down and closed in the rental house because the air conditioning didn’t work. We had managed to get the house functional, but I was very frustrated that I didn’t have a design wall and yet the summer was stretched out in front of me and I needed to sew for the therapy.

Fat Quarter Shop had a new Designer Mystery Block of the Month, and so I signed up for it. I wasn’t familiar with the fabric line that they were using, but several of my local friends had done the FQS BOM in the past and had raved about the quality of the instructions and the amount of fabric you were sent each month. If you were really careful with your cutting, they said, you could actually get TWO blocks cut from the supplies sent each month, and have enough for two quilts at the end of the year. So I signed up. I decided that it would be good “prescription sewing” — the fabric and instructions would tell me exactly what to do each month — and the lack of a design wall wouldn’t be a problem.

The first month’s fabric and instructions came, and I made one block, some extra pinwheels and half-square triangles, and I still had fabric left over. Not quite enough of the white to make a second block, but almost. I did go find more white locally and make the second block, though. Couldn’t stand it.

Month One

As the months went on, I was able to make two blocks every time:

Through Month Three

And extras:


And then school started and Jerry got hurt and we moved and I got a little behind. But I caught up again at a retreat in February:

Through Month Eight

and again during Lent:

Through Month Ten

and then the end of school ate up all of my free time from mid-April until the end of May. But in May, I finished the last two blocks. And that’s when I realized that this quilt had been for Christa the whole time.

So I had 24 blocks. I could set them 4×6 and it would have been 58″ wide and 84″ long before borders, which just seemed like a weird size to give to a person. Then I realized that if I made one more block, it could be 72″ square for a straight setting before borders, or about 80″ square if I set them on point. I tried them on point, and LOVED the look — they were beautiful blocks before, but they just SANG when on point.

So I made a house block to go in the center, and tossed them up on the design wall, which I finally had again:

Twenty-Five Blocks and a HOUSE

In the house block I used some of those extra pinwheel blocks that I had been making from the cuttings the whole time:

house block

And then I added solid sashings and setting triangles to make it square again. Oh, and a cat. Always the cat.

Finished Quilt Top

Once I knew who the quilt was for, I couldn’t WAIT to get it finished for her. While Jerry was on his scuba trip in June, I layered the quilt and basted it, and started quilting it from the center.

House block, quilted

In the window, I quilted a cat to symbolize the four animals she saved: Emily, Tango, Linus, and Logic.
In the door, I quilted the panels that she had protected.
In the rear right of the roof, I quilted flames. And there are smoke puffs all around the house on the ground.

Helen wanted me to quilt “THANK YOU, CHRISTA-SAVE-THE-HOUSE” (which is her name, of course) around the house, but I told Helen that this needed to be, first and foremost, a quilt. To Christa, it can have more meaning, but she shouldn’t have to explain why she has it unless she really wants to. So I wanted all of the symbolism to be subtle.

And then I just had a wonderful time quilting it. The whole machine quilting process took me less than a week, which is just insane for a quilt this size. But I kept the plan manageable so the quilt will be soft to snuggle under.

Friday interfered as much as possible.

Friday on the quilt

sashing quilting

I used my grandmother’s lampshade to get the curve for the swags in the setting triangles… Took a while to find a curve that was the right size for that space. If Jerry had been here he would have said, “Use a MIXING BOWL!” like he did when I shared this with him the night he got home. But he wasn’t home, so I used a lampshade.


And then I put the binding on it. This simple act gave me a huge sense of closure, actually.

Binding going on

And then it was DONE!

Finished quilt

from the side

more swag



Today, I gave it to her. She wasn’t expecting a present, which made it even more fun. Surprisingly, I didn’t cry when giving it to her, either. That’s completely weird for me. I cry very easily, and would have expected that. But I didn’t.

Christa with her quilt


So thank you again, Christa. I’m glad you happened to be awake, too. (And I did write that on the label after I took the picture… Decided that phrase needed to be there too.)

Alice by the numbers

(photo-heavy post today… even more than the last two!)

Today is Alice’s 9th birthday, so I thought it would be a good day to post about the making of her new bedquilt.

When I repainted her bedroom periwinkle a few years ago, her original quilt didn’t match as well. It still looked fine, but it didn’t look like it had been made for that room, if that makes any sense. I saw Swoon blocks popping up all the time on Flickr, so I grabbed a piece of graph paper and drew out the block pattern. The pattern I linked to has 24″ finished blocks and uses fat quarters of fabric, but I wanted to be able to use my batik charm squares (I had probably close to 500 of those 5″ squares to choose from) and 2.5″ strips of natural fabric (I had most of two jelly rolls of natural batiks), so I had to resize the block to 16″ to use what I had. I really didn’t want to go out and purchase new stuff for this, partly because of the financial implications of doing that and partly because I’m discovering that I really like a scrappy look for my quilts.

