Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Michael Miller challenge block

I had so much fun sewing my PMQG challenge block using all the lovely solids Michael Miller sent us! I have always wanted to try string quilting and this felt like the perfect chance to work on something new. Love all the colors together! I wanted to share how I made my block, so if you're interested, you can read on for a simple tutorial.

Michael Miller challenge block.jpg

We were so lucky to have Kathy Miller speak at our February meeting, and she brought Cotton Couture cards for each of us with swatches of all 80+ colors in their new solids line. (Fabric Depot is now carrying every single Cotton Couture color, if you are local!)

Kathy Miller at the PMQG!

So Heather, Nancy, Petra, Ale and I met up and chose 8 colors we loved from the collection for a PMQG challenge, and Michael Miller generously sent us a bolt of each one. We had an all-evening cutting party at Nancy's studio, and ended up with this beautiful box full of fat eighths to share with everyone at the March meeting...

MMF fat 8ths challenge fabrics.JPG

I stitched up a little pennant of the eight challenge colors - Fog, Meadow, Clementine, Luna, Charcoal, Kryptonite, Tangerine, and Aqua.

PMQG challenge colors pennant.jpg

Heather and Petra each sewed improv blocks in the challenge colors in honor of Michelle's wonderful presentation.

Michael Miller blocks.jpg

So, the challenge details are all on the blog, and I was so excited to work with these colors, but the specific block size requirements (15.5" x 18.5") threw me a bit at first. I usually piece square blocks, and rarely anywhere near 18 inches across. But doing a little math, I realized that if I pieced five 8" square blocks and cut one into 2" x 8" strips to sew on both the horizontal sides (using a 1/4" seam allowance throughout), it would magically translate into the correct finished size!

5 string blocks.jpg

I started by cutting five eight-inch fabric squares for foundation piecing, using an extra piece of Luna (the pale blue solid in the range), and then cut two varied-width strips from each of the 8 colors the length of the fat eighths (22"). I cut each strip randomly between 1 and 3 inches wide, without thinking about it too much. I made and photographed this block very quickly during one naptime, so I didn't take step-by-step photos of my piecing - for the basics of string quilting, I'll send you to this excellent film in the fridge tutorial. The differences with mine are that I pieced on fabric instead of paper (so don't adjust the stitch length at all, you won't be tearing the back away), and instead of using a glue stick, I just pinned my first diagonal strip in place and stitched the second one on to it, removing the pin afterward, and continuing the same way to fill the square. You'll press and trim the same way as on paper, but you'll have a nice sturdy fabric foundation layer underneath. I loved how much calmness the double layer gave a larger block - Cotton Couture is silky and wonderful to sew with, so it is not heavy or bulky at all.

5th block cuts.jpg

After I made five 8-inch blocks, I stitched four together to form a big, colorful diamond pattern. Then I sliced the 5th block into four 8" tall, 2" wide strips, thinking they would be perfect for adding to the sides to yield that magical 15.5" x 18.5" dimension!

opposing diagonals.jpg

...but I figured out that while they are exactly right size-wise, to continue the diamond pattern, you need two strips with the diagonal going one way, and two with it going the opposite way. Whoops! So I stitched up one more 8" x 4" opposite-diagonal section with the scraps (the one on the left - I had just enough time and fabric left, yay) and cut that one into two strips to use instead. And ended up with this!

Michael Miller challenge block.jpg

If you don't want to try string piecing, maybe imagining four 8-inch blocks of any style, with an extra one sliced and diced for the sides, will help you plan something fun to build out to 15.5" x 18.5". I think that it would be fabulous to use log cabin, improvisational patchwork, paper piecing, or any other block style you're into this way...

MMF fat 8ths challenge fabrics.JPG

If you are a PMQG member and haven't gotten your challenge fabric yet, you can pick it up from Nancy at her Just Quilting studio, Monday through Friday. Just give her a call first (503.234.0403). And if you're working on your challenge block, please share photos in the PMQG flickr pool, we'd love to see them! You can bring your challenge blocks to our April meeting (Thursday the 19th at 7 pm, PNCA) or email us at portlandmodernquiltguild at so we can collect them and take photos. Kathy Miller will choose 16 of our blocks to create a special Cotton Couture quilt for the Michael Miller booth at Spring Quilt Market! We'll make a PMQG-collective quilt with the others plus any improv blocks using your scraps you'd like to bring in May, and hope to show it in Sisters.

PMQG challenge colors pennant.jpg



  1. Susan, I love your block. I made mine yesterday, and will take a photo tonight and post on Flickr. Mine is similar to yours, but not on the diagonal - a 4-square of strips... Do we have a size idea for the improv block using the remnants of the challenge block?

    1. Patty, I can't wait to see your block - yay!

      The improv block size is totally open, you can make a few small ones, or just build out whatever larger size you want to. Those will be fun!


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