Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Summer 2017 Leader & Ender Challenge : Rail Fence!

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Today is a dentist day!

A big time dentist day and I have no clue how I will feel tomorrow and I leave for Pennsylvania on Thursday so it was planned that this would be written a bit ahead and be ready to roll as i leave the cabin – dentist bound!

We’ve been talking about possible Leader & Ender projects for months.  I have an idea board that is added to, and subtracted from, and notebooks galore of ideas and photos and sketches and possibilities.

I’ve been in love with simple rail fence quilts for as long as I have been quilting.  How many of you made your first quilt using the rail fence pattern?

I learned right off when making a simple 3 rail fence quilt that if that seam allowance isn’t where it is supposed to be, my blocks would be wider than they are tall, or visa-versa, and things wouldn’t fit nicely when turning the blocks to make the stair-step design we all love.

Because these rectangles are easy to cut ahead and store in baggies or baskets, this is going to be a VERY EASY year for our Leader & Ender project.  And better yet, you can choose how many rails you want your blocks to have, what colors you are going to use, how you are going to place your values and what size your project is going to be.

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Vintage 3 rail fence!

Suggested Sizes:

Block Size:  3 1/2’’ unfinished, 3” finished:
Cut Rectangles: 1 1/2’’ X 3 1/2’’
Fabric Arrangement:  Print/Print/Blue

Block Size: 5’’ unfinished, 4 1/2’’ finished:
Cut Rectangles: 2’’ X 5’’

Block Size 6 1/2’’ unfinished, 6’’ finished:
Cut Rectangles 2 1/2’’ X 6 1/2’’

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Vintage 4 rail fence!

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I love the black in this one!

All of the blocks have 3 scrappy rails, and one solid black one.  I love how the black zig-zags through the quilt.

If you cut all of your rails 1 1/2’’ X 4 1/2’’ this would be a great 4” finished block.

If you cut them 2’’ X 6 1/2” you’d have a 6” finished block. 

Remember you are going to decide what size of block you want, how many strips per block, and the finished size of your quilt.

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How about 4 rails from recycled shirts and plaids?

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Aren’t these fabrics great?

These photos were from a 2013 blog post.  You can read more about these above two quilts HERE.

Vintage 5 rail Fence


Close up – VELVET!

Most of these blocks seem to have one center color with a second color on either side, and the last two rails black.  This pattern would work great in 1 1/2’’ strips for a 5’’ finished block.  If you worked with 2’’ strips your blocks would finish at 7 1/2’’.

There are so many different variations of the rail fence theme that I started saving them all in a Rail Fence Quilt Pinterest board!

The last few years have been a bit on the intense side with our Leader & Ender challenges, and this year I am bound and determined to give you a break.  NO TRIANGLES!

But I am going to spice my OWN Rail Fence project up a bit --

Straight Set Stair Steps

On Point Zig Zags!


Block A


Block B

Blocks measure 6 1/2’’ unfinished and finish at 6’’ in the quilt.

And the blocks are SO simple.  The checkerboard portions are 4 patches, 3 per block, so easily sewn in between the lines of chain piecing other projects.  After all, that is what a Leader & Ender challenge is for, right?

As this is a challenge, and not a fully written pattern, no yardage requirements are given.  Work from what you have on hand, add to it if necessary.

Everything comes from 1 1/2’’ squares and 1 1/2’’ x 6 1/2’’ rectangles.  You’ll be digging into your 1 1/2’’ strip drawers or easily cutting small scraps to be able to use them in this quilt.

As you clean off your cutting table from other projects, consider slicing down scraps into just these sizes.  It’s like doing the dishes, better done often, than waiting 3 months to get the job done.

My 4 patches will be solid black (1 have 3 yards to work with. That should be enough for blocks and for binding if I stick with the full/queen I am intending) and random scrappy neutrals.

My rails will be all colors of the rainbow, and I’m not using any neutrals in my rails.  Just 4 colors.  Rails are cut 1 1/2’’ x 6 1/2’’.

