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Quilt Layouts 101

You have quilt blocks galore... what?

Pt 1: Straight Sets

Choosing quilt layouts is a fundamental part of the design process, whether you're just beginning or have been designing for a long time.

The layout determines how many blocks and borders you need, as well as, how big each can or should be, in order to create a quilt the size you need.

Layout Determines the Amount of Work

It is that big a deal!

There are two basic quilt block layouts:

Straight sets where the blocks are laid out in horizontal rows and vertical columns, or...

On-point sets where the blocks are laid in diagonal rows and columns.

For two equal size quilts with equal sized blocks,

straight sets require more whole, finished blocks.

Read on to see straight and on-point settings, with several variations, as well as get pointers for using each layout. With this information in hand, you'll be able to make the best use of your design and quilting time.

Straight Sets

A straight set quilt layout is created from horizontal rows of the same size quilt blocks that can be set edge to edge or with alternate blocks that are either solid, pieced or appliqued.

54-40 or Fight quilt block

In the examples that follow, we'll use the '54-40 or Flight' quilt block (shown to the right) that is drawn on a 3x3 grid.

Edge to Edge Sets

In its most simple form the blocks in a straight set are sewn edge to block right next to the shown below.

Straight set quilt layout, blocks set edge to edge

Uneven 9 patch quilt block that forms in the corners

Look for blocks that form a secondary pattern at the corners. It adds more interest to the finished quilt--more bang for your piecing buck--without any increase in difficulty or sewing time.

In our example, this look-alike (shown right) for an 'uneven 9 patch' is formed at the corners.

Quilts made from blocks set this way can contain either even or odd numbers of blocks in both the rows and columns without any effect on the symmetry or balance of the quilt design.

Some blocks are almost always set edge to edge. Visit these pages for inspiration and to see specific quilt layouts:

Alternate Blocks

Our first variation to the straight set quilt layout is to set every other block with a solid square of fabric instead of a pieced block. This square is cut the same size as the unfinished pieced quilt block.

To maintain the symmetry or balance in the quilt design, use an odd number of blocks in both the rows and columns. With odd numbers, the same block is always in all four outside corners.

There are several options for your alternate block.

Using solid, unpieced blocks

Quilts with solid, alternate blocks are faster to piece. With just half the blocks to stitch you've cut your piecing time in half.

But as you'll see in the quilt pictured below that alternate blocks, when cut from solid looking fabrics, literally scream to be quilted with something fabulous. We've chosen a 'zinnia' design here.

Straight set with solid alternate blocks

The reality is, if you're a beginning quilter, you might not be to the point in your quilting journey that you're ready to do this type of free motion quilting. If you're more experienced, you might not want to take the time to design the quilting for the block, mark all of them and then do the free motion stitching.

What's a quilter to do?

Solve the problem by...

...using a busy fabric for your alternate square.

It's a tried and true principle that quilt stitches don't show up well against busy fabrics.

Award-winning quilters frequently use 'busy backs' on their competition quilts because the pattern of the fabric disguises the many starts and stops, tying off and traveling in their quilts.

We use that principle here.

Notice in the image below that with this moderately busy alternate square, the quilting lines are camouflaged.

Straight set with busy alternate blocks

At this point you have two alternatives.

  1. Use the busy alternate squares as a place to 'practice for real' on your free motion quilting skills.

    When I teach free motion quilting, I instruct my students to 'practice' free motion quilting on real quilts whenever they can. That way they develop the skill to move a large quilt under the needle.

    If you only ever work on small practice quilt sandwiches, you won't develop that skill. These busy alternate blocks are the perfect place to practice, if you have the time. Or...
  2. Just quilt simple lines between all the blocks.  Then add grid quilting to completely quilt all the blocks with a 3x3 grid. All the stitching on the quilt below can be done with a walking foot.

Strraight set, solid alternate block with grid quilting

Either choice for the quilting gets the quilt finished.

It really comes down to a decision on how much time you want or can take and your current comfort level with your quilting skill set.

Now if you're feeling more adventurous, try...

Using pieced alternate blocks

Find blocks that form interesting secondary patterns (EQ7 is GREAT for playing with block designs. You can change things so fast--all of the quilt illustrations on this website are drawn with EQ7.)

Look for blocks based on the same grid. In our example, our original block, '54-40 or Fight', is drawn on a 3x3 grid. Our alternate block, 'Mrs. Brown's Choice', (below, right) is also drawn on a 3x3 grid.

Mrs. Brown's Choice quilt block

Using an alternate pieced block reduces piecing boredom--the piecing is divided between two different quilt block patterns.

It also offers the opportunity to change the whole look of the quilt.

And in the quilt below, the use of the two different blocks even disguises the lines between quilt blocks.

Reminder: We use an uneven number of blocks in both the rows and columns to maintain the symmetry of the quilt design. The same block appears in all four corners.

Straight set with a pieced alternate quilt block

Wow! That's spectacular!!

Simple, straight set quilt layouts deliver stunning results!

Watch it on video!

For a quick review, grab a cup of coffee or tea, click on the video below...

...and enjoy!

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Fold-N-Stitch Wreath
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