Rail Fence

Rail Fence is another traditional quilt block that makes for beautiful results. It also gives us an opportunity to work on another core quilting skill: NESTING SEAMS.

Seams are NESTED when the seam allowances from two units have been pressed in opposite directions so that, when those units are stitched right sides together, the slight ridge created on the right side of each seam bumps up against the opposite ridge–this allows them to very snugly, with a minimum of shifting and very close matching of seams.

Matching our seams across joined units on a quilt block is necessary to create the illusion that the fabrics flow from one block to the next. In some quilts, this isn’t all that important, and seams can be mis-matched or intentionally NOT matched with beautiful results. In other quilts and quilt blocks, though, it’s much more important to match our seams in order to build the look of the block–like an optical illusion, for example. Since we have TWO optical illusion blocks coming up in our sampler, it’s wise for us to begin working on the skill of matching our seams NOW, when the stakes are lower.

Also of note: this particular layout is one where we must pay attention to the ORIENTATION OF OUR FABRICS. This is another skill worth thinking through early on, when we have less to risk: Rail Fence takes very little fabric and is quick to sew, meaning if you’re unhappy with the results, you can easily do it over the way you like!

As you cut, think about DIRECTIONAL FABRICS. These are prints where the object in the print–I like to call them “duckies and bunny” as a shorthand–have heads or a top/bottom, something where it can be right-side-up or upside-down. When cutting your segments, you’ll notice the cutting list gives instructions with WIDTH FIRST and then LENGTH. For solid fabrics, you can disregard this–it won’t make any difference; for printed fabrics, you will need to pay attention to HOW THE FABRIC WILL FIT IN THE FINAL BLOCK to ensure you cut it with all the duckie-and-bunny heads going in the correct direction.

Another consideration is the LAYOUT OF THE UNITS. In Rail Fence, it’s possible to lay the units oriented in such a way that they make a very unfortunate swastika-like shape; we want to avoid that, obviously, so I spend some time in the video below indicating how to focus on the colors involved so that we get the appearance we want and avoid what we don’t.

Watch the video below to guide you through building your Rail Fence! As you complete your quilt blocks, you may consider how to store them until we assemble the quilt top. Some quilters like plastic storage boxes, where the blocks can lie flat and covered; others like to use snap-style skirt hangers and hang their blocks in the closet, where they can be seen and not forgotten. The flatter & smoother your blocks remain until you put your quilt together, the easier the final sewing will be!


Next episode on How To Quilt: the Nine Patch quilt block!

Looking for a place to use your growing quilt skills?

Join us at the Murder Mystery Quilt!

A mystery quilt is a project that resembles putting together a puzzle without ever seeing the box top: you see each piece, but you don’t know what the final result will be. The MURDER Mystery Quilt is a subscription club where you sew the quilt to solve the crime–because the clues to the exclusive mystery novel that comes with each monthly pattern are hidden in the quilt!

You can learn more at the Murder Mystery Quilt site, and join us as we solve crime in Yellowstone National Park in 2022!