Friday, September 10, 2021

About those House Top Blocks

In several postings, both here and on Instagram lately, what folks have really loved (and wanted more of) has been the House Top blocks... scrappy and pure fabric play. They aren't my priority quite yet, but in response to questions about them, I thought I'd at least share a little more.

I was recently drawn to them as I was thumbing through Bold Expressions: African American Quilts from the Collection of Corrine Riley: May 15-November 6, 2011, a book my daughter, Rachel/@snippetsofsnippets, purchased for me when she was fortunate enough to view the exhibit. It was in this book that I found inspiration for Octo, and I was perusing it again for ideas for my overflowing scraps. There I found a couple of House Top quilts. A name new to me, it's basically a variation of the Log Cabin, and in the example I was drawn to [made in Mississippi in the 1920s], every block was improvisational, each different from the others.

These were not nice, neat, matchy-matchy blocks, but obviously pieced from a wide variety of fabrics, with 'logs' of various sizes. It was enough to get me started, and even though some of the blocks I've made so far are much controlled than the blocks that inspired them, I think they have the same flavor.

A tutorial doesn't seem like a good fit for these blocks, but I will share some of the approach I'm using as I construct them. Mine are all 9" unfinished; no good reason why, as obviously they could be any size. This size is seeming to work well with my scraps.

This first one's as basic as they come.... a scrap as the center, then two rounds of 'borders.' Note that the width of neither round is consistent, but it works. I cut the edges of the scraps to make straight seams, and sewed them to opposite sides of the center, then trimmed the edges and continued on.

This next one is much like the first, but with a fussy-cut center. I don't expect to fussy-cut many centers, but if the scrap calls for it, why not?

The one below has three rounds of borders, due to the skinniness of the scraps. Obviously with the dark round I didn't quite have enough to go all the way around, so I filled in with a coordinating print.

Not quite as neat as the previous example, I pieced the outer border on this one as needed to make it fit around. I could have used that fabric for a shorter border round, but what would be the fun in that?

For the one below, I used one fabric for two sides of the outer round, and another for the other two. The piecing order obviously wasn't the same as in the previous blocks, but that's improv. Note that for the blue round, the widths of the logs are none the same.

It might be difficult to tell, but in the block below, the stripes are all pieced scraps. It's fun to incorporate your pieced bits into other scrappy projects.

So there's a few of my first blocks. Hopefully that gives you an idea how easy and satisfying these blocks can be. I'll probably be working on these between other projects, but be sure and let me know if you have any questions, ok?


  1. Exciting Log Cabin blocks! And use of contrast....
    Log Cabin blocks are historically classic and work with traditional all the way to modern.

  2. I think that letting the size of your scraps dictate the size of the block, rather than a desire to have a block that finishes at some preconceived notion, is the most important part of what you share here!

  3. I am completely in love with these blocks and you’ve now inspired me to play with my scraps! If only I had more time to sew. Summer is so short here, I’ve been spending most of my “sewing” time outside enjoying the weather. But fall is just around the corner and some improv blocks made from scraps is definitely going on the “To Do” list!

  4. Great use of scraps- my favorite!!

  5. I really like these blocks. controlled improv in a way.

  6. Love the individual look of each block with all their little nuances and yet the similarity of them when seen all together.

  7. These are so-o COOL! I love each one, for the variety of reasons that you gave for putting them together as you did. I've never been a fan of "log cabin quilts," but your version of a log cabin block is different enough to be enchanting. Plus, you have a nice variety of scraps! Definitely a larger scrap collection than I have. Believe it or not, but I'm starting to run low on them! Maybe it's because I haven't bought prints for so long and I'm not adding anything new to scrap bins. In any case, your blocks are great, and will be a fun work-on-them-as-I-can sort of project.