Putting It Together: Assembling the Zigzag–or Streak of Lightning–Set (Part 2)

Unknown, quilter. Variable Star. 1870. From Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives, The Heritage Quilt Project of New Jersey, Inc.. Published in The Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org/basicdisplay.php?kid=4A-7F-31F. Accessed: 04/15/2013.
Unknown, quilter. Variable Star. 1870. From Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives, The Heritage Quilt Project of New Jersey, Inc.. Published in The Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org/basicdisplay.php?kid=4A-7F-31F. Accessed: 04/15/2013.

As I promised in my Tuesday post, today I’ll show you how easy it is to assemble the rows for the zigzag (or streak of lightning) set. A couple of things to keep in mind before you begin:

You can make either an odd or even number of rows for this set. I typically prefer an odd number, but I’ve been known to make an exception.

To stabilize the rows–that is, to avoid stretching and distorting as you stitch and press them–you’ll want the straight-grain edges of the setting triangles to fall on the row’s outer edges. For this reason, you’ll use quarter-square triangles to fill in the side, top, and bottom edges of the even-numbered rows, and also to fill in the side edges of the odd-numbered rows.

Quarter-Square Triangles_Cutting

You’ll use half-square triangles to fill in the top and bottom edges of the odd-numbered rows.

Half-Square Triangles_Cutting

Because the alternating rows are staggered, and also because of the way you’ll cut the pieces, you’ll want to avoid stripes, plaids, and other directional prints for the setting triangles in the zigzag set. Although I love the fabrics on the left in the photo below, they’re not the ones I would choose here. The subtle, random, and tone-on-tone prints on the right are much better choices.

Fabrics on the left - not the best choices for the zigzag setting triangles; fabrics on the right - good choices!
Fabrics on the left – not the best choices for the zigzag setting triangles; fabrics on the right – good choices!

If you like the 6″ (finished) Churn Dash block that I’ve used for the samples in this post, you’ll find a bonus tutorial  in the Pattern Library. This “bonus” includes the cutting and assembly instructions for the block, as well as the size squares you’ll need to cut for the quarter- and half-square triangles that will finish the rows for this or any 6″ pattern. If you’re really curious, the tutorial also tells you how I figured the sizes of those squares so you can set any size block in a zigzag set. 

Now for the row assembly!

Even-numbered rows:

1. Turn the blocks on point with corners touching to make a vertical row. Fill in the sides, top, and bottom with quarter-square setting triangles.

Churn Dash_layout_Q square_3

2. Sew each block between two setting triangles as shown; press the seams toward the triangles. Repeat for all the blocks in the row.

Make sure those triangles are turned the right way!
Make sure those triangles are turned the right way!

3. Sew the units together; press.

Churn Dash Q Square sides sewn

4. Sew 2 quarter-square triangles together along their short edges as shown; press. Make 2 and sew them to first and last blocks to finish the row; press.

Churn Dash Q square top sewn

Odd-numbered rows:

1. Turn the blocks on point with corners touching to make a vertical row. Fill in the sides with quarter-square setting triangles. Fill in the top and bottom edges with half-square setting triangles.

Churn Dash H Square layout

2. Sew each block between two setting triangles; press the seams toward the triangles. Repeat for all the blocks in the row. (Note: For first and last blocks you’ll be sewing one half- and one quarter-setting triangle to the block.)

3. Sew the units together; press. Sew the remaining half-square triangles to the first and last blocks to finish the row; press.

Churn Dash H Square sides sewn

Once you’ve made the desired number of rows, it’s time to sew them together.

Joining the Rows:

1. Use an erasable marker or pin to mark the midpoint of each (side) quarter-square triangle.

Churn Dash rows pinned close

2. With right sides together, carefully pin rows 1 and 2 together. Start by matching the ends, and then the corners of the blocks with the marks or pins that you placed in the adjacent row. Add more pins as desired.

3. Sew the rows together. (I like to sew this long seam using a machine-basting stitch; once I’m sure that I’ve made all my matches and haven’t lost any points, I restitch using my regular stitch length of approximately 12 – 14 stitches per inch.) Press the seams open between the rows to distribute bulk.

OK, you caught me! if you look closely, you'll see that I haven't really stitched these rows together yet. See the note at the end of the post for an update.
OK, you caught me! if you look closely, you’ll see that I haven’t really stitched these rows together yet. See the note at the end of the post for an update.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 to sew the remaining odd- and even-numbered rows together in pairs; press.

5. Sew the pairs together; press. If applicable, add the last odd-numbered row; press.

Yippee! You’ve done it!

Note: I have big plans for the Churn Dash quilt you see in progress here. Later next month, I’ll be heading to the foothills with my friends, Alex Anderson and Joen Wolfrom, for our annual getaway. I plan to bring the rows along, assemble them, and add a nice, scrappy, pieced border. I promise to show you a photo of the finished top when I return.

Getaway coming: It won't be long now!
Getaway coming: It won’t be long now!

My thanks to The Quilt Index  for their assistance in securing the image that opens this post. That’s it for now. ‘Til next time, happy stitching!

Darra-signature

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