Crooked Rail Fence Quilts Completed

Completed. Finished. All done. What lovely words! These quilts, which were started long, long ago as a single quilt project in a class at a quilting retreat, are finally finished. My original plan was for a queen-sized quilt to cover the bed in the guest bedroom, but by the time I got back to the project we had long since redecorated that room and the quilt would no longer fit in. So I decided to split up the blocks and make two large nap quilts that will one day become gifts.

One of the quilts has more blue in it, so I chose a dark blue fabric for the back and binding. For the second one I used a dark forest green fabric for back and binding.

I quilted them both the same, using straight lines. First I quilted in the ditch between each row and column of blocks. That stabilized the quilt enough for me to remove all of the basting pins. Then I quilted two straight lines, one inch apart, down the centres of each row and column. I didn’t mark the lines on the quilt top. Instead, I used the edge quilting guide that came with my walking foot. I set the distance between the guide and the needle to the right measurement, then stitched the quilting line, making sure that the guide stayed in the previous line of quilting.

quilting first quilt

Here is a close-up of the quilting on the one with the blue fabric back. I used a variegated thread on the top. It’s a Signature thread, size 40, in colour M106. It blends quite nicely with the colours of the fabrics on the top without being distracting. On the back I used a colour to match the backing fabric.

quilting on blue quilt

This is the finished Crooked Rail Fence quilt with the blue fabric on the back:

Crooked Rail Fence blue finished

This is the finished quilt with the green fabric on the back:

Crooked Rail Fence green finished

Now that these are finished, I can move on to another work-in-progress!

I’ve written several other posts on the making of these quilts:

Crooked Rail Fence – making the blocks, and auditioning block layouts

Crooked Rail Fence, Take One – the first quilt top is together

Crooked Rail Fence, Take Two – the second quilt top is together

Putting It All Together – sewing the blocks together into a quilt top, step-by-step

Getting Unstuck – in which I try to get working on them again

Fall Flies Shawl – a brief mention of cleaning up the back side of the quilt top before layering

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Getting Unstuck

Now that I’m home, all of my recent travels are finished, and the garden has almost been put to bed for the winter, I decided that it was time to dig out a UFO (unfinished object) and get to work. I have a few of those around, both quilting and knitting ones, and I don’t like to have them lingering. They loom over me like a big looming thing, casting a shadow over any desire I have to start something new.

I recently finished off three knitting projects that had been UFOs for months and even years. It was such a relief to get those finished. Now I’d like to get a couple of these quilting UFOs finished, too. With this in mind, I dug out the two unfinished Crooked Rail Fence quilt tops and had a look at them. They’ve been sitting in a plastic bin for almost 3 years, along with fabric that I had purchased for borders and backings.

Here is one of the tops:

crooked rail fence quilt 1

Now that the quilt tops have been sitting on my ironing board for a couple of days, I realize why I stopped working on them. I’d run into a problem. I wasn’t happy about where I was going with them, but I wasn’t sure why. I was stuck. So I did what I often seem to do – I put them away and did something else.

When I stop to think about it, this is why most of my long-time UFOs end up lingering. I reach a point where I am stuck. Something goes wrong and I don’t know what it is. Or I do know what’s wrong, but I don’t know how to fix it. Or I know what I want to do to fix it, but I’m not sure that I’m up to the challenge involved. Or the next step in the project is something that’s difficult or new and I’m hesitant to do it in case I mess it up. What those reasons all boil down to is that I get stuck, and instead of working to get unstuck I set the project aside and ignore it.

I’ve been asking myself why I got stuck when making these two quilts, and the answer I’ve come up with is this: I don’t want to put borders on them. I’d spent all kinds of time trying to decide on the colours of the borders and how wide they should be, without really stopping to consider whether I wanted borders on them or not. What finally got me asking this question was the lecture I attended at the International Quilt Festival in Houston on Modern Quilts. One of the features of Modern Quilts is that they often don’t have borders.

When I was taught how to make a quilt, I was taught to add at least one border, and sometimes two or three of them. Borders could be plain, pieced, or appliquéd. They could be narrow, wide, or in between. But they were always there. They were the frame around the picture that was the quilt top. They made the quilt bigger. They were often a place to add some fancy quilting. I’d just assumed without thinking that these quilts needed borders. But when it came time to cut the fabric for the borders and sew them on, I just didn’t want to do it. And now I know why.

