I started this quilt several years ago in a class at a quilting retreat. The class was about learning to make scrappy quilts (i.e. quilts using a large variety of fabrics, placed randomly throughout the quilt design). We didn’t have a set project, but the teacher had some suggestions and one of them was a rail fence quilt. For those who aren’t familiar with this, it’s a traditional quilt design that looks just like parquet hardwood floors – simple blocks made of strips, placed in an alternating pattern of vertical and horizontal.
I thought that this would be a good project for me to start with. But through discussion with the teacher, we thought I could spice it up a bit by having the strips go on a slight angle, instead of being parallel with the edges of the blocks. And so the Crooked Rail Fence was born.
I decided on a 6 inch square finished size block with 6 strips per block. For a traditional rail fence would have meant cutting 6 strips per block, each one measuring 1 1/2 inches wide by 6 1/2 inches long. But to get the extra size I needed to be able to trim the block on an angle, I decided on the following: the 4 inner strips are cut at 1 1/2 inches wide by 7 1/2 inches long, and the two outer strips are cut at 2 inches wide by 7 1/2 inches long. When stitched together, I get a block that is 7 1/2 inches square. I can then use a 6 1/2 inch square ruler held at a slight angle to trim the blocks down to size.
For the scrappy look I used a large number of fat quarters. To keep some sort of cohesion, I kept to fabrics that were tone-on-tone prints in small scale floral or leafy patterns. I also chose fabrics that were similar in colour tones (sort of muted, rather than brights or jewel tones, etc.). And I tried to get more blues than other colours. I also tried for an even split in values between lights, mediums and darks.
During sewing, my goal was to be as random as possible. There were far too many strips to literally pull them out of a paper bag, so I did the best I could to mix them up, and then stack them in a bin in random order. My only exception to being strictly random was that I didn’t put more than one strip of any specific fabric in a single block. Other than that, I just stitched what was next on the pile.
I got quite a few blocks done in the initial class, using the fabrics I’d brought with me. Since then I’ve cut a lot more fabric, so when I went to my quilting retreat earlier this month I was ready for some power sewing.
It doesn’t take long to sew a bunch of blocks together. I don’t have to think much about what fabrics go where, or be too careful about my seam allowance since I am trimming them down later.
Once I’d sewn a bunch of blocks, I trimmed them down to size. When trimming, I can tilt my 6 1/2” square ruler to either the right or the left. Here I am trimming with the ruler tilted to the left.
And here I’m trimming a block with the ruler tilted to the right.
Here are the two trimmed blocks, so you can see the difference between left and right tilts of the ruler. The block on the left had the ruler tilted to the left, and the block on the right had the ruler tilted right. I cut an equal number of each version.
Once I had a stack of blocks, I played around a bit with layouts on the design wall.
The most simple layout is this one, where all of the horizontal blocks tilt the same way, and all of the vertical blocks tilt in the same way. This is a pretty simple layout, with some movement in it.
Next I tried shifting some of the blocks around. In this layout, the vertical blocks alternate between right and left shifted blocks, and so do the horizontal. Every alternate row is alike. This arrangement has a bit more movement in it than the first one.
The third variation is even more complex. In this one, not only do the vertical and horizontal blocks alternate in tilt, the rows alternate as well. It takes a group of 4 rows by 4 columns before you get the pattern repeating. This layout has the most movement of the three, and it’s the one I like the best.
Here it is again, this time using all of the blocks that I had trimmed up to this point.
I like how it looks so far, both in the design and layout, and in the random placement of the fabrics. Now I just need to keep on sewing. And trimming. My goal is to make two lap quilts from these blocks, so I have a long way to go.