I scribbled out calculations and measurements on a scrap of envelope that stayed next to my sewing machine for a long time as I assembled all of the blocks. I wish I still had that scrap of paper because it was kind of cool how I did it, but I think I threw it out after the fire since the quilt top was totally assembled by then.

Anyway… I figured out that I needed 2 different contrasting colors for the blocks themselves (8 charms of one color and 7 of the other to get the full block), plus the 2.5″ strips of natural batiks. I went through my batik charms stash and sorted them all by color. Then I found groupings of 8 and 7 of the same color and value that could work together in a single block. I paired the groupings to get a good balance of colors, and started cutting them and prepping the blocks.

(All of this busywork was occurring while I discovered “Downton Abbey,” by the way, so this quilt will be forever tethered to that show for me. I made the quilt top as I watched the first two seasons, and quilted it while thinking about the third season between episodes: there’s no TV in my sewing room anymore.)

So. Here’s several blocks prepped and pinned together, ready for a chain-piecing marathon back in February of 2012:

chain piecing prep

I made a few blocks to see if I liked them done scrappy, and I did! Each block has 81 pieces of fabric in it after I cut all of the required elements.

six blocks

So I kept going. At this point I wasn’t making the quilt for Alice yet, but as it grew she got attached to it and wanted it for her room, especially after I made a periwinkle block.

Occasionally I would make a block with really bizarre color combinations, just to see how it would come out. This one ultimately ended up being my absolute favorite block in the quilt, so I put it in the center so that it will show no matter how she makes her bed. I will definitely explore more quilts with this color combination — very striking.
acid green and brown/black

So it grew…
9 blocks

And grew…
12 blocks

And the more blocks I made the more obsessed with this quilt I got. I couldn’t stop! Luckily I wasn’t finished watching the first two seasons of Downton yet, so I had plenty of TV to entertain me while I cut and cut and cut and pinned and pinned and pinned and pressed and pressed and pressed… The blocks are really cool, but I won’t lie: they’re quite tedious to make.

And it still grew…
19 blocks

I ended up making a total of 23 blocks so I’d be able to choose the best ones for Alice’s room that would give the best balance to the quilt. I’m very glad I did that, rather than forcing the red and gray one to be in it, and another green and black one… And I had one more that was kind of a repeat of one I had already made and I didn’t notice until it was done, so it was also eliminated from the final quilt.

This photo was taken on February 27, 2012, when I finally had the whole top sewn together:
quilt top

There are 1699 fabric pieces in the top, including all 20 blocks, all of the cornerstones, and all of the sashing pieces. Yes, I counted them. This is what I do to entertain myself when I’m machine quilting. My mind wanders, and usually goes to math. It’s a sickness.

And I had all of these little 2″x2.5″ cuttings left over from the batik charms, so I assembled those into little strip sets while I was at it:
strip sets

And made a Dresden Plate out of them:
Dresden Plate

Which I assembled into a pillow for a swap that I was in on Flickr:
Pillow Swap
(The one on the left is the pillow I received in the same swap — I thought they looked really cool together.)

The above photo was taken on March 10, 2012. This photo was taken a month before, while I was working on the Swoon quilt, but other things were on the design wall at the time. The TV was at the other end of the room, so if I was standing at the cutting table or ironing, I could see it. I’d pause Downton, go chain piece, and then stand up and watch until I was prepped and ready to sew again.
sewing setup

Around the 15th of March, I put the Swoon quilt back up on the wall (I had to have something up at low levels all the time to protect the design wall from the cats, who would claw it if the soft batting was exposed). I left on the morning of the 18th for my trip to Nashville with the Randolph kids. Then the frantic phone call from our house/petsitter Christa and the next morning I came home to this in my husband’s office upstairs:

burnt office

(PSA: please check your smoke detectors. If ours hadn’t gone off and alerted Christa, the fire would have jumped to the attic, shot across the house, and we would have lost everything. We lost a tremendous amount, but we didn’t lose everything. If not for the smoke detectors and Christa’s quick thinking, I’d be telling a very different story now.)

Back to Alice’s quilt.

It was on the design wall when the house filled with smoke. I carefully pulled it down, and my friend Claire washed it for me in her bathtub and laid it out on her back patio, smoothing the seams as much as possible. When I was ready to face it again, in late summer of last year, I re-pressed all gazillion seams and starched it smooth again, so that I could layer it and prepare it for quilting.

