Free Tutorial, Part ONE: Gridlock (straight set)

There will be a second post for the version where the blocks are set on point, and I’ll link it here when I get the diagrams finished for that.



This quilt design uses an EQUAL NUMBER of 5″ Charm Squares and 2.5″ (by width-of-fabric) strips. You will be able to get 1/4 as many blocks as you have Charm Squares/Strips. In the sample above, I used a package of Timeless Treasures Batik Charm Squares and the matching package of strips, and there were 40 of each. I was able to get 10 blocks, plus enough to make a border around the quilt top. The photo above shows ALL of the remaining bits of fabric I had when I finished the quilt top. I used 9 of the 10 blocks in the quilt top, and will either put the 10th block on the back or make a matching pillow cover.

Divide your strips evenly into two piles. If you have doubles of each fabric, separate the pairs. Set one pile of strips aside; these will be used for sashing and borders later.

From the other half of the strips, cut:

2   5″ pieces

2   7″ pieces

2   6.5″ pieces

2   2.5″ squares (if you only have enough to get one 2.5″ square out of what’s left, that’s OK. You will only need 16 of these cornerstones)


STEP ONE. Using a scant 1/4″ seam, sew a 2.5″x5″ piece to the right-hand side of the charm square, and press the seam open or to the side (according to your preference).

gridlock step 01


STEP TWO. Sew a 2.5″ x 7″ piece to the top edge of the previous unit, and press the seam open or to the side.

gridlock step 02


STEP THREE. When you have finished sewing all of your charm squares into the above units, cut them diagonally from corner to corner, as shown. Try to go exactly through the corner where the three fabrics meet, but don’t worry if it’s not totally perfect. You’ll lose any excess in the seam allowance in the next step anyway. You can see below that my diagrams aren’t perfect. One does what one can in a surgical waiting room, and I’m living the “Big Magic” axiom right now: “Done is better than good.” It really and truly will not matter after the next step. I promise.

gridlock step 03


STEP FOUR: Shuffle your sets so that they’re mixed up a bit, and sew them back together. I was careful to orient the triangle halves to always match so that there are one of each type in each pairing so that the charm squares made half-square triangles with each other. Press the seams well according to your preference, and trim the squares to exactly 6.5″. If your seams are too wide, your squares will be too small, so be sure to check your first square to verify your accuracy before you get too far into the process. Yes, you WILL lose some corners where all of the fabrics come together. THIS IS OKAY. More important to the design is the DIAGONAL LINE. There is NO way to protect that corner in this design, because you just cut through it in the last step. It’s OK, I promise you.

gridlock step 04


STEP FIVE: Divide your squares into two piles. Sew a 2.5″ x 6.5″ strip to the right-hand side of one pile of your trimmed squares, as shown below. Press the seam according to your preference.

gridlock step 05


STEP SIX: Being careful to orient the second square properly, sew a remaining square to the right-hand side of each of the units from Step Five, and press the seam according to your preference.

gridlock step 06


STEP SEVEN: The blocks are assembled as shown below:

gridlock step 07


STEP EIGHT: From your remaining strips (set aside at the beginning), cut 24 14.5″ pieces. Use 16 of the 2.5″ squares from the first set of strips that you set aside.

Rows and sashings are assembled as shown below. I just used the same block and sashing colors over and over, but it would obviously look better mixed up a bit…

gridlock step 08


And here is an example of a completed quilt top (again… please disregard the spaces and minor inaccuracies caused by not really knowing what I’m doing in Adobe Illustrator and not taking the time to figure it out while in a surgical waiting room). This will be about 50.5″ wide (unfinished), so you could stop here if you wanted to do so and have a nice little throw!

gridlock quilt top


Or you could make BORDERS!

STEP NINE: Borders. Cut remaining strips into 4″ bricks. Each edge of the quilt top will need 25 bricks to go from outside cornerstone to outside cornerstone. Assemble 4 25-brick units by sewing them together on their long edges and pressing the seams open or to one side.

border bricks                                      (etc.)


Sew one each of the 25-brick units to the top and bottom of the quilt, matching up seams as much as possible. Before you attach the sections to the sides, make the corner units.

