Color Block is a classic fashion trend and is just as fabulous for home décor. It has a cool 60s vibe in a bold, modern style, and no prints need apply. This is all about solid, saturated color, which makes it perfect for today's amazing large selection of solid quilting cottons. We worked with Michael Miller Fabric's Cotton Couture collection. For most of history, cotton has been a luxury fabric, something worth hauling by caravan out of the middle east and all the way to Europe. For some manufacturers, like Michael Miller, cotton is still a luxury fabric. From selecting the cotton variety to processing to dyeing, their goal isn't to make the least expensive fabric possible, but the best.
Cotton through the centuries
About 6,000 years after cotton was first spun and woven in Egypt, advancements like the cotton gin and industrial fabric production began to make it an inexpensive fabric. Today we enjoy historically low priced cotton in everything from bed sheets to t-shirts.
At the fabric store, you can certainly find very inexpensive cotton prints. But the drawback to cheap cotton is that it feels... well, cheap. It's stiff, rough, and it doesn't hold its color very long. You can tell this difference especially after you've handled and worked with higher quality cotton fabrics.
How better cotton fabric is made
Luxury cotton makers, like Michael Miller Fabrics begin by choosing their raw materials the way a chef chooses his ingredients. This means selecting from varieties like American Pima or Egyptian cotton (which has several subvarieties), then from these varieties, buying only the better quality fibers.
During initial processing, the shorter cotton fibers are combed out, leaving only the longer fibers, which produce finer thread. These longer threads can be woven at a higher thread count. This is the basis of the luxurious feel we love.
After the thread is woven into fabric, but before it's dyed, it will be gassed, specially prewashed, and mercerized (which allows the fabric to stay soft and loose after its been washed).
The dyeing process is where a lot of cheap cottons get that stiff, rough feel. Regular dyes simply 'paint' the outside of the cotton fibers, making them stiff. The darker the cheap dye, the stiffer the fabric. Luxury cottons are given their color with "reactive" dyes. Instead of just coating the surface of the fiber, these dyes actually permeate through to the core. The result is color that is deeper, more vivid, and longer lasting. It also means the darker colors are just as soft as the lighter colors and even the whites.
The most luxurious cottons are the solid colors. Because the process of making cotton prints is a lot like printing wrapping paper (the fabric is run through a printing press), it can never match the softness and colorfastness of reactive dyeing.
Finally, after dyeing, luxury cotton is further treated by calendaring (a process using heated rollers) and Sanforization (a process that fixes the fabric so it resists shrinking). Now it can be cut to size and delivered to your local candy shop (sometimes called a fabric store).
High end cottons, like Michael Miller's Cotton Couture collection don't just look wonderful. They wear longer, wash longer, and feel better. Once you've worked with them, you'll never go back to anything less. We found a lovely selection of Cotton Couture at Fabric.com, Fat Quarter Shop, and Fabric Depot.
Our runner finishes at approximately 18" x 45".
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
- Quarter Inch Seam foot; optional but helpful since all seaming is done at ¼"
- Walking or Even Feed foot: optional but helpful for quilting through the final layers
Fabric and Other Supplies
- 40 5" x 5" colored squares; we used a Charm Pack but you could also buy yardage and cut your own squares; our specific swatch key is shown below - the numbers we used refer to the position of the color within the Charm Pack stack as well as within the Cotton Couture Swatch Book
NOTE: You could certainly use fewer colors, but this table runner is all about showcasing a marvelous spectrum.
- 1¼ yard of 44"+ wide 'white' fabric - ½ yard for the contrasting front triangles and ¾ yard for the backing; we suggest Bright White Cotton Couture or similar
- ½ yard of 44"+ wide 'black' fabric for the contrasting front triangles; we suggest Charcoal Cotton Couture or similar
- ¼ yard of 44"+ wide coordinating fabric for the binding; we suggest Grass Cotton Couture or similar
- 1½ yard of 24"+ wide low loft batting; we used Warm & Natural quilt batting
- All purpose thread to coordinate with fabric; we used white
- Machine quilting thread, 50 wt; we used white
- See-through ruler
- Iron and ironing board
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Straight pins
- Adhesive dots or masking tape (to help keep track of colors/cuts)
NOTE: Alphabitties from Fat Quarter Shop are also a great alternative
- Hand sewing needle
When complete, you will end up with 80 leftover triangles, from which you can make another table runner. One for you... one for a friend.
- Collect the 40 5" x 5" squares in the colors shown or design your own pattern.
NOTE: We used numbered adhesive dots to keep track of our colors as some are very close in tone.
