Sunday, May 3, 2015

Tiny Steps and Bow-tie Tutorial....

A couple of folks asked about the Improv Bow-tie quilt and my teeny tiny Courthouse Steps.  
So I finally got around to taking pictures and thought I would give you a little tutorial.

Paper Foundation Pieced Courthouse Steps

Begin with a template...I have been using computer paper, but for demonstration purposes, I used a tissue paper called Golden Threads.  It is much like tissue paper, but comes on a roll. I am using it for the tutorial because you can see through easier to demonstrate than computer paper.

Courthouse Steps is a variation of a Log Cabin block. In a traditional CH Steps block the center is square and each step is the same width as the center. So my template has a 3/8 inch square center and each step is 3/8 inch wide. 

You can easily make your own template and with any size step you desire. Start with the center square...

Add the top and bottom my template the center is 3/8 square and the top and bottom are also 3/8 inch square. Then add sides which are 3/8 inch wide but the length is equal to the center+top+bottom = 1 1/8 inches
The next steps you add will be to the top and bottom again...then the sides. Continue adding steps until you have as many or as like.

You can work this block without using a paper foundation template. I used a template because my steps are so small and I wanted it to be as accurate as possible. 

Notice there aren't any seam allowances included in my template. For paper foundation piecing we will add the seam allowances as we trim back each step after it is added. You will need to remember to leave a 1/4 inch seam allowance around the perimeter of the finished block or your last step will be super thin ;)

I cut my center square 1 inch x 1 inch...all of the strips for the steps I cut 1 inch by the width of the fabric.

Start in the center and place the center square with the wrong side of the fabric facing the wrong side of the template. You will look at and sew on the right side of the template each time you add a step.

I place a little glue-baste it to hold my center fabric in place.

Take a strip of fabric for the top step and cut it so it is as long as the step plus at least a 1/4 inch for seam allowance on both sides. You do not have to measure and cut just needs to be at least the length of the step plus 1/2 inch (it can be longer).

It's important to reduce your stitch length to about 1.5-1.7...the purpose of a reduced stitch length is to better hold these small pieces together and to more easily perforate the paper for tearing it away.   

With right sides of the fabric facing, stitch along the first line above the center square. The right side of the template you made will be facing you. The advantage of tissue paper or velum or Golden Threads paper, is that everything is visible even though you are stitching with the paper side up.    

Fold the paper back on the stitched line, exposing the seam allowance. Trim the seam allowance leaving a 1/4 inch.

Finger press or heat press this first step back away from the center. The next step will be the one on the opposite side. Stitch exactly in the same manner as the first step and trim and press.

 Once you have the center and two steps on opposite sides of the center, it's time to add steps to the right and left of the center. I begin this by folding the paper back on the 3 line to be stitched and trim the seam allowance to a 1/4 inch. Now I just have to cut my 1 inch wide fabric long enough to cover that step + 1/2 the raw edge to the raw edge of the piece I just trimmed...and stitch directly on the third line. Repeat for the opposite side....

If you are familiar with paper foundation piecing this will be very easy! If you are just takes a bit of practice. I still have to pull out the seam ripper once in a while.

A word of caution! This pattern requires some thought in terms of the fabrics and their placement. So the next block in my first row (to the right of the block above) will need to have on the left side of the center the same Liberty fabric. The block below the block above, will need the same Cotton and Steel fabric that I used on the bottom steps. Blocks will share fabrics with the blocks to the right and left and with the blocks above and below.

You can see in the picture above the shared fabrics.
It's a fabulous design and makes a big impact! It just takes a bit of work and planning.

Improv Bow-Tie Block

This little block is super easy! If you have any experience with the process of Improv piecing, you will get this right away. 
I begin with two squares or rectangles of my bow-tie fabric...and four rectangles of my background fabric. I don't measure these. I simply oversize all of the fabrics I use and the background pieces are larger than the bow-tie fabrics. If you dislike wasting bits of fabric....this may not be the process for you.

Take one bow-tie fabric pieces and lay a background fabric piece on top of it at an angle. Stitch using a 1/4 inch seam allowance and trim to leave 1/4 inch seam allowance from the stitch line.


Press open and repeat on the other side of the bow-tie fabric. Place the background fabric at an angle again, but be sure it crosses the top of the last section added. Once you have trimmed the seam allowance, you should have a piece that looks like a wedge or a wonky triangle.

I know the background pieces look very wonky at this point but it will be squared up at the end.
Repeat this whole process with the other side of the bow-tie.

Then I trim the points of both bow-tie units leaving a 1/4 inch seam allowance.

Stitch both bow-tie units together, matching the points.

Trim up all sides to make a square or rectangle.

To put my bow-ties together into a quilt, I simply filled in the spaces with background fabric. This gave my quilt a more 'random' look. Or you could square all of your blocks up to the same size to make your quilt more symmetrical.

Let me know if you make your own courthouse steps or bow-tie quilt!
happy sunday!


  1. I'll have to remember the bow tie tutorial! I just dipped my toes into improv piecing and those are darling. :) When I venture into paper piecing, I'll have to try out those courthouse steps too!

  2. I still can't believe you have made this beautiful mini quilt for a stranger?! (unless of course, you know who your partner is) I certainly hope your swap partner treats you as well! I know I regretted giving away my "Feathered Star " mini years ago. I cannot even remember what I got in return.....

  3. Great tutorials Mary! It's always wonderful to see what fabulous things you are creating.

  4. Love love love! As soon as I saw that the center was 1 inch, I got all excited because I have an overflowing chicken(!) full of 1 inch squares!!! I WILL be making the wee CH steps!!! I have made little bitty Log Cabins, just never thought to make these! Sew inspired :) Thank you! And the bowties are adorable...have loved them since the first time I saw them! You are just so full of good ideas!!!

  5. what a detailed tutorial, I have a mental block on paper foundation pieing so a couple of weeks ago I got a DVD on it, with your instructions and the DVD maybe I will conquer my block though I think I will need to do my bigger to start with

  6. Just loving that little courthouse steps--(as i worked in Law offices for many years, it seems apropos that I make something like that) lol hugs, Julierose P.S. Gorgeous Liberty fabrics....

  7. Thanks SO much for the beautiful tutorial Mary!!! Your little quilt was SO perfect! As I was looking through these photos, I have to smile...because thanks to @SunnydaySupply I am the proud owner of my own tiny liberty stash!!! Have a fun....and QUILTY day!