Why the Rules Matter

Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Help | 3 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. I think another rule to stress is to really keep to the colors when they are given in the monthly challenge. When someone wins a set of blocks the little extra orange that you put in the purple and green blocks – that looked so good to you at home makes it so the eye is drawn to that orange. If the challenge says white then don’t use cream, etc.

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