Making the 4 patches:

Cut a bunch of black and neutral 1 1/2’’ squares.  Keep a basket of these by your machine, and stitch pairs of squares at the end of chain piecing instead of sewing on to a folded over thread covered scrap, or cutting threads.


Pair at the end of a piecing chain.

Snip between the leader/ender pair and the piecing.


Press to the black and measure.

Units should be 1 1/2’’ X 2 1/2’’.

Adjust seam allowance if they don’t.

Do not skip this test!


As you continue to build pairs, stitch pairs into 4 patches.

Make sure you are feeding your 4 patches through the machine all the SAME WAY!  Here the top seam allowance is pressed toward the black, and it is pointing UP toward the needle.  Stitch ALL 4 patches this way.


Spin the seams on the back like this!

For more information on spinning the seams, click the Tips & Techniques tab at the top of the blog and locate the Spinning the 4 Patch seams link.  There are more photos and info there on why and how.


4 patches measure 2 1/2’’ square and will finish at 2’’ in the quilt.


Block A units  with 4 patches in this position.


Block B units with 4 patches in THIS position.


Do you see how seams will oppose each other and nest?


Join the 3 units side by side and spin ALL the seams.

**hint** The seams that join the 4 patches together will spin the opposite direction.


Unit should measure 2 1/2’’ x 6 1/2’’


Stitching blocks:

While sewing over the course of the past weekend I joined the 1 1/2’’ X 6 1/2’’ rectangles into random pairs of colors and joined pairs into fours.

Add a checkerboard unit to the top of each rail section.


If we want these blocks to nest each other when we arrange them in the quilt, seams need to be dealt with in a specific manner.


Press like this!

Press the checkerboard section down toward the top strip of the rail section. Press seams as shown so they will nest with the next checkerboard section:


I love it when things work this way!


And this is only the beginning of an exciting new journey!

Whether you decide on a simple 3 rail fence, 4  or 5 rail fence with coloring of your own choosing, or decide to join me in stitching up Checkerboard Rails, it’s going to be a fun year with an easy, breezy, scrappy project growing on the side, don’t you agree?

Now go start some fence building!


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  1. Anonymous8:08 AM EDT

    Looking forward to getting started on this year's L/E project! Thanks for the inspiration! 👏👏👏

  2. Super Delightful! Thank you for this years Leader & Ender Challenge. I've been cutting 1 1/2" rails when doing "clean-up" from a project. I've always got 1 1/2" squares beside me. So I am ready to S.E.W. Hope all goes well for your tooth and your trip to PA. Hugs, Allison in Plano, Texas USA

  3. I've been looking at all the various Rail Fence patterns on Pinterest lately and had decided to make one as a leader and ender quilt. I have way too many charm squares so I think I'll use them and now I need a focus color. Guess I'll follow along with you. Hope the dental visit goes great.

  4. Yay! I was hoping for this. I've been cutting rails from scraps to do my own leader/ender project, but I'm glad that the official challenge coincides with my project--more fun with a virtual group. I'm doing a two-rail (color/neutral) project--I've seen it called Attic Steps on several sites. Let's go! :)

  5. Oh, I like this project! I'm torn whether to use tons of random charm squares or 2-1/2" strips! I love the solid blue to tone down, give some order to the many random prints. Wonderful stash busting project. Now to cut cut cut! Thank you, Bonnie!

  6. My first real Quilt was a Flannel Rail fence. Cut with scissors and a cereal box template on the 1970's. I bought the fabric at my JC Penney store. They had that old fashioned cutter thing and ripped it off the bolts. My father laughed at me cutting up perfectly good fabrics And, yes, I pre-washed it. It was tied with yarn and bound with the backing turned over to the front. Boy, I have come so far since
    then! I'm so in, Bonnie!