- From the 'white' fabric, cut the following:
ONE 45" x 19" rectangle for the backing
TWENTY 5" x 5" squares
- From the 'black' fabric, cut TWENTY 5" x 5" squares.
- From the binding fabric, cut THREE 2" x Width of Fabric (WOF) strips
- Cut the batting down to approximately 48" x 20". It doesn't have to be exact, you will trim it to exactly fit the top.
At Your Sewing Machine and Ironing Board
Half square triangle blocks
- Using a clear ruler, draw a diagonal line through the middle of each colored square, on the wrong side of the fabric.
- Following our design shown above, or using your own pattern, match up each colored square with its appropriate 'white' or 'black' square. You should end up with 40 pairs.
- Pin each pair of squares right sides together.
- Using a Quarter Inch Seam foot, align the foot's guide on the drawn line and stitch from corner to corner. The guide will keep your seam exactly ¼" from the drawn diagonal line.
- Place your clear ruler along the drawn line and cut away the excess. Set aside the un-sewn triangles. As mentioned above, you can make a second runner from the leftovers.
- Press the seam towards the darker of the two fabrics.
Assemble the blocks into rows
- There are a lot of pieces to keep track of, so work in a specific order, like a grid. We worked from left to right and top to bottom.
- Collect the ten half square triangle blocks for the first row. Pin the first two squares, right sides together, along one side. Sew together, using a ¼" seam.
- Take the third square in your sequence and pin it, right sides together, to the completed two-square piece. Sew together, using a ¼" seam.
- Continue in this manner until you have a full ten-square row. If you want to end up with our cool zig zag pattern, make sure you are paying very close attention to which direction the 'black' and 'white' triangles are facing when you sew together the half square triangle blocks. Pin, check, re-pin if necessary, pin again, check again... and then stitch!
NOTE: You might find the rows easier to handle if you first sew two lengths of four squares and one double square set, then sew these three smaller rows into the final ten-square length.
Assemble the finished rows
- When your four rows are complete, you can stitch them together. Working from the top row down, pin the first two rows right sides together. Using a ¼" seam allowance, sew the rows together.
- The most important thing to remember is to keep your seams in line with one another. It helps to place a pin in the seam.
- In addition, for your seams to 'nest together' and create perfect points on the front (a perfect intersection of the corners), you need to alternate the direction of the seam allowances you are matching up. Sandwich the seams so one side goes one way and the other side goes the opposite way
- Repeat to assemble all four rows.
NOTE: Check out our five-part series on Quilting Basics if you are new to patchworking.
Layer and quilt
- Find the 45" x 19" back rectangle (Bright White in our sample) and the 48" x 20" batting rectangle.
- Place the back rectangle right side DOWN on your work surface. Layer the batting on top of the back. Layer the completed runner top right side UP on top of the batting. The backing and batting are cut slightly oversized to allow a bit of extra room for quilting.
- Baste all three layers together all around the outer edge and through the middle. You can use a temporary spray adhesive for this step, a long running stitch with needle and thread or long quilting pins/safety pins. We opted for pin basting.
- Thread your machine with quilting weight thread in the top and bobbin. We used white so our lines would be invisible across the back, and hardly visible on the front.
- If possible, attach a Walking or Even Feed foot to your machine.
- Stitch "in the ditch" along each horizontal seam. This means your quilting seam should fall right into the previously sewn seam between each of the four rows that make up the top of the table runner.
- When the quilting is complete, trim away the excess batting and backing to match the runner top.
- Find the three 2" x WOF binding strips (Grass in our sample).
- Place the three strips right sides together, end to end, along the 2" ends. Pin and stitch in place with a ¼" seam allowance to create one long strip.
- Fold the joined strip in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and press.
- Unfold the binding. Working from the front of runner, align one raw edge of the binding strip with the raw edge of the runner.
- Start in the middle of one long edge, leaving a tail of approximately 4". Sew the binding to the runner, using a ¼" seam allowance.
- Stitch all the way around, mitering each corner, and stopping approximately 4" from your starting point.
- Open out the binding and join the ends, measuring to fit. Re-fold the binding.
- Bring the binding up and over to the back side of the runner. Fold and press the raw edge of the binding back to meet the raw edge of the runner.
- Then fold all the way over, along the original crease line, to cover the seam line. Press in place and pin as needed.
- Hand stitch in place or stitch in the ditch from the front side all the way around. We opted for a hand stitched finish.
NOTE: If you are new to binding, check out our tutorial: A Complete Step-by-Step For Binding Quilts & Throws.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild