Instant Sizzle: The Zigzag–or Streak of Lightning–Set (Part 1)

When I first moved to the North Carolina mountains in the mid-1980s, I came across a vintage quilt in a local antique shop that instantly caught my eye. There was something about that quilt that spoke to me and–of course–that quilt followed me home.

Hovering Hawks, maker unknown, Ohio, c. 1880 - 1900, collection of Darra Williamson
Hovering Hawks, maker unknown, Ohio, c. 1880 – 1900, collection of Darra Williamson

As soon as I got my new “baby” home and up on the wall, I realized the attraction. It was that irresistable, zingy zigzag set, and in bright, bubble-gum pink, no less. (Lesson: If you’re gonna do it, do it with panache!)

While not exactly commonplace, the zigzag–or streak of lightning–set appears in any number of antique and vintage quilts, and it’s come to be one of my favorites. I love the energy that it adds to the overall quilt design.

Six-Patch, maker unknown, probably Virginia, c. 1870 - 1890; from the Ardis and Robert James Collection, International Quilt Study Center & Museum
Six-Patch, maker unknown, probably Virginia, c. 1870 – 1890; from the Ardis and Robert James Collection, International Quilt Study Center & Museum

Over the years, inspired by these vintage beauties, I’ve made my share of quilts using the zigzag or streak of lightning set. I’ve run the zigzags vertically . . .

19th-Century Lullaby, pieced and hand quilted by Darra Williamson, 1994
19th-Century Lullaby, pieced and hand quilted by Darra Williamson, 1994

. . . or horizontally, depending upon the look I wanted to achieve.

Caribbean Taxis, pieced and hand quilted by Darra Williamson, 1992
Caribbean Taxis, pieced and hand quilted by Darra Williamson, 1992

If you’ve wanted to try the zigzag arrangement, but were afraid it might be too difficult, let me reassure you:  if you can sew a straight seam, you can piece this set. Here’s the secret: the blocks are pieced in rows. No set-in seams required! By staggering the blocks–that is, by dropping them a half step–in alternate rows the zigzag effect magically appears.

Rows_4

While the alternate rows in many vintage quilts (and in my quilts, “19th-Century Lullaby” and “Caribbean Taxis”) are finished with pieced half-blocks, I’ve found a much easier way to finish the rows. Instead of pieced blocks, I’ve substituted simple quarter-square setting triangles.

Quarter-square setting triangles; so much easier than piecing half-blocks!
Quarter-square setting triangles; so much easier than piecing half-blocks!

It’s the method that I used to piece the alternate (second and fourth) rows of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which I made for Cuddle Me Quick, co-authored with my friend, Chris Porter.

A-Tisket, A Tasket, designed and made by Darra Williamson, machine appliqued and quilted by Chris Porter
A-Tisket, A Tasket, designed and made by Darra Williamson, machine appliqued and quilted by Chris Porter

Ready to give it a try?  In my Friday post I’ll tell you how to assemble the set, and also give cutting instructions for the 6″ Churn Dash that I used for the in-progress samples above.

6" finished Churn Dash block
6″ finished Churn Dash block

Thanks, as always, to the International Quilt Study Center for use of the Six-Patch quilt image. If you’ve never visited their site, pop on over. You’ll be glad you did.

That’s it for now. ‘Til Friday, happy stitching.

Darra-signature

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15 thoughts on “Instant Sizzle: The Zigzag–or Streak of Lightning–Set (Part 1)

    1. I’m not positive, Cathie; that was the name provided by the source, the International Quilt Study Center and Museum. I suspect it is called six patch because there are six little squares on point on each side of the block. Hope that helps! Darra

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  1. Boy those quilts look familiar!! Like in the Rodale book you did the zig zag set chapter for. So good to be reminded of them. Showed them to my grandson, and he wants one like Carribean Taxis…hmmm maybe Christmas??

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    1. Sally, you have a terrific memory! “Hovering Hawks” opened the chapter on zigzag sets in that book (Rodale’s Successful Quilt Library: Sensational Sets & Borders), edited by none other than the fabulous Sally Schneider. Here I am, ____ years (!) down the road, and that set still fascinates me. I’m determined to finish the Churn Dash-in-progress that I’m using for the samples this summer. I started that one about three years ago. No matter what direction my quiltmaking takes me, I always manage to have one or two vintage-inspired scrap quilts in the works. Hope all is well with you and that our paths cross again soon. Darra

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    1. Thanks, Mary Jo! I couldn’t believe how easy it was when I finally tried it. Until I looked closely at the Hovering Hawks quilt, I envisioned a piecing nightmare. I’ll have lots more to help and encourage you on Friday. Darra

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    1. Thank you, Elle. It was so much fun to make this quilt, and Chris did a fabulous job, as always, with the machine quilting. She always seems to know exactly what designs will complement the piecing. Darra

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  2. Lovely post! Thanks for sharing your passion with us! I love your examples, and I also reallyl ike the faux ric rac your appliquéd? around the border of the Tisket a tasket quilt in the book_- wonderful and fresh!

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    1. Yes, Lizzie, that’s 1″-wide rickrack stitched to the outer border of the quilt, using the border seam to align the inner “zags” of the trim. That wide rickrack comes in so many wonderful colors, and it seemed just the thing for this quilt, echoing the zigzag set. Glad you like it! Darra

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