Chalkboard Fabric Runner

What do the home sewing machine and chalkboard have in common?

Both tools became popular and available for use around the mid 1800’s.  From this article, we find the following about chalkboard history.

Even single-room schoolhouses in far rural areas of the country began enjoying the use of this innovative teaching tool. By the mid-1800s, a blackboard was to be found in almost every school and had become the single most important educational tool. Chalk boards remained the primary all-around educational fixture in schoolrooms and businesses for almost 200 years. Even the corkboard wasn’t invented for presentