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Heather Jones' Wonky Block Modern Quilting Project

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The world of Modern Quilting is a "wonky" world. If something is "wonky" it means angles, sides and points are not necessarily straight and true. For years, "wonky" was the worst thing your quilt could be. It meant all those carefully cut squares and triangles and strips were not precise. But like coloring outside the lines, this imperfection is what gives a modern quilt its free-form creativity. "Cut until it fits" is a mantra followed by many a modern quilter. One of our favorite modern quilters is Heather Jones, who was our guest yesterday with a tutorial on Straight Line Quilting. Today, Heather's back with a Guest Project from the wonky world: the wonky log cabin block. Take it away, Heather!

Wonky log cabin blocks are one of my favorites. I love their thoroughly Modern feeling, yet they really are just a spin on the traditional log cabin quilting block. Wonky log cabin blocks can be as scrappy and irregular as you'd like, and they give your project a nice bit of improvisational piecing. Wonky log cabin blocks (as well as their traditional cousins) consist of a center square surrounded by tiers of fabric. These tiers are made from strips or "logs," hence the name, log cabin.

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Follow Heather on her blog.

Remember, in wonky log cabin blocks, there are no precise measurements of the fabrics! So don't be leaving my Sew4Home friends comments demanding precise cut sizes. That is up to you and your fabric, as well as your innate "wonkyness"!

  1. One of the best parts of the process is choosing the fabrics to use in your wonky block. I like to start out with a focus print for the center of the block. In this case, I selected a gorgeous green fabric with blue birds by Jennifer Paganelli of Sis Boom for Free Spirit Fabrics. After you have your focus print selected, choose as many additional fabrics as you'd like to create the tiers surrounding the center square. For this block, I choose to use four additional fabrics.
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  2. Some helpful tools for constructing wonky log cabin blocks include: a straight edge, a rotary cutter, and a square quilting ruler in the size that you want your finished block to be. At a minimum, a good size straight edge and rotary cutter are a must.
  3. Start the block by fussy cutting the focus motif. I love the design of this bird, so I wanted it to be in the center of the block.
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  4. Next, take strips of another fabric to build your first tier around the center block. In my block, my second fabric is a pink paisley print. Using a rotary cutter and straight edge, I cut strips about 2" wide. Feel free to make your strips wider or narrower. Remember, it's all improvisation.
  5. Lay out the four strips around the perimeter of the center block. Each strip of fabric will be a "log" in the tier that surrounds the center block.
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  6. Begin the block construction with the top strip.Make sure it is just a bit longer than the center block.
  7. Pin this strip, right sides together, to the center block.
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  8. Using a ¼" seam allowance, sew the two pieces together. Remember to back stitch at both the beginning and end of the seam to lock the stitches.
  9. Press the seam allowance towards the strip you just added.
  10. Here's what your block should look like now from the front and the back.
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  11. Find another strip of the "second" fabric to add to the right side of the block. Again, make sure it is a bit longer than the pieced block.
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  12. Pin this strip to the block, right sides together, and stitch in place with a ¼" seam allowance. Remember to lock your seam at the beginning and the end.
    NOTE: When sewing the tiers or "logs" to the block, you need to be careful the seam allowance from a previous tier does not get caught in the feed dogs of your machine as you sew. Take the time to stop the machine, with the needle in the down position, and lift the presser foot to adjust the seam allowance, if necessary.
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  13. Press the seam allowance towards the strip you just added.
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  14. Place another strip along the bottom of the block, making sure it is just a bit longer than the pieced block.
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  15. Pin this strip to the block, right sides together, and stitch in place with a ¼" seam allowance. Remember to lock your seam at the beginning and the end.
  16. Press seam allowance towards the strip you just added.
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  17. Take the final strip of your "second" fabric and place it along the left side of the block, as with the other strips, make sure it is a bit longer than the pieced section of the block.
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  18. Pin this strip to the block, right sides together, and stitch in place with a ¼" seam allowance. Remember to lock your seam at the beginning and the end.
  19. Press seam allowance towards the strip you just added.
  20. Trim off any excess fabric with a rotary cutter and straight edge.
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  21. This is what your block should look like after you've completed the first tier.
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  22. Cut strips from your next fabric and place them around the perimeter of the pieced block.
  23. You'll add these in the same order you did with the first tier: top, right side, bottom, and left side. For my second tier, I used a solid cotton in pale aqua.
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  24. As you did above, pin and then stitch the strips in place one at a time, in the order stated above.
  25. Press well after you add each strip, making sure to press each seam allowance towards the strip you just added.
  26. Trim off any excess fabric with a rotary cutter and straight edge.
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  27. This is what your block should look like after you've completed the second tier of fabric.
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    NOTE: You can make your tiers a bit more wonky by trimming a section of one (or more) at an angle. Keep in mind the more dramatic the angle, the more wonky that part of the block will be.
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  28. Continue to add strips of fabric to build the next tier of logs. For my last tier, I decided to use two different fabrics, a blue and white print along with a pink, white, aqua, and green floral print.
  29. Again, you'll add the logs in the same order you did with the previous tiers: top, right side, bottom, and left side.
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  30. I wanted to fussy cut and add another little bird to one of the tiers to create a unique strip.
  31. Using regular scissors, I first cut the bird motif out of the fabric so it was approximately the same size as the strip of fabric I wanted to add it to.
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  32. Then I cut the main strip apart and pinned the bird piece, right sides together to one end. Using a ¼" seam allowance, I stitched the two pieces together.
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  33. I then pinned the other piece of the main strip to the other side of the bird piece, right sides together, and stitched them together, also with a ¼" seam allowance.
  34. Press both seams open. The pieced strip is now ready to use as the bottom tier in my block.
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  35. Continue to add the strips in this tier in the same order that you added the others: top, right side, bottom, and left side.
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  36. Remember to continue to press after you add each strip, making sure to press each seam allowance towards the strip you just added.
  37. Here is what your block will look like after the third tier has been added.
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  38. Keep adding tiers until the block is the size that you'd like. Periodically check the size of the block while you are constructing it. When it is approximately the size that you want your finished block to be, use a square quilting ruler and rotary cutter to square up the block and remove any excess fabric. I wanted my block to be 12½" x 12½", so I used my big 12½" square ruler.
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    NOTE: If you don't have a square ruler, you could cut a transparent piece of plastic or even a piece of tissue the size you want your final block to be, and then use this "pattern" as a guide to trim your block with a regular straight edge and rotary cutter.