  7. Ah, now, this is going to be very interesting!!! I have loads of 1.5" bits and bobs and I could do with a quilt just for ME. GGG
    I have just returned from the dentist and the jolly adventures of the root canal work, I hope yours goes well.
    Thank you Bonnie :)

    Kathry from London ( and sometimes Ramsgate)

  8. Yippee. I'm doing a five rail with 2.5 in (2 inch finished) rails. I saw a free quilt pattern on Jo's Country Junction that had the second and fourth rail made of scrappy bars with the center and outer bars in a plain neutral. I loved it, and started bagging all my dark and medium squares in mid and navy blues, olive greens, burgundies and tans. I'm thinking a creamy white for the solid.

    So that's the plan! I love it that I'm already going on the new leader/ender; I certainly don't need two or more of them going at the same time (though I'm tempted by going back and doing the cute tiny spool blocks. Five years ago I had not yet ventured down the Bonnie Rabbit Hole LOL).

  9. This is a great idea, there are going to be a lot of beautiful quilts this year. I think a more "country" scheme with a scrappy brown and beige checkerboard would also be really lovely... oh no... @@

  10. I have been doing black and white 4 patches as my leaders and enders for forever. Not sure how I arrived at that place but for the first time in my life - I AM AHEAD OF THE GAME! Yeah, that won't last long but I an wiggling in the warm mud of satisfaction today! Found a huge box of homespuns last night. hum Might be the ticket! I'll have to think about this a bit. But since I am so far ahead - I have time to think, right? Thanks for the challenge! I needed that - really - really I did!!!!

  11. The rail fence was the 1st quilt I made when the rotary cutter and mats came out. Have made a few. I also taught for some time and this was the quilt I would teach for beginners. Love your quilt colors.

  12. This L/E thrills me to bits <3 <3 . I ave been lagging in the quilting department for a while now .I had lost my MoJo as it were and just letting things go along without me . I am so happy to NOT be sitting on the couch watching/reading all the lovely quilty- ness around me . Would you believe I have NEVER made a whole Rail Fence quilt ? Can't wait to make my First <3.

  13. Oh, I love this. I've made one rail fence in blacks and grays with color added by a black that has magenta flowers. I made it for a friend who had just bought a gray learher couch. Sadly she died on Christmas 2012, and I have the quilt back hanging over my living room rocker. I haven't made another since. While this quilt keeps my friend in my memories I think I'm ready for another- one without triangles! :)

  14. My rail fence quilt in lavenders is hanging in my sewing room in front of the sewing machine which was my first quilt that was offered free by Nancy Zieman many years ago. No rotary cutters for that cutting. So many changes since then with sewing tools. Excited to try this pattern again as Leaders/Enders. Thanks Bonnie!

  15. I must say that I wasn't too keen on rail fences (too boring) but now that you've added the checkerboards, it looks great! I believe I will be joining in. Thanks Bonnie.

  16. Love your picture on the Rail Fence Pinterest board! You look so happy! Good luck with the dentist and have fun in Pa.

  17. Thank you Bonnie! I love rectangles & four patches. I can definitely follow along this year!

  18. When you first mentioned rail fence blocks as a leader-ender, I wasn't sure about participating as I have already done a couple. But that checkboard pushes it over the top and I'm in! I'll do it completely scrappy, in order to deplete some of those black and very dark strips that seem to accumulate. Thanks again for a wonderful pattern, you sure know how to hit it out of the park.

  19. Oh man, I already have two leader ended projects going, the 4 patches from En Provence (yes, I'm waaaaayyyy late to the party) and 4 patches for a blue & white quilt based on an antique quilt! I'm almost finished with the blocks for a Scrappy Trips quilt, 40 blocks done, 24 left to go so if I focus on finishing that I can move the En Provence blocks to the primary project and add the rail fence as an alternate leader ender! Wow, I just needed to talk it through with people who don't think I'm quilt crazy. Now I just need to decide what size rail fence I want. Thanks Bonnie for all you share with us! I hope your dentist visit goes well and is as painless as possible.

