Why the Rules Matter

Posted by on December 31, 2011 in blocks | 8 comments

Andrews recent experience with his red and white blocks, my own experience of working with some (not from the lotto) swap blocks in making my Christmas quilt and a couple of emails from recent winners have reminded me to remind you of a couple of rules and explain why they matter.

  1. PRE-WASH ALL FABRICS YOU USE FOR LOTTO BLOCKS  I know many quilters trust in the quality of the fabrics they buy and don’t pre-wash for their own quilt projects.  I will confess that for my first few years as a quilter, I didn’t either. Unfortunately,  sometimes, even name brand, pricey fabrics will RUN.  If you don’t put them through the wash, how will you know?  I speak from recent personal experience when I say it’s heart-breaking when fabrics from even one block RUN . . .  and can ruin an otherwise wonderful quilt. 
  2. MEASURE YOUR BLOCKS  The Block Lotto is a newbie-friendly activity and there is a bit of wiggle room, but your blocks should be within 1/4 inch of the specified block size.  In 2012, all of our blocks will be 9 1/2 inches (to finish at 9 inches when sewn into a quilt) which means your blocks must measure between 9 1/4 inch and 9 3/4 inch — no more, no less.  If you send a too small block, you make it IMPOSSIBLE for the winner who receives it to use in a straight setting (no sashing).  Cutting down every other block to match yours is often NOT  possible because of the block pattern) If your block is too large, cutting it down to fit may mean cutting off points or otherwise creating a block that will look different than the rest.
  3. CHECK YOUR SEAMS Regardless of the pattern or technique you use, all your seams should be very close to 1/4 inch.  In my Christmas quilt, I didn’t re-check the seams of the blocks I received in a block swap and truly regretted it when, as I was quilting the last round of blocks around the outside edge and noticed that a seam in the last block had pulled out because someone had sent me a block with a half-square triangle that had almost NO seam allowance.  I had already quilted around three sides of the block, so fixing it was no treat.  Unfortunately I know that some lotto blocks have been sent with seams like this, too.  Consider what’s going to happen when a block like that is sewn into a quilt, perhaps stretched  into a quilting frame (or stretched by a quilter like me who is shoving a big quilt through and around a small home sewing machine) … and, if it survives the quilting, will be going through washer and dryer many times in it’s lifetime.  Check your seams and don’t send a block that will not last.
  4. FOLLOW THE BLOCK GUIDELINES I usually try to push the guidelines in the blocks I make for the lotto and create those “edge case” blocks to see if they will work. As quilters, many (most) of us don’t always color within the lines, but for the Block Lotto, it’s important that you stay within the guidelines for fabric, color and block pattern. I like the way my Christmas quilt came out, but … it was SUPPOSED to be a sampler.  Swappers signed up to make specific blocks and then about half of them sent something else.  So when I received my blocks, about half of them were the easiest block on the list and the rest were a selection of others.  As a sampler, it didn’t work.  As a non-sampler, it didn’t work.  I ended up taking apart and remaking half the blocks so I ended up with two block patterns.  I think it is successful now, but as a swap experience, it was a complete fail–do you suppose that’s why I haven’t participated in a block swap since? 

The winners are almost always thrilled with the blocks they receive, but rule-breaking blocks really do tarnish the glow. Let’s all resolve to only enter good (and rule-abiding) lotto blocks in 2012 … and beyond.


  1. I recommend pre-washing reds by hand- it lets you see which ones are misbehaving without having to guess. As i type this, I'm still trying to get a rather pricey ($11 reg price) piece of red Christmas fabric to stop running. It's been washed three times now and is still a bleeder- this is why I prewash by hand, though, so I know it's not ready to be dried and put to use!

  2. I think washing them as you would the whole quilt works the best. Of course, using the color catchers and sorting the colors. I pre-wash all the darker colors together and the lighter ones in a separate load. It takes more effort but I am certain my fabrics are ready if they are all pre-washed and folded on the ruler in my Fabric Cupboard or totes. I did some Maywood fabrics and the worst offender was a green one. So glad I pre-washed all of them.

  3. Thanks for reiterating these rules. Some of the recent scrappy trip blocks I won only measure 12" square. They came from more than one person and unfortunately I mixed up the ones that came on the first day and wasn't sure who sent those first smaller blocks so decided not to e-mail you. I am hoping I can fix them but am still working on my modern clover quilt. I am loving the overall effect but it wont bear too close a scrutiny as a lot of the points dont match up. However in saying this some of my own blocks seem to be the biggest culprits in this quilt – not sure why but will have another look at it today.

  4. Andrew shared a link to this great blog post: Stop the Bleed. The author mentions Retayne, which is the product I use on problem fabrics. It is designed for commercially printed fabrics, though a lot of hand dyers use it, too.

  5. Have to share my story…another reason to predawn is to get rid of STUFF on the fabric! A friend brought me an extra wide batik to use as a backing. It had some serious creases so I went to iron it and found some grungy spots and bug remnants, ick. I've heard other horror stories of gross stuff mixed in with fabric and clothing that has been shipped long distances. Everything goes in the wash first in my house.

  6. I so agree! I always pre-wash my fabrics – especially the reds. Of late, I have noticed the very dark colours have been bleeding a LOT. I now have two shelves of fabric – washed and not washed. when I wash something I have made with blocks from a swap, I use a Colour Catcher.
    Thanks Sophie & Andrew 😉

  7. we had a red fabric bleed heartbreak in the Facebook swap group last year (last year!); one of the blocks included in our Quilt of Valor quilt ran & the quilt that everyone was so happy to have sent a block for was ruled ineligible. Very disappointing all around. I have since asked everyone to wash once & for fabric that is batik, hand-dyed, vintage or of unknown provenance (I myself have purchased fabric at tag sales) should be washed twice or until the rinse water runs clear.

  8. I experienced a terrible purple bleed on the checkerboard blocks I won. (will post picture soon) I have now washed the quilt four times, it is better but not gone. I made it for a friends baby so I'm sure it will be washed frequently. I should haved used a dye magnet, but had wrongly assumed all fabrics were per washed 🙁

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