Emily helped me baste the quilt, as always:
Emily supervises

and kept getting in the way, also as always:
Emily's in the way

Those photos were taken August 13 of last year in the rental house, about 5 weeks before Emily died of kidney failure. I have a audionote of her talking to me that night that I’ll treasure. I knew we were nearing the end with her because she was starting to get obsessed with water.

I wanted to start quilting it, but life got in the way…
My husband did this to himself:
Shattered Collarbone

And then Emily died, and then we moved, and then school got really busy, so time got away from me during first semester. And then I was scared of it because I didn’t want to mess it up. But finally, FINALLY, in January, after finishing three other quilts the first 2 weeks of January, I worked up my nerve:
Swoon under the needle

I quilted the swoon blocks simply, and then had a blast in the negative space. I got a lot better at feathers in odd spaces, and I figured out how to quilt a double helix!
Double Helix

And then I finished it! Binding took a while… it’s big. And I had a lot of interference.
Binding and Tango

Finished Quilt

Favorite Block


blue block



On the bed


And Alice LOVES it!

Alice and her quilt

It took around 40 hours to machine quilt the whole thing. I’m very glad I took my time and waited until I was truly ready to quilt this one, rather than rushing it to get it done. I’m finding a lot of pleasure in custom quilting my quilts these days, so it’s hugely satisfying when I finish one.

I’m hoping she’ll let me borrow it to enter it in the local quilt show this fall. She may not. We shall see.

Mad as a Hatter Modern Quilt Tutorial

Modern Quilt Pattern
© 2012 by Elaine Wick Poplin

UPDATED 3/23/2016 to remove bizarre symbols that were added in the most recent WordPress update. My apologies if you’ve had difficulty reading this tutorial in the past month — I was unaware that there was an issue until this morning.

Mad as a Hatter Quilt

This quilt block is very simple to make with little waste and lots of opportunity for variation. Please feel free to contact me at epoplin (at) gmail (dot) com or @epoplin on Twitter if you have questions/suggestions about the pattern so I can improve the tutorial.

March Hare

24″x24″ wall-hanging or or 12″x48″ table runner:
¾ yard light solid
¾ yard dark solid
4 1″x30″ strips of brightly colored fabrics that contrast well with the light/dark solids

60″x72″ lap quilt:
2¼ yards light solid
2¼ yards dark solid
30 1″x30″ strips of different brightly-colored fabrics that contrast well with the light/dark solids

Wall-hanging/Table Runner Cutting Instructions
Light Solid
Cut 1 (one) 6.5″ strip WOF
– cross-cut 2 (two) 6.5″ squares from this strip
– set aside remaining piece of this strip.
Cut 2 3.5″ strips WOF
– cross-cut each strip into 2 (two) 7.5″ segments and 2 (two) 13.5″ segments
Dark Solid

Repeat same cutting instructions as for Light Solid.
Brights Cross-cut each 30″ strip:
– 2 (two) 6.5″ pieces
– 2 (two) 7.5″ pieces
You should end up with
2 6.5″ squares each of Light Solid and Dark Solid
4 3.5″x7.5″ pieces each of Light Solid and Dark Solid
4 3.5″x13.5″ pieces each of Light Solid and Dark Solid
plus the 30″ multi-colored bright 1″ strips cut into 4 pieces each.

Lap Quilt Cutting Instructions
Light Solid
Cut 2 (two) 6.5″ strips WOF (width of fabric)
– cross-cut into 6 (six) 6.5″ squares
Cut 1 (one) 7.5″ strip WOF
– cross-cut 3 (three) more 6.5″ squares from this strip (you will be trimming off 1″)
– from remaining part of 7.5″ strip, cross-cut 5 (five) 3.5″ segments
Cut 15 (fifteen) 3.5″ strips WOF
– cross-cut 5 (five) strips into 7.5″ segments
– cross cut 10 (ten) strips into 13.5″ segments
Dark Solid
Repeat same cutting instructions as for Light Solid.
Cross-cut each 30″ strip:
– 2 (two) 6.5″ pieces
– 2 (two) 7.5″ pieces
You should end up with
15 6.5″ squares each of Light Solid and Dark Solid
30 3.5″x7.5″ pieces each of Light Solid and Dark Solid
30 3.5″x13.5″ pieces each of Light Solid and Dark Solid
plus the 30″ multi-colored bright 1″ strips, cut into 4 pieces each.

Assembly Instructions for all sizes:
All seams should be scant ¼” seams, fabrics sewn right sides together. Seams should be pressed open or pressed to one side, whichever is your preference.

