May 2, 2017

Week 8: Long Time Gone Sew Along | Courthouse Steps

Courthouse Steps is a classic variation of Log Cabin blocks. It starts with a center square, but instead of rotating around the square, you add strips with matching lengths and values to opposite sides of the center square, rotate 90° and do it again. The first set of strips and the last set of strips are unique lengths. All of the other lengths will have both one dark set of two pieces and one light set.

To create better separation between the blocks and the sashing strips that surround them, I chose to reverse the positions of light and dark strips. In other words, my shortest strips are light and the longest are dark. (Click on the illustrations for larger views.)

Like any Log Cabin block or derivative, there are three ways to come out with near perfect blocks.

1. Cut strips on the lengthwise grain, parallel to the selvages. Lengthwise grain of fabric is firm, not stretchy like crosswise grain.

2. Cut the strips to length. Jen gives you the exact lengths needed for each set of strips.

3. Sew an accurate ¼-inch seam.

Cutting for 6 Courthouse Steps Blocks

I already had a food storage container full of 1-inch strips cut on lengthwise grain because I have followed my own advice and cut extra strips every time I was cutting for other blocks. Happily, the From Marti Michell 1/2-inch Log Cabin Ruler #8227 has all the proper lengths for the Courthouse Steps blocks. We identify them both by length and letters in alphabetical order and there are no additional measurement lines to confuse your eyes.

I decided on matching orange centers. I had decided on matching periwinkle blue centers for the Pineapple blocks when I started them and liked that degree of consistency in my scrappy quilt, so why not be consistent again?

My 1-inch strips from other cutting projects were assorted lengths so it took a little extra thought to maximize the efficiency of cutting. I cleared a little space and positioned sticky notes on my cutting table. We are making 6 blocks so I need 12 pieces of each value and length. Each sticky note identified the length needed and the letter on my ruler for that length. (Use the lengths listed in small type on page 15 in Jen Kingwell's book for the lengths needed, not the big numbers on each piece in the illustration on that page.) Some people will write the sizes on small paper plates for a project like this and then they can stack them and the project is more mobile. (Click images for larger view.)

Each set of pre-cut 1-inch strips I had was different— a different number of fabrics, different lengths, etc. To maximize the available fabric, cut the longest pieces needed first. You can almost always cut one of the shorter pieces from what is left. As I cut and sorted, I would write the number of layers in the stack on the sticky note. When I had 12 pieces I knew I did not need to cut any more strips that length. In no time I had cut to length all of the strips needed and was ready to sew!

Oops! Then I realized we are making 9 blocks, not 6, and I did it again for 3 more blocks! 😊

Sewing the Blocks

It was so easy to chain piece the blocks. Chain-piece the first cut-to-length strips to one side of the center square. Leave them attached and sew pre-cut strips to the opposite side. Press away from the center, cut the units apart and do it again in the opposite value.

Generally I put the strip being added to the block on the bottom so the seam allowances I’m crossing are visible and I can make sure they are not getting twisted. However with such narrow strips, my presser foot was just a little too wide and I kept hitting the previous seam allowance and slightly distorting the seam I was stitching. So, I put the new strip on top and no problem. Do whatever works for you, but remember, it may be different with different strip widths.

Join the blocks into three sets of three as shown. On the center block reverse the direction of the last  seam allowances so they go toward the center. You will reduce the bulk and have nice opposing seam allowances when joining the blocks.

And here they are! (Click on the images for larger views.)

And here is a picture of one of my favorite Courthouse Steps quilts that is included in our Log Cabin ABCs book. It is made with 1-inch finished strips.

Looking Ahead to Checkerboards

I promised to share some tips on making scrappy checkerboard units. Strip techniques are obvious, but strip techniques usually equate with a large number of strips and a limited number of fabrics. Scrappy strip techniques require a little modification. Mainly shorter strip sets and more of them!!!

All but one of the Checkerboards are 2, 3 or 4 pieces wide, and most are 3.  So I start by joining short strips of contrasting fabrics to long strips of my neutral. Typically, I want around 5-inch constrasting strips. I can get three Checkerboard units from each, but I had a bunch of end cuts from my Churn Dash blocks in the piece photographed so I worked with them.

Press toward the darker fabrics. No matter how you arrange them later, that is the best direction. Now you have many options. You can, from left to right in the photo below:

1. Cut them into 1-1/2 inch segments and join for Checkerboard strips that are 2 squares wide. (Eventually you need around 150 pairs.) I like doing several smaller groups instead of all at once, so I get more variety as I add fabrics.

2. Or I add contrasting strips. Press toward the dark and cut into 1-1/2 inch segments 3 squares wide with contrast on the outside.

3. Or I join the segments to another neutral strip and cut into segments that are 1-1/2 inches by 3 squares with the light squares on the outside. Shown at the top of #2 and #3 is a Checkerboard made with units from both strip sets. The seams oppose each other for "automatic pinning" because the seams were already pressed toward the darker fabrics.

4. Or I join 2-square segments end to end to make rows for Checkerboards that are 4 squares wide. Why not practice on the Checkerboard for Section 2 on page 27? If you're loving it, go ahead and make the Checkerboards on page 28 for Section 3. Those will be the next 2 sections you can easily finish.

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Long Time Gone by Jen Kingwell. Copyright 2016 by Jen Kingwell Designs. Available on the From Marti Michell website,

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