Saturday, October 17, 2015

wonky stacked coins block - a tutorial

i am once again plugging away at my wonky stacked coins blocks for s1's quilt. since i redesigned the quilt, i now need less of these blocks (but more of some others). i've got 11 down, 3 to go! while i was making block #11 this morning i decided to photograph the process. i tried to be pretty meticulous in my photography of steps. consequently, there are about 40 photos in this post of a pretty straight forward block. having once been a beginner that always felt information was missing, i tend to over do my instructions. i hope it helps someone, somewhere.

here we go . . . 

well, first, a few specifications:

  • i'm making a 12.5" x 15.5" (unfinished) block
  • each block contains roughly 10 "coins"/different printed fabrics per block
  • kona "windsor" blue is my background fabric. i believe i started with around 3yds.
  • this is a scrappy quilt. i started out with 1/4yd of several fabrics that fit my color scheme and theme, as well as a few scraps from previous projects. then i just started cutting. i have no specific fabric requirements to give and i certainly wont be using all the fabric i started with. you could just as easily make this block entirely out of strip scraps from your scrap stash.
  • i did not use any standard sizes for my coin height or length, i just worked within a range, deciding as i went how big to make each coin. my lengths vary from 4"- 9", the heights fall somewhere between 1.5"- 4". or somewhere thereabouts.
  • i got my inspiration for this block from block party: the modern quilting bee
  • warning - my method makes scraps and even some outright fabric waste. you can take the time to do all the maths and make everything precise to minimize your waste, but that was too mind numbing and tedious for me. this is an organic process, not an exact science. 
  • that said, a happy medium would be to pick 3 or 4 standard sizes for cutting your coins. this would allow you to use the background fabric more efficiently.
  • now that i think about it, this quilt block could easily be made with jelly rolls of printed and solid fabrics. that would be pretty easy! it wouldn't be as wonky looking unless you intentionally cut on the diagonal, but it could be done. (hmm, the wheels are turning here. maybe another quilt idea just got born. i'm sure it's been done before somewhere but it'd be fun to try.)

making a coin strip

you can easily make 4 - 5 coin strips of the same printed fabric at a time from just one width of fabric (wof - selvage to selvage) strip and a bit of chain piecing.

press your fabric then fold it selvage to selvage, wrong sides together, and square off.

decide how tall/high you want your coin to be and cut one strip from selvage to fold, making a wof  length strip. (in case you missed it, i cut my coins anywhere from 1.5"-4" high.) the one pictured is 3" x wof.

next, subcut the strip into coins that vary in length from 4"- 9". you can make all your coins from this fabric of a similar length or mix it up. at this point, i only needed 5 more blocks, so i was only making 4 coins per fabric strip. the leftover piece was set aside for future use elsewhere.

since my fabric strip was folded in half, wrong sides together, i only had to make 2 cuts to get 4 coins.

this is an overview of what the cutting process looked like laid out on my cutting mat.

now let's cut your background pieces for your coin strip.

note - since i was making lots of strips at the same time and each strip used some background fabric, i just kept the piece of "windsor" on the side of my cutting mat and pulled it over into action whenever it was needed.
cut a wof -length strip the same width as your coins. here, that's 3" wide by wof.

the coin strip needs to be a minimum of 12.5" long, and a seam allowance needs to be worked in (.5" per seam), so the total length is really 13.5". subtract the length of your coin (here 5.5") from 13.5" (here 13.5" - 5.5" = 8") and divide that number in half (here 8"/2 = 4"). this is the minimum length of background piece you need to cut from your strip. i usually add an inch or two to the minimum length to give myself some room to play with. i don't want each coin centered in the strip so by adding wiggle room, i give myself the ability to slide the coin to the right or left within the block.

as you cut, pair up a set of background cuts with each coin. you will need two background pieces per coin and consequently might need two background strips to cut from. just cut another like the first if it's needed.

when each coin has a pair of background pieces, move to the sewing machine and begin chain piecing.

using a 1/4" seam allowance, attach a background piece to the right side of each coin. don't cut between coins, just sew a stitch or two then add in the next one.

as you sew the right side piece on, lay the other background piece off to the side for round 2.

when your right sides are all sewn, clip the thread to detach from the machine.

at this point, finally succeed in smacking that really annoying mosquito that has been buzzing around and biting you because you left the sewing room doors open to the lovely weather outside. gotcha! now get back to your sewing in peace. (tracy, this was for you!)

turn the chain pieced coins around and attach background pieces to the other side of your coins. you can grab any old piece from that pile you set aside, just as long as it will give you a total length of 12.5" minimum. really, if you cut all the background pieces slightly over the minimum length, this shouldn't be an issue. but if you are using scraps left from previous blocks, it might be. (more on that later.)

when all your coins have a background piece on each end, detach from the machine and cut them apart.

lay them out on the ironing board for some chain pressing.

remember to "set the seam" by first giving a quick press to the closed seams as sewn together.
then go down the row, opening one side and pressing.

when each is done, move down the row again and press open the second side.

now you have a lovely set of coin strips for building your blocks.

at this point you can create sets of coin strips with several fabrics. most of my blocks used 10 coins, give or take one. you can either make several different sets at once or you can make a set, attach one strip to your block, then make the next set, attach another strip until you've built the whole block. it's up to you. i did a combination of both. after you've done your first block, you will already have a whole set to work with. you can either just use those or you can add more into the mix, too. i used about 20 different fabrics myself.

if you make all your strips sets before assembly, you can line up piles of your strip sets and get ready to sew your blocks.

block assembly

start with a strip that has been cut to the block's width of 12.5", with maybe a little bit of wiggle room built in by a few threads or so. take your next strip and decide where you want the coin to fall in relation to the previous coin. as long as the strip you are adding either meets the edge of the previous strip or goes past it, you are good.