STEP ONE. To each Light Solid 6.5″ square, sew same-color bright 1″x6.5″ pieces on opposite sides, as shown in Fig. 1 below. Press seams according to your preference.

Figure 1
Figure 1

To each of the above units, sew same-color bright 1″x7.5″ pieces on the top and bottom, as shown in Fig. 2 below. Press seams according to your preference.

Figure 2
Figure 2

Repeat for each of the Dark Solid 6.5″ squares.

STEP TWO. To each of the Light Solid-centered pieced units from Step One above, sew 3.5″x7.5″ Dark Solid segments to opposite sides, as shown in Fig. 3. Press seams according to your preference.

Figure 3
Figure 3

To each of the above units, sew 3.5″x13.5″ Dark Solid segments to the top and bottom, as shown in Fig. 4. Press seams according to your preference.

Figure 4
Figure 4

Repeat for each of the Dark Solid units from Step One.

STEP THREE. With a Light Solid center block in front of you, make a mark 5″ to the left of the lower right corner, as shown in Fig 5.

Figure 5
Figure 5

Rotate the block in either direction and make the same mark in the same position for all four corners (always 5″ in from the right corner).

Using an 18″ (or larger) quilting ruler, cut the block from a marking on one side to the marking on the opposite side. Without moving the block between cuts, make a second cut joining the other two marks, as shown in Fig. 6.

Figure 6
Figure 6

Repeat for remaining blocks.

ALTERNATIVE CUTTING INSTRUCTIONS : Cut half of your Light Center and Dark Center blocks as above, but cut the rest by making marks 5″ to the right of the lower left corner, i.e. cut the MIRROR IMAGES for half of your blocks, as shown in Figs. 7a and 7b below. This will not work for the wall-hanging size, as you need at least four blocks cut in each direction for the design to work.

Figure 7a
Figure 7a
Figure 7b
Figure 7b

STEP FOUR. When all of your blocks are cut, it’s time to play! All of the pieces are (hypothetically) the same size, so you’ll be creating new blocks by mixing and matching the cut pieces and sewing them together.

Find a combination of four quadrants that you like, arranged so that the interior square is a checkerboard and the exterior square is also a checkerboard, as in Fig. 8. (Note: in the figure above, I used three different solids for my interior and exterior squares, which provides yet another interesting effect)

Figure 8
Figure 8

Pin two adjacent quadrants together, matching the thin contrast strips at the seam allowance. IT IS OK if the centers and edges don’t match perfectly at this point; you will be trimming them anyway.
Sew the pieces together, starting on the INTERIOR SQUARE (the gray part in Figure 9) and working out to the outer edge, as shown in Figure 10.

Figure 9
Figure 9
Figure 10
Figure 10

Press seams open to reduce bulk, as in Figure 11.

Figure 11
Figure 11

At this point, you will probably notice that the edges of the interior square do not line up exactly. This is fine! We will just trim it straight before proceeding to the next step as in Figure 12.

Figure 12
Figure 12

Match up your sewn halves, matching the centers and the contrast bright strips the best you can, being very careful with the bias edges (Figure 13). Sew the block and press the seams open (Figure 14).

Figure 13
Figure 13: matching the centers and strips
Figure 14
Figure 14: seams pressed open

TA DA! Here’s the finished block. It’ll measure about 13″ unfinished, but none of the edges will really be perfect so it’s time to trim! You can carefully trim the blocks to 12.5″ unfinished for the effect I have in my samples, or to any other size larger than 8.5″ (smaller than that and there won’t be much of an effect). Your squaring can be straight or wonky, depending on the size square you choose. The smallest wonky block you can cut will be 9.5″ unfinished, or you’ll cut into the contrast strips.

Finished block, untrimmed
Finished block, untrimmed
Finished block, trimmed to 12.5"
Finished block, trimmed to 12.5″ square

Figure 16 – after trimming to 12.5″ unfinished

Here’s one arrangement I came up with after getting a few blocks made. This is the wall-hanging size. All of these blocks were cut the first way. Using the Alternative Cutting option and cutting mirror images would provide a very different (and cool!) look and I can’t wait to try it!

Four Blocks
Four Blocks, playing on the design wall

Then I started playing on my design wall.

option 1

option 2
option 2

And here’s one with the Alternate Cutting instructions… I discovered that with the AC instructions you MUST HAVE MULTIPLES OF FOUR BLOCKS or it won’t be as easy to distribute your colored strips.

Mad as a Hatter

The possibilities are endless! Let me know what you come up with!