The Free Motion Quilting Project: 13. Quilt a Rail Fence with Circles & Stairs

Monday, March 31, 2014

13. Quilt a Rail Fence with Circles & Stairs

It's the end of the month and time to quilt our last Rail Fence Block in the Building Blocks Quilt Along:
free motion quilting | Leah Day

Yep, we're stitching some circles again! A lot of beginners find this shape a bit challenging, so if your circles are a bit wobbly, don't worry because you'll be in good company! It took me about 3 years to quilt circles confidently, mostly because I avoided them like the plague. If you actually jump into it and stitch circles more often, I'm sure you will master them much faster than I did!

free motion quilting | Leah DayJust a quick reminder - the piecing instructions for this block and the quilting design are included in the Building Blocks Quilt Pattern. Find this massive 100+ page pattern right here at

NEW! This block design is now available in a quilting stencil from Quilting Creations International. Use the stencil to easily mark the design on plain fabric, your block, or another fun quilt you're working on! Click here to find the 8 inch stencil compatible with the Building Blocks Quilt.

Now for the video!

I think I could have won an award with how confusingly I described not stitching in the ditch before you begin quilting this block! Basically just stitch the perimeter, then start quilting the straight lines around the circles and knock out the circles at the same time. Some of these lines will hit the ditches, we don't want to stitch straight across the whole block to start as we have with the other blocks.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
This is entirely a design / esthetic choice and it creates the very beautiful stairs and circles pattern on the back, with no indication that this is a Rail Fence block. In fact, this design would also look beautiful over our Four Patch Block too!

In this situation we're ignoring the piecing lines as we cover them with a beautiful quilting design. Sometimes I intentionally ignore the piecing design of a block, sometimes I intentionally focus on it and carefully stitch around every element.

These are all little design decisions that you can play with infinitely within every quilt you create. The trick is learning what you like and what you don't like - developing an opinion.

So often I'm asked "How should I quilt this? Is it okay if I use x, y, z design?" and the answer I always give is "Yes, I think that design looks great, but how do YOU feel about it?"

Developing an opinion on your quilting design is as simple as learning what you like to eat. You taste something new to try it and you either think instantly "Yay!" or "Bleh!" - that's your gut reaction talking, and your body usually tells you pretty clearly how you feel.

The same can be true for quilting - stitch something out and ask yourself if you like it. Look for the "Yay!" and the "Bleh!" in your reaction - sometimes it's worth it to stitch something you think you will hate just to know for sure if you hate it or not!

So start developing those opinions! We've quilted 10 blocks together now - which are your favorites? Which were your least favorite? Whatever you like or LOVE - stitch more of it!

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Just 10 blocks in and already I can see and hear the difference from the quilters posting in our BBQA Facebook Group.

Many members started the year filled with fear about free motion, especially fearful of being judged for imperfect stitches, wobbly lines, or an inability to stitch in the ditch.

Wonderfully, amazingly, this group has developed into an international cheering squad and everyone is gaining confidence and accepting mistakes, and finding that space to be less critical and judgmental of themselves.

The fact is we can make any task feel hard and awful by being mean and hurtful to ourselves.

Or we can make this fun and enjoyable by accepting our mistakes and imperfection as part of the learning process! Don't pick up your seam ripper - just keep on stitching!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. This weekend I attended a general women's meeting that the leaders of my church put on. My favorite statement was from Bonnie Oscarson, president of the young women (basically girls ages 12-18 who are members of our church all over the world!). She said that comparison usually leads to inadequacy and resentment. We need to relax and rejoice in our divine differences because we need each other. Your statement about the international cheering squad reminded me of this statement. I enjoy following your blog and I use your designs frequently in my free motion quilting. You're a wonderful asset to the quilting community!

  2. You have some great ideas on quilting?
    I hope to give some a go

  3. Thank you very much for all your brilliant work! Your are a wonderful instructor! You managed that I want every week be with my machine doing my block. I really enjoy the each block quilting and I'm getting goals to overcome on my own, but not what to say others on the subject!
    I'm less critical with myself and I have "forgiven me" many errors!
    You made me forget my fear and change the way in which I saw and thought about the quilting!
    Before it was a heavy burden for me and that is why I have many things unfinished. This year I began to enjoy!
    I thank you from my heart!
    And also to Josh, maybe it with courage each week inspires me to continue learning!
    To Both: thank you! For your time, your dedication, your excellence and, above all, for your teachings... on the quilting and many more things in life!
    A big hug to both!

  4. Yes, you have helped me step out, and go for the free motion quilting! I've done a little, but never felt I was good enough. But, Thanks to are so inspiring! I fmq on my new grandson's quilt. I felt confident enough after doing our first set of blocks...your designs helped me decide how to quilt it. He's finally here, I will go to see him this weekend. Will give him his quilt and then I can post it on the off topic face book page. Didn't want mom and dad to see it before hand. Thanks so much you are a great teacher and encourager. Keep it up!!!


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