  20. This WILL BE my first SCRAPPY quilt top! I've learned so much from you & your blog as well as from my copy of More Adventures in Leaders & Enders, that I'm even confident about using dark solids or prints where you have used black in your example blocks!!! I even had a few 1.5" neutral & white squares precut because I follow your advice as much as I can!!!! Now I know what size strip to cut out of my favorite scraps too! Yes! Yes! Yes! Merci Mille fois!

  21. I seen your checks and immediately thought of the polka dots fabric in b/w.

    Thanks Bonnie

  22. With a bin full of 1-1/2" strips, I'm leaning toward the one with the black zig-zag vintage four rail. Only strips I'd have to add would be the black solid. Easy peasy!

  23. Thanks for the great idea! I have a bin of 1 1/2' strips from scraps. Will do the 4 strips. Going to go do some cutting and get started! Happy to have a project for those strips!

  24. Well, I'm not sure I'm going to be doing it as a leader/ender, but this is a great kick in the pants for me to start in on that rail fence quilt I'm making for my mother's friend from her daughter's baby clothes. ^_^

    Thanks for great inspiration, as always!

  25. Thanks for this great post and sharing your knowlege and inspiration. Would love to try this some time.
    Wishing you the best at the dentist. I also went today and will be going back a lot more....... :-/

  26. This is SO great! I have a box of 30's novelty rectangles just waiting for this project. It was a quilt I changed my mind on from 20 or more years ago. I'll just go and get them out and see if I need to cut any more.

  27. Thank you Bonnie for giving us another leader ender project! I love the checkerboard! Happy sewing

  28. I must be the only person who does not like the rail fence block. I'm just going to keep working on my 3" square quilt. I have almost 2000 3" squares and I am sewing them into 16 patches.

  29. I have been agonizing over how to start using my seemingly endless accumulation of scraps. Bonnie, thanks for the inspiration . Gotta go start cutting!

  30. A summer of returning north and now hosting gran hildrEn for July so even L & E will be a challenge! Never made one but with boxes and tubs of material and a lot of scraps I hope to make my first one. I find a bit of sewing very relaxing between meals for kids and while waiting for bedtime!

  31. Great leader and ender project! I have a two large totes of Civil War fabrics I would love to use up so this project is perfect for them. I will be churning up my Accu-Cutter today.
    Thanks Bonnie

  32. This will be a great L & E as I will be making small baby quilts with my blocks for a local charity! Thanks Bonnie

  33. Anonymous9:13 AM EDT

    I loved this!! I belong to a FB group called Quilting Spaces and I just posted it over there primarily for your pressing instructions. They are excellent. Thank you. That group has 50,000 plus members and seem to have many new members every day. This should get some of them started pressing correctly. Thanks.

  34. I have some of these blocks in my sewing room with a black and white dotted edge. I'm going to pull those out for another look; maybe it's time to get back to them.

    If someone wanted a similar look to the checkerboards, but wanted to avoid the seams and extra work (yes, I'm always looking for shortcuts), they could do squares instead of the two rows of checkerboards. Half the squares would be BWB and half would be WBW.

  35. Rail Fence looks like a good one, especially with the checkerboard!! I'm still "stuck" on the 2011 (Bowties) and 2012 (Spools) though, and intend to finish those before starting a new L&E :) As I scrolled through your free patterns tab to find what years (yeah, lol) those were in, I was struck anew with just how much you freely give to us quilters (or piecers in my case as I rarely get them quilted...so far). THANK YOU!

  36. This looks like fun. Unfortunately I am way behind on last year's so I think I'll keep going on that.

  37. I'm woefully behind on these challenges but I Love your version of the rails. I'll be doing your version. Thank you Bonnie.

  38. I was inspired by the antique velvet knotted quilt in this post to make a velvet quit for my daughter’s wedding.

  39. Thanks Bonnie, love the Checkerboard Rails!


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