Now that I’ve made that decision, I’ve had another look at the size of the tops as they now stand. They are each 8 blocks by 10 blocks (each block is 6” square), which makes them 48” by 60”. I don’t think they’re quite big enough to be good napping-under quilts. I don’t want them to be full bed-sized quilts, but I do want them to be big enough to cover a snoozing adult. I think that if I add one more column and two more rows they’ll be a perfect size. That would make them 9 blocks by 12 blocks (54” by 72”), which is almost the size of a standard double bed mattress (54”x75”). A little math tells me that I need to make 28 more blocks for each quilt top. I think I can manage that without too much trouble. And I can use up some stash fabric in the process.

It’s interesting to me how much better I feel now. These quilts have been causing my brain to itch every time I thought about them. I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t know why. I just knew that I didn’t want to work on them.

Being stuck – it isn’t much fun. Getting unstuck takes a bit of investigation, and perhaps some inspiration, and a few new ideas. Sometimes it takes a bit of courage to try something new, or a bit of instruction in how to do something unfamiliar. Sometimes it might even mean giving up on the project. Whichever it is, it’s much better to get unstuck than to let unfinished projects linger forever.

Putting It All Together

When I was sewing together the blocks for the two Crooked Rail Fence quilts, I was thinking about the various ways that this could be done. You could sew all of the blocks in a row together, row by row, and then sew the rows together one by one. Or you could piece blocks together into ever larger units, until finally you were sewing the large units together into the finished top. Or you could do some combination of these approaches.

I prefer to build units of blocks, starting small and building up to large. My main reason for this is to avoid long seams. I’d rather work with smaller seams, and only have to do the minimum number of seams that are the whole length or width of the quilt top. It’s just a personal preference. I also find it a bit easier to keep track of which way to press the seams when I am working in smaller units. I try to press the seams in opposite directions, so that the next seam will have seam allowances nestling in with each other, as in the photo. It makes it a bit easier to get the corners to line up.

nestling seam allowances

So, as I was piecing together the second of the quilt tops, I took pictures as I went, so I could write about how I assemble a quilt top. And if you persevere through the post, there is a Very Helpful Tip near the end.

Organization is key, especially in a quilt top in which the blocks aren’t all the same. Once I had the layout of the quilt up on my design wall, I pinned these quilt markers onto every alternate block (alternate because once the first seams were done, the other tags would have been unnecessary anyway). They are numbered by row and block. You can do the same thing by pinning on little pieces of numbered paper, or by using stickers with numbers on.

These are thin mylar squares called Tag-a-Quilt, manufactured by Quilt Dance. These ones are numbered, but you can also get blank ones that you can write your own numbers on – handy for larger quilts.

Quilt Dance block tags

So, here are my blocks, with the numbered tags pinned on them.

blocks with tags

Step 1: sew blocks together in horizontal pairs. Seams are pressed to the right in odd numbered rows, and to the left in even numbered rows.

step 1: sew together in pairs

Step 2: sew the pairs together into 4-patch blocks. Seams are pressed alternating up and down along the row.

step 2: four patch blocks

Step 3: sew the 4-patch blocks into horizontal pairs. Seams are pressed to the right or left in alternating rows (the same as they were in Step 1).

step 3: pairs of 4-patch blocks

Step 4: sew the new units together to create blocks of 16. As in Step 2, seams are pressed alternating up and down.

step 4: blocks of 16

Step 5: you guessed it – sew the blocks of 16 together in horizontal pairs, and press to the right and then left in alternating rows.

step 5: join horizontally

And finally, step 6: join the rows.

step 6 final seams

And it’s all over but the shouting.

And now for a Very Helpful Tip: numbered tags only work if you ACTUALLY LOOK AT THEM!

See this picture? Can you spot what’s wrong?

step 2 - four patch blocks

No? Well, maybe this close-up will help:

step 2 four patch: oops!

Yes, when putting the stitched components back on the design wall, it helps if you put them back in the right order! I didn’t notice this mistake until I had completed the next step, and removed some of the block tags. Then I noticed that things weren’t lining up to form the right pattern. Thankfully, I had this photo to go back to, to figure out where I went wrong. This is what happens when you have the hubris to think you can write a blog post to show people how to do something!

Related posts:

Crooked Rail Fence

Crooked Rail Fence, Take One

Crooked Rail Fence, Take Two