Rail Fence Quilt Block Re-imagined and Re-invented

I am happy to show you the new quilt block design I developed during the March Imagination Renovation Challenge where a group of pattern designers reimagined how the simple to sew Rail Fence block could create a new, exciting quilt layout. Have you been itching to sew something a bit different from the normal quilt block? Give it a try as I guide you through sewing this easy to make block I call “Grandma’s Doilies.” It is a simple block (finishing at 18″ square) that looks complex yet all you need is a rotary cutter and a 6-1/2″ x 24″ ruler to cut fabric strips.

Grandma's Dollies Quilt

Below is the 18″ square pillow I made from one block with a 2″ flange border giving it that feeling of being at Grandma’s house. For the back, I used a heart patterned fabric only because I was still working on the quilt top and wasn’t sure I’d have enough fabric.

Grandmas Dollies Grandmas Dollies Pillow Back Grandma's Doilies block sections

To make one block, you will need 5 fabrics: (WOF means Width of Fabric) If you want to make more blocks, increase the fabric needed accordingly.

  1. Background print 18″ x WOF (This is a generous amount because of the size of the center square. Extra can be used to cut a border to add to the block.)
  2. Churn Dash block 1/4 yard x WOF cut (blue in photo).
  3. Octagon Ring 1/4 yard x WOF cut (golden color in photo).
  4. Light outer border 1/8 yard x WOF cut (light pink in photo).
  5. Corner triangles 1/8 yard x WOF cut (dark burgandy in photo).

Cut the fabrics as given below: NOTE: A revision has been made in two cutting measurements and are shown below in bold and underlined.

  • Background: One square 6-1/2″ x 6-1/2″; Two strips 1-1/2″ x WOF; One strip 3-1/2″ x WOF
  • Churn Dash: One strip 3″ x WOF; One strip 2″ x WOF
  • Octagon Ring: One strip 2″ x WOF; One strip 1-1/2″ x WOF 
  • Light Outer Border: One strip 1-1/2″ x WOF
  • Dark Corner Triangle: One strip 3″ x WOF 

Sewing strips:  (See photo below.)

  • Strip set #1: Sew the 2″ Churn Dash strip to one side of the 3-1/2″ Background strip, along the WOF sides. Sew the 2″ Octagon Ring strip to the other WOF side of the Background strip. Press seams toward center strip.

long churn dash strip Sewing strips:  (See photo below.)

  • Strip set #2: Sew the 3″ Churn Dash strip to one 1-1/2″ Background strips, long sides together. 
  • Sew the 1-1/2″ Octagon strip to the Background strip just sewn, long sides together. 
  • Sew the last 1-1/2″ Background strip to the other side of the Octagon strip, long sides together. 
  • Sew the 1-1/2″ Light Outer Border strip to the Background strip just sewn, long sides together. 
  • Finally, sew the 3″ Dard corner strip to the Light Outer strip just sewn, long sides together. 
  • Press seams toward Churn Dash strip.

Cutting the units from the strips:

The strip set #1 is cut into 6-1/2″ squares using the rotary cutter and ruler. I make sure to center the ruler (3-1/4″ line) down the center of the middle block. If the block is a bit wider than 6-1/2″ you may have to trim a sliver off one edge or the other. Always make sure the seams of the strips are straight along the ruler lines before cutting the block units. You may have one or two extra units depending on the WOF used.

subcut units

Strip set #2 is cut on the diagonal. Use the photos below for assistance if needed. 

Lay the strip flat. The green line is the 45 degree line on the 6-1/2″ ruler. Align it on the middle seamline as shown. Cut on the edges around the ruler. After the 3 sides are cut, turn the ruler to cut the lower right side for a 6-1/2″ x 6-1/2″ square. Move along the strip cutting the units. I obtained 4 units with some end waste on my row of strips. 

You will have some extra triangle pieces after cutting the squares. The wider fabrics of the corner points might be saved to make a few extra block points. Or, you can sew them together to make waste-not-want-not blocks for sampler projects. (A photo below this one shows that.)

Cut diagonal block

If you have a 6-1/2″ square up ruler, this is how I cut the sqaures. You can see the waste triangle as I moved down the strip and cut the squares. 

diagonal with small ruler

And here is a possible layout for the fabric pieces that some would call waste. 


Lay the blocks out in the order shown below. Sew them into rows. Then sew the rows together into a block measuring 18-1/2″ x 18-1/2″ before sewing into a project or making a quilt. Press vertical seams of top and bottom row toward the middle. The vertical seams in the middle row, press toward outside.  

block layout

If you sew up one of  Grandma’s Doilie blocks, please post it on Instagram and tag me @patchworkbreeze so I see it, or email me a photo patchworkbreeze(at)gmail(dot)com

Visit the other designers on Instagram to see how they have reworked the simple to sew Rail Fence for fun new designs. #marchdesignerblockchallenge 

In April we explore the simple pinwheel block for more possibilities. 

Nancy Myers
Nancy Myers
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