STEP TEN: Corner Units. Sew two pairs of bricks (as for the borders), and press the seams. Place them right sides together and match up all edges carefully. on the wrong side of the fabric on one of the pairs, mark a diagonal line from the corner to the opposite edge, following the 45-degree markings on your ruler. Repeat the marking from the opposite corner. Your markings will NOT go corner to corner. Please see the diagram below. These will be your sewing lines. (Please note that in my diagram the edges aren’t matched up, so that you can see that there are two pairs)

gridlock corner step 01              gridlock corner step 02


Sew on the sewing lines that you have drawn, and then cut the two sections apart between the sewing lines and press. Each set of 4 bricks will yield 2 different corners, as shown below.

gridlock corners opened


STEP ELEVEN. Attach the corners to the remaining two 25-brick border strips, as shown.

border corner assembly


And then you can attach the remaining two borders to the sides of the quilt top! I’m not going to finish out the diagram because I want to get this posted, but here’s the original quilt again in high-contrast batiks so you can see what the final layout looks like and the direction in which to attach the corners.



Hopefully I’ll get this one quilted and finished up over the Christmas holidays!

Oakshott Scandinavia Blog Hop: Modern Seminole Piecework Tutorial



(This post is very image-heavy, so you might want to wear a helmet. You’ve been warned.)

Borrowed from Lynne Goldsworthy’s blog: last week and this week we are bringing you eight projects from eight fantastic designers using Oakshott Scandinavia.  Today is my turn! Check out the ideas that have been shared by the other talented designers below.

4 May  Sarah Sharp
11 May  Elaine Poplin (me! me! me!)
12 May  Sarah Fielke
13 May  Nicholas Ball


Modern Seminole Table Runner

Finished Size: approximately 15″x45″
Supplies needed:
  • 1 collection of fat eighths of Oakshotts “Scandinavia” fabrics
  • 1 meter or yard of a contrast solid. I chose Oakshott’s “Vintage Silver,” because I felt that it played well with the others without being too terribly different, and it gave the pale fabrics a bit of visual weight that would be needed to pull off the Seminole concept.

For this tutorial, I created Seminole Patchwork designs based on my own measurements, but I have been very much inspired for over 2 decades by this amazing book: Basic Seminole Patchwork, by Cheryl Greider Bradkin. According to Amazon, I purchased this book in 1999 (after borrowing my mother’s copy repeatedly), and it has been sitting on my shelves as a reference volume, with pages marked and notations made, since. I didn’t refer to it until after I had decided and sketched out the designs I was going to do, but like anything that is practiced a lot, the early influences are very definitely there.


If you like what you see in this tutorial, I strongly recommend that you look into getting a copy of the above book. Her versions are more true to the precise Seminole piecework tradition, but I chose to modernize them a bit for my tutorial today by abandoning the straight seams in the connector strips, and I didn’t worry if the piecework itself wasn’t perfect. Not all of my 1/4″ strips in the Seminole designs are perfectly straight, and it turns out that it’s OK! I’ve always wondered if I could approach Seminole Piecework from a more relaxed standpoint, and this experiment has affirmed that I can — and it’s still effective! And the best part? It still LOOKS complex—–but isn’t. At all. Seriously — it’s just strip piecing, so it’s suitable for beginners, and it goes quickly. And, as I discovered this time, it’s forgiving of imprecision and the effect is still spectacular. Give it a try.

image1 (4)

First, a little backstory… I grew up with my mom sewing lots of my clothes, and I caught the sewing bug early. Her mom sewed for her as well, and so I really was defenseless when it came to whether or not I’d end up sewing as well. In my first grade school picture, I wore a yellow dress with a green pinafore that had Seminole piecework on the bodice and skirt. I loved that dress and I remember being sad when I grew out of it (even though I had taken scissors to it in an example of a very poor life decision, but Mom had been able to rescue the damage I had done… I’m always humbled when I think back to that. Sorry, Mom!).

After that, Mom made me another dress, this time a sundress in cotton batiste pastels for a cousin’s wedding. I remember feeling like an Easter egg when I wore it — which was a VERY good thing for an eight-year-old girl. That dress we kept and my children have worn it, though I don’t have photos for some reason.