now you can either lay out a few strips at a time or just add one strip at a time as you go.

take your base strip and the next strip to be added. place them right sides together, matching long edges together as well as possible, and attach with a 1/4" seam.

press open.
all my seams were pressed to the side but i wasn't particular about which side i pressed toward. none of my fabrics were excessively light, so i wasn't worried about show-thru. mostly, i pressed toward the new strip.

if some of your strip edges are rather "organic" and aren't exactly even, (most likely to happen when you use scraps), you can either trim them or match them up the best you can with the new strip and turn the shorter side up while sewing so you can see the strip you're using to guide the 1/4" seam.

in this case, my background piece on the left side of the bottom coin strip is taller than the coin section. i put that piece on the bottom so i could use the straighter, more even piece (on top) to guide my seam allowance.

while it's not necessary to trim up the edges after attaching each strip, do give the block a trim every few strips so as to keep it in check and nicely squared. use the base coin strip, which was cut to a generous 12.5", as the guide for trimming. set aside the extra pieces you trim off for use on future coin strips.

flip the block over and trim the opposite side as well.

this was the point where i remembered that i own a 12.5" square ruler and i could use it to square my blocks. genius. of course one isn't necessary, but since i own one it was stupid not to use it.

do this every few strips and you'll keep things pretty square. also, if you are working close to the minimum length requirements, this will keep you from getting a nasty surprise when you go to suare up the final block and discover your block was leaning slightly and now some of the strips are too short. that can be fixed, but it's better to avoid it up front.

how to make a coin strip with scraps

those leftover pieces you've cut off the ends of strips as you square your blocks can be used to make more strips. pair up a coin piece with two spare pieces that are near it in height and are long enough to add up to 12.5" (finished) or more.

here i have a green coin piece that's about 8" long and 2" high. i selected background scraps that were 2" x 2.5" and 2" x 4.5". don't forget to account for the seam allowances! the pieces will loose a collective 1/2" at each seam when sewn together so make sure before sewing that they equal a minimum of 13.5".

sew together and press open.

and this is the point where my iron's bladder leaks water everywhere because i unwittingly ruined it by leaving the water in the iron between uses. apparently it's not suppose to be stored that way. who knew? (well, after i read the manual to see what the problem might be, i did.)

add some wonky to the block

so far with this block my seams are pretty straight. but if you have a piece that isn't straight or if you just want to add in some slanting wonkiness, go for it! you do this by trimming the top of the most recently added strip at an angle before you add the next strip. since the green fern scrap-pieced strip i had added was not even along the edges, i decided to trim it at an angle.

it's not lying exactly flat, so it doesn't look straight, but it is. you can see that it's definitely at an angle now. go ahead and add the next strip, making sure that all edges of the new strip surpass the edges of the wonky cut strip. after you add the next strip, square off the top of the block as well as the sides.

finishing the block

since we're not using exact measurements, you have to approach the last strip in the block a little more mathematically than the others. when you are close to the height of 15.5" for the block, measure precisely how much fabric you have left to add.

pairing my 12.5"  square ruler with my 3" x 18" ruler gave me exactly 15.5" along one side, which made seeing what size strip i needed to add really easy. you could just measure with whatever you've got, but this was pretty convenient since i had the rulers.

i am lacking about 1.75". don't forget to add in 1/2" for the seam allowance. if you don't mind trimming waste, you can size your strip generously and then trim it down after everything is attached.

and somewhere i went wrong. looking at the above photo, i think it's because i was only looking at the very edge of that piece, which, in the photo, is quite clearly not cut straight. after i trimmed, it was obvious i was 1/4" short at one end. darn it! but now i can show you how to fix it.

assess how big your patch needs to be, and add on for the seam allowance.

i didn't want to do a bunch of finicky math and measuring, so i simply picked a piece that was well oversized, knowing i could trim it down. i picked a scrap that was long enough to surpass the short section by about an inch and was far wider than needed. i saved all trimming for after attachment.

i aligned the scrap with the block, letting it hang over just a bit on the right edge, and making it square with the top corner. (i should have photographed it from the other side - sorry) then i attached it with a 1/4" seam, pressed open, and square it off.

you may notice my scrap patch doesn't extend all the way to meet the top edge. i probably could have avoided that by angling the patch piece a little better, but that will be sewn into the seam allowance when this block is attached to another on top of it. or it will be sewn into the binding. either way, it doesn't matter.

and there you have a 12.5" x 15.5" wonky stacked coins block.

you can either group several of these blocks together for a quilt (my original plan) with wobbly columns of stacked coins. or you can use them in conjunction with other types of blocks for a more varied quilt (plan b). whatever you choose, have fun with it.

linking up with lee's wip wednesday at freshly pieced
and lorna's let's bee social at sew fresh quilts


  1. Well done 3 to go..woohoo! Thank you for the tutorial, it's great to see techniques and share creative thoughts. I love that wonky scrappy coin block, will keep that in mind as I have a lot o scraps to make into quilts.

  2. Maybe now you are feeling a bit better about these blocks??
    That is a great tip to trim the block often. (And to use your rulers if you have 'em.... ;-)
    (sorry about the darn mosquito ~ glad you finally got it!!)
    Keep going ~ you can do this!!!!

  3. Hey- 3 left when you did this post - that must feel great. Thank you so much for sharing your process. I know it takes a while to make these posts! I will undoubtedly be making a scrappy coin quilt some time, so I'll pin this to come back to. :)

  4. Hi Hydeeann. I like your scrappy wonky stacked coins. Thanks for sharing the process. 👍


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