    Congratulations! You are done with your wonky log cabin block!

    You can do all sorts of things with these fun blocks. Add some batting and a backing to one to make a a pillow front, creating an envelope closure for the back. Or, build a bunch more for a wonderfully wonky modern quilt!

    Follow Heather on her blog.

    More of Heather's modern quilts.

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    Comments (12)

    ann rip said:
    ann rip's picture

    thank you this tutorial.   I have been searching and searching for this type of quilt for some time.  This little boy I know wants a small quilt with beach scenes. I have the fabric for the beach now I know where to go for my design for him.

    Thanks again.

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

    @ ann rip - so glad to help - Heather is one of Modern Quilting's stars! She's an amazing teacher for this method of quilting. 

    Mlrideas said:
    Mlrideas's picture

    I found in your improv class, Heather, that putting aside the rotary in lieu of scissors helped me truly embrace improv. maybe mental- but it allowed be to let go of focus on precision and I relaxed so much!

    Jennifer Fenner said:
    Jennifer Fenner's picture
    Great to see the owl quilt as an example! I love it! Congrats on all your success, you totally deserve it!!
    tsetsgee said:
    tsetsgee's picture
    Thank you for tutorial. I like bird motif adding stripssmilies/smiley.gif
    Austin5 said:
    Austin5's picture
    I love your work, Heather. I would like to frame that block and hang it in my sewing room for inspiration!
    txballetmom said:
    Beautiful! I just love Jennifer Paganelli's fabrics.
    RachaelMorton said:
    RachaelMorton's picture
    Wow! That is beautiful. Thanks for explaining. Love the choice of fabric and how you used the birds. I think this would be a great way to use up some of the small pieces of fabric that were just to a nice to toss. One block at a time smilies/cheesy.gif
    mpistey said:
    mpistey's picture
    LOVE that wonky owl quilt! It gives me a great idea for a wall hanging using fabric with bicycles for my grandson's room. Thanks Heather!

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