When I was 18, I was asked to participate in the Huntsville (Alabama) Symphony’s Debutante Ball, which essentially meant that I was to go to social events all summer, and the social season culminated in a fancy ball in October where the 29 girls were “presented” to society. In years past, this meant that the young ladies were ready for marriage, but now it’s just a fun excuse to get dressed up and learn some etiquette and dancing. Flying home from a family vacation early that summer, I drew a sketch of what I wanted my dress to look like, and Mom and I spent the summer making it. It’s Seminole piecework in bridal fabrics, and we modified a 1950’s wedding dress pattern to be a little more current so that I could wear it for the ball.

image1 (3)

(This photo was taken at 12:30am after we had been dancing for 3 hours, which is why we were glistening so much!)

The dress flared into more than a full circle, which made it phenomenal for dancing. It also weighed over twenty pounds with all of the peau-de-soie and taffeta and stabilizers and linings that made it hang properly. But I loved that dress.


Five years later, I was engaged to my wonderful Jerry. Mom wanted to go shopping or make a new dress, but I wanted to wear THAT one again. So we made a bolero jacket and attached the train from my Mom’s 1964 Priscilla of Boston wedding gown, and it was transformed from a dancing dress into a wedding gown.


I’ve never been a big fan of ruffles, bows, laces, or sparkles, so this dress was perfect for me. It caught the light when I walked, and the weight of it (with a double petticoat underneath) meant that it had the formal structure that I’ve always loved in fairy tale gowns and it hid what I perceived to be my figure flaws at the time (HA! Ha ha ha ha HAAAAA!) My girls will both be so much taller than me that they won’t be able to wear it unless we take it apart, but that’s OK. I got to wear it twice — how many women can say that?

Fast forward a little bit… I made clothes for my own girls regularly when they were little, and I loved inserting bits of piecing into their dresses for interest. In 2008 when Helen (the oldest) was almost 6, she requested that their Easter dresses look like Easter Eggs. I was happy to oblige.


When I was asked to participate in this blog hop and saw the fabrics in person for the first time, I immediately decided that I was going to try something with Seminole piecework, because I had always loved the subtlety that the no-contrast fabrics had had in my wedding gown, and knew I’d enjoy having a delicate-looking table runner for Easter. But rather than create rigidly straight Seminole as I always have before, I thought it might be more fun to experiment with improvisational piecing also and see what happened when I combined the two.

So, without further ado, here’s the basic tutorial for Seminole Piecework. It’s all done with strip piecing, so it goes MUCH faster than it looks like it will. This tutorial is for one of the most basic 3-strip Seminole designs, but I’ve provided measurements and diagrams for the other pieced sections in my table runner at the end if you’re interested. All of my measurements are in inches, since that’s the measurement system we use here in the States. (As a mathematics teacher, it baffles me that we don’t use a base-10 measurement system, but whatever. Nobody asked my opinion.)

All strips are width-of-fabric, whatever that may be for you. I was using fat quarters of meters of fabrics, so it ended up being about 26″ wide of usable fabric. Start with one strip per color and make a section, and then cut more strips if you need more finished length. The beauty of this technique is that you can make a little, see how it goes, and make more if you need to. You definitely don’t have to cut all of it at once before you begin.

Note: I chose to draw my visual aids in Adobe Illustrator rather than with the Scandinavia fabrics, for the simple reason that my evening photos of the absolutely GORGEOUS Scandinavia fabrics were not coming out well. Turns out they are difficult to photograph in the late-at-night lighting that I have available to sew during the school year. So I do apologize for that, but I don’t apologize for the fact that I did not have to clean my #honestsewingroom to bring you this tutorial. Because then I undoubtedly would have been late, which sort of defeats the purpose of a Blog Hop. I digress.

Tutorial for 3-Strip Straight Offset Strip (will finish 2-5/8″ wide):

1. Cut three strips of fabric as shown:


2. Lower the stitch length on your sewing machine and sew the strips together. My machine’s default is 2.2 (whatever that means), so I lower the stitch length to 1.8. Because I’m going to be cross-cutting these strip sets, I want to have more stitches between cuts to keep the units from popping apart as I manipulate them.


3. Press each seam carefully with a hot, dry iron. SUPER IMPORTANT!! This will also help prevent you from having to use pins! (Why not steam? Steam will distort your fabric… Not a great idea when you’re going to be working with so much bias!)

4. Cross-cut the strip sets evenly. These are cut perpendicular to the seams (i.e. “straight” as opposed to “diagonal”), but you can also cut at a slight angle for a more dramatic effect. Just be consistent with how you choose to cut! I cut mine 1-1/2″ wide.


5. Offset the pieces an equal amount (as shown below) and sew them together in pairs. Then offset and sew pairs of pairs together, then groups of 4, etc. until you have all of your units sewn together into one long unit.

Note: Initially, I tried cutting and sewing the strip units slightly wonky, and I cut the cross-cuts so they weren’t all the same width. What I found is that the effect was the same either way. Oddly enough, being “random” required a lot more concentration, so it was just easier for me to use a ruler and measure. Your mileage may vary, so it’s really up to you.


Note: I eyeballed the offset (rather than measuring), and did not pin units together as I worked.

6. Press each unit to one side or press seams open, whatever you like. Your finished strip unit should look like this:


Next, you’ll want to attach strips to the top and bottom edges to provide stability and contrast to set off the piecing.

7. Make straight cuts along the top edge, like so:

sem-tut-straight-cut_06 sem-tut-straight-cut-2_08

8. Attach 1-1/2″ wide (or more) contrast strips to the top and bottom edges:


In traditional Seminole piecing, all of the contrast strips between the pieced sections are straight strips, just in varying widths. Since I already know that works, I had to play with it. I still wanted varying widths, but I didn’t want them to be straight.

My contrast strips were cut at least 1-1/2″ wide so that I could have some breathing room to make slow curved cuts for my improvisational piecing. With pieces narrower than 1-1/2″ wide it’s difficult to have enough fabric to play with for the curves.

Gentle improvisational curves are actually really easy to do, and you don’t have to use pins! You just have to have a sharp blade in your rotary cutter and a willingness to experiment, the patience to sew slowly and carefully, and a functional relationship with your seam ripper in case of minor issues.

9. Decide which fabrics will be used on either side of your pieced unit, and arrange them as shown, right sides up.


Layer the strips so that the newest pieces are on the bottom and the sewn unit overlaps on the top, and all pieces are right sides up, as shown below. Eyeball or sketch a gentle curve that is entirely within the overlapping section, and slowly and gently cut the curve with your rotary cutter.

Note: I only do one curved cut and seam at a time to avoid stretching the fabrics, rather than multiple cuts. I’ve shown two cuts in the diagrams below just in the interest of space, but I definitely recommend taking your time and making these cuts and subsequent seams one at a time.


You will end up with pieces that nest perfectly together, like this:


You will also have some little leftover shards of scraps that you can discard or save for another purpose (if they’re large enough):


10. Flip the outside fabric over so that the sections are right sides together, making sure that the left cut ends are still lined up.

Pinch the “start” of the seam between your fingers, and go to the sewing machine. Your pieces will look kind of weird, like they won’t fit together after all and you’ve made a terrible mistake and perhaps you should just give up and go have a hot bath. You haven’t messed up, though. I promise. Just trust me. Pinch and go sew!


11. Sew slowly and carefully, with a NARROW seam allowance (mine is usually between 1/8″ and 1/4″, depending on how tight of a curve I’m trying to manipulate), adjusting and easing gently with your fingertips or a stylus so that the edges of the top fabric are lined up with the edges of the bottom fabric as you go. Stopping and starting is fine, as long as your fabric is stable under the machine foot. When I first started playing with improv curved piecing, I found it helpful to use my sewing machine in the “needle-down” setting and sew at a turtle pace, but I have found that over time I have gotten much better at it. And when I inevitably mess up, I gently pick out the stupid error with my seam ripper and try again.

When you finish the seam, it’s going to look puckery and weird and like it won’t lie flat. That’s OK.

12. Press with starch or a starch alternative until it submits, and you’ll have a beautifully curved pieced unit. Again, I don’t recommend steam for the simple reason that it may distort your fabric and then the finished piece won’t lie flat. Benefit from my experience here. Seriously. Don’t make me come over there and take your iron away. You’ll thank me later. No steam. I mean it.

After both sections have been attached, it’ll look like this!


Ta da!

13. Keep attaching more curvy solid strips or pieced units, and in a very short period of time you’ll have enough to square off and complete a table runner like I did! Seriously, it took me longer to quilt it than it took to make it. I added 2.5″ of Vintage Silver around the edges and quilted organic lines in Aurifil #2600 (Dove) while watching 3 episodes of “House, M.D.” Straight line quilting is really dull to do. Wobbly-line quilting is only marginally less dull.



And if you want to make something similar to mine, here are the basic measurements that I used in the other three different pieced sections of my table runner. I’ve named the sections so that the specialized instructions for each are easy to find. The “3-Strip Straight Offset” instructions are in the tutorial above, as it is the simplest of the four.


Chevron Stripsets (will finish 3″ wide):

1. Make 2 stripsets per pieced section: 1-3/4″ blue, 1″ gray, 1-3/4″ green.

2. Press all of the seams of one stripset towards the blue and press the seams of the other stripset towards the green.

3. Place two stripsets right-sides-together, nesting seams, lined up on one of the lines on your cutting table and trim the left end straight across.


4. Make a mark 1″ in from the left edge on the bottom. Line up this mark with the top left corner of the stripset, and use a rotary cutter to cut the stripset diagonally. Discard the corner triangle scraps.


5. Make another cut 1-1/2″ from that diagonal, and be careful not to disrupt the cross-cut chevron pairs.


6. Continue cutting 1-1/2″ units, keeping chevron pairs together.

7. Sew the chevron pairs together and press seams open or to one side, as desired.


8. Sew pairs of pairs, then groups of four, etc. until the pieced chevron units are complete.

9. Continue with step 7 of the 3-Strip Straight Offset Tutorial above.


Criss-Cross StripSets (will finish 3-3/4″ wide):

1. Make 1 stripset per pieced section: 1-3/4″ lavender, 3/4″ cream, 1-3/4″ lavender.
2. Press seams away from the narrow strip and cross-cut into 1-3/4″ sections.


3. Divide the cut units into two stacks and set one of those stacks aside.

4. Cut 2 more 3/4″ strips of cream

5. To the right edge of one stack of lavender/cream/lavender units, attach another 3/4″ cream strip and press away from the narrow strip.


6. Sew the remaining purple-cream-purple sections to the units, matching up seams to make a “+” unit. Press away from the narrow strip. Trim to 3-1/4″ square.


7. Cut 2 5″ strips of gray fabric, and cross-cut into 5″ squares.

8. Cut the 5″ gray squares corner to corner in both directions, making 4 triangles each.


9. Sew gray triangles to the top and bottom of a “+” unit, as shown. Press towards the gray.


10. Sew pieced units together to make a long strip.



11. Continue with step 7 of the 3-Strip Straight Offset Tutorial above.


4-Patch StripSets (will finish 2-3/4″ wide):

1. Make 1 stripset per pieced section: 1-3/4″ gray, 1-1/2″ blue, 1-1/2″ pink, 1-3/4″ gray.

2. Press seams all in one direction and cross-cut into 1-1/2″ sections.


3. Rotate every other section so that a blue/pink 4-patch is created and sew pairs together. Seams should nest. Press seams towards one side or open, as preferred.


4. Cut one 1-1/2″ strip yellow, cut one 1-1/2″ strip purple (This was only necessary because I messed up my original calculations, but hey! Mistakes are just opportunities for rapid design decisions, right? Riiiiiight.)

5. Chain piece one short side of each unit to the yellow strip and the other short side to the purple strip. Press towards the new strips. Cut apart and trim.


6. Rotate every other unit (if desired), and then offset and sew units together so that the 4-patches are corner-to-corner, creating a long strip.


7. Continue with step 7 of the 3-Strip Straight Offset Tutorial above.


If you’re still with me, your diploma will arrive shortly. I’d love to see what you come up with when you play with these ideas! The design possibilities are endless, as you can see, and it’s a very quick and gratifying technique. The tutorial took longer than the project, by a lot!

Have fun, and please share your finished projects! I can’t wait to see!



Quilt Binding Tutorial for the Lazy Perfectionist

I love a great-looking binding on a quilt, but I’m not the type to measure and measure and measure and pin and torture myself to get it perfect. I’m obsessive about using pins during every other aspect of the quilting process, but I use very few while making and attaching a binding.

That said, I have developed a process for binding my quilts over the years that never fails to get positive commentary from NQA-certified judges at any of the shows where my quilts have hung. I finish all of my pieces the same way, without giving “special attention” to quilts I intend to show, so I can tell you that this particular approach to binding quilts is very consistent, and consistently produces good results.

Warning: LOTS of pictures ahead.

Note: I do not use the grid lines on my cutting mat and I never have. I find that depending only on the markings on my rulers makes my work more accurate. And my mats last longer. 

Begin with a quilted piece and trim the quilt square, to the exact finished size (including the binding) that you desire. I use square rulers for the corners, to make sure that my corners are exactly 90 degrees. I have a friend who always trims her pieces so that she has an additional 1/8″ of binding beyond the quilt edge because she likes her bindings to be “fuller,” but that’s too fiddly for me so I don’t bother. For this particular piece, I had intentionally made my final border a bit oversized so that I could trim it to an exact width after quilting drew it up.


I square up the edge of a quilt with every single cut, to be sure that I’m getting as precise an edge as possible. The eye will see a wonky cut if all the patch edges are straight, so I’m careful with this step.


This piece finished at 56″ square, so I needed at least 224″ of binding. Because this is a small quilt that will probably be displayed on a wall, I’m using binding cut on the straight of grain. If this were a more utilitarian quilt (such as a baby quilt or child’s quilt) that would see a lot of wash wear, I’d recommend bias binding. I’d also use a bias binding for any quilts that aren’t rectangular. I’ll have to do another tutorial on how to make bias binding — it’s SO easy to do that you won’t be intimidated anymore, I promise!

Anyway. After much experimentation and trial and error, I have found that I like to cut my binding strips 2-1/4″ wide. I’d probably like 2-1/8″ even better (narrower on the back), but the math would be harder and even though I’m a math teacher by day, I’m lazy when it comes to arithmetic. 2-1/4″ is easier to find on my ruler. 2-1/2″ is too wide for my taste because there’s too much binding visible on the back. No matter what width you prefer, this procedure would be the same.


I trim each end of the strip at the same 45-degree angle, to make sewing the strips together easier. Why sew binding strips together at an angle instead of straight end-to-end? If you butt them end-to-end, you’ll have a lumpy binding because the seams will have more bulk, and all of that bulk will add layers of fabric that can be hard to make smooth as you work your way around. Angled seams will distribute bulk so that you will not be able to see the seams as readily when you admire your finished piece. Yes, I lose 2-1/4″ of usable fabric per strip, but it just looks better. Trust me.

I also nip off the corners so I don’t have to deal with them when I’m sewing the ends together.


When I sew binding strips together, I pin. Why? Because I’m sewing on the bias and I don’t want to stretch it with my clumsy big fingers.


All of my binding strips are sewn together, end-to-end, until I have a really long strip noodle. And a cat. Apparently. She was insistent upon “helping” and wouldn’t get out of my way today.


I pile the noodle onto the left side of my ironing board, and then grab one end of it. I press the binding strip in half lengthwise with a hot, dry iron, wrong sides together, pressing the seams open as I get to them. As the binding gets pressed, I just let it pile up on the floor at my feet.


Some people prefer to coil the folded binding so that it’s neat and tidy, but I’ve found that this actually causes annoying twisting issues for me when I’m trying to actually attach it to the quilt. It does make a lovely staging photo for advertising this tutorial, however.


I much prefer this seemingly tangled mess — which isn’t tangled at all. The top end is towards the left, going off the photo. I’d grab that and start with it first, and not have to untwist or untangle at all while I attach it to the quilt.


So. I grab the end of the binding, and grab the quilt, and sit down at the machine. I use a regular stitch length (my Janome defaults to 2.2) and cotton thread that matches the binding (or a warm gray in the same color value, which will trick the eye). I start attaching in the lower left-hand side of the quilt, leaving a tail of about 10-12″ of binding loose. Why start in the bottom left? The eye will naturally “read” the quilt from top left to bottom right, and most viewers will follow that pattern when they look at your quilt. So if there’s a place that’s “safest,” the lower left is it. I don’t want to start too close to the corner as that will make finishing harder, but just south of the center point is good enough.

I don’t measure, and I don’t pin. Leaving a 10″ tail of binding, hold the raw edge of your folded binding to the raw edge of your trimmed quilt, and stitch with a scant 1/4″ seam.


Once the first few stitches are in, I make sure my machine is set to the needle-down setting, because that will be very important as I approach the corner.


I don’t pin when I’m attaching the binding to the quilt, because I need to be able to adjust as I go. I eyeball before I start to try not to have seams at the corners, but even that’s manageable. It happens, and if you’re careful, it won’t be obvious. I have friends who pin all the way around just to be certain that their binding strip seams end up in the best places, but to me that just seems like a waste of my time. Or maybe I just like the gamble. Hard to say. But I don’t pin. I do work slowly and only about 5″ ahead of the needle, making sure that everything is lined up nicely as I go.


As I near the corner, I slow down and watch carefully. The corner is just under my index finger in the photo below.


When I get close to the corner, I stop, lift the foot, and pivot the quilt so that I can see the corner pointing straight out. If the point of the corner is to the left of the strip of metal between the feed dogs (as it is below), then I need to pivot back, lower the foot, take another stitch, and check again.


Closer this time, but still a little to the left. I need to take one more stitch. Because my needle is down, I can pivot and check without having anything move, and then pivot back to do the needed stitch.


Yay! Perfectly centered when I checked this time!


Leave the corner pointing towards you, smooth the binding under the foot, lower the foot, and stitch directly off of the corner, and break thread.


This is what that corner will look like on the front. It’s ok that the last stitch going off the corner is coming loose — only the first one really matters anyway.


This is what it looks like on the back.


On the front of the quilt, fold the binding strip up so that it makes a perfect 45-degree angle into the corner. Turn the quilt so that the side you just sewed is on the top, and the next side is on the right. The raw edge of the loose binding strip will now be a long continuous line with the next side of your quilt. The stitches out the corner that you took will help facilitate this fold and make sure it’s in exactly the right position.


Next, bring the loose binding strip back down over your fingers. I keep my fingers in place to hold that 45-degree angle until I have the next part ready.


Fold the loose binding strip so that it lines up perfectly with the top edge in front of you, and the raw edges are together down the right side. The next three pictures show the right, left, and top sides so that you can see how it’s all held together.  The top and right edges are all even in these photos, though the camera angle tries to tell a different story.

Right side lined up:


Left side lined up:


Top edges lined up (I promise, they are!):


Back to the machine I go… I have found that I have to reset my Janome into needle-up as I start a new edge or it will unthread itself, but your machine might not be as persnickety. I do put it back into needle-down as soon as I can, though.

Here’s what that corner will look like after you sew it down. The first few times, you will be absolutely positive that you messed up, but you didn’t!


Flip that binding edge around to the back to see what just happened — you created a perfect miter on the corner on the front of your quilt! How cool is that!?


Keep going around the quilt until you’ve turned the last corner and get close to where you started. Leave about a 10″ opening and backstitch 1 or 2 stitches and break thread.


This is a little closer to the corner for a binding finish than I recommend for a beginner, but it’s not so bad. You want about a 10″ opening between where you just stopped and where you started attaching the binding.


Lay the loose binding end down against the edge of the quilt, and trim with scissors straight across the strip about 1-1/4″ beyond halfway point of the opening. No need to measure — just eyeball it. I don’t use a rotary cutter at this point because I just know I’d sneeze and there’d be a huge disaster. Scissors are safer for the clumsy.


Now you have a piece of binding that’s not attached to anything. Open it out. It will now become your measuring device. Behold: it is exactly the same width as your binding strip because–SHOCKER–until just a few moments ago, it actually WAS your binding strip.


Lay it down, wrong side up (so you can see it against the real binding), on top of its freshly amputated brethren. Line it up neatly against the part you just cut.


Now lay the other loose end of binding over the top of your fancyshmancy measuring device, lining up raw edges of the binding with the raw edges of the quilt. Get the parts as smooth as possible.


