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.

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