Using scissors, cut straight across the top binding piece (AND ONLY the top binding piece) about one blade-width shy of the measuring device. Why? Because you’re going to sew this on the bias and it’s fabric, not wood. Seams on the bias are stretchy, and you need this thing not to stretch too much because that will make your binding lumpy. It might still have a little pucker (again: fabric, not wood), but we can manage small variances. If there’a ANY extra fabric, you’re about to find it.


Remove your measuring device, and observe: You have about a 2-3/16″ overlap of binding now. Now comes the kinda tricky part, but you can do it! I believe in you!


Open out the starting side so it’s right side up. Don’t twist it as it comes off the quilt!


Open out the ending side so that it’s wrong-side up. Don’t twist! (It looks like I twisted it, but I promise I didn’t!) Bring the pieces down and off the quilt, right sides together, so that they make a “V” shape. Notice the little Clover Clip under there? it’s pinching the quilt together so that the heft of the quilted piece doesn’t fight me and pull these two sides apart. Clover Clips are amazing. Seriously. If you don’t have them yet, GET THEM. This is my totally unsponsored opinion: I *love*  Clover Clips. Anyway. Make a V with your overlapping ends, like so:


Fold the bottom of that V up to meet the inside corner, and crease crease crease. You’re creating a guideline for sewing so that you’ll be able to see what you’re doing.


Perfect little seamline guide!


I do pin at this point, because the weight of the quilt — even if it’s a mug rug —  will make this difficult if you don’t.


Go back to the machine and sew that seamline.

IMG_9124 IMG_9125

Open it out, remove the Clover Clips that are pinching the quilt together, and make sure it looks right. If it doesn’t, pick out the stitching, adjust, and re-sew the seam.


If it does look good, trim off the excess fabric in the corner.


Fingerpress that seam open You can try to hit it with the iron, but it’ll be difficult. I don’t bother anymore. Fingerpressing seems to be enough.


Fold your newly joined binding in half, wrong sides together, and lay the binding flat against the quilt. Finish attaching it to the quilt. Ease as necessary so that you don’t have puckers.


But if you do have a (mother)pucker, it’s not the end of the world… There’s a small pucker here, but only on one side of the binding strip. The other side was flat as a pancake. Meh. It happens.


And from the front, you really can’t tell. And I haven’t even sewn it into submission yet. Ignore the loose threads. Not sure what happened there, but they weren’t attached to anything.


Did I mention how much I love Clover Clips? The photo below demonstrates why — the red part? PERFECTLY sized for this width binding. So not only does it hold the binding neatly in place until I can sew it, it holds it to a consistent width. Awesome.


I do not put Clover Clips all the way around my quilt, though. That would annoy me because I’d have to have somewhere to put them as they come off. I usually use about 12, and leapfrog my way around the quilt. One stays at the beginning, both to secure the binding so it doesn’t pull on that first stitch, and to show me where the beginning is when I stop to see how much further I have to go.

I’m left-handed, but for some reason I sew with my right hand. I use a thread color that matches my binding, and work from right to left on the back of the quilt. No reason, it’s just my habit. My stitches are about 1/8″ apart, except they’re closer in the corners because of how I do those.


As I get close to the corner, the first Clover Clip to go on the corner is the one you see below:


Then I pinch the top edge to make a nice crease at a perfect 45-degree angle again.


Then another Clover Clip holds that flap of fabric down until I get there with my needle.


Sometimes I’ll pinch and readjust a corner three or four times before I actually sew it, just to get it so it looks neat and doesn’t have weird lumps. This one isn’t particularly perfect but it’s OK by my standards.


When I get to the corner, I take two quick stitches at the inside corner of the binding edge to secure it, and then normal-sized stitches up the miter to the upper edge.


When I get to the edge of the corner, I turn the quilt and come back down to the edge of the binding, putting a stitch between each of my previous stitches in the corner. There are probably about 12 stitches in the corner holding it like that. Here’s that corner, all finished:


And from the front, the same corner:


While it’s not perfect, I think it looks pretty darn good!


So I continue that way all the way around the quilt… I wanted to get the tutorial up, so this one only has about half the binding sewn down at this point. I’ll get the rest done tomorrow.

Best of luck with your bindings, and I hope that you’ve found this tutorial helpful!


(This quilt is a pattern-in-progress that I designed last year called “Fibonacci Fractal.” I’ll update here when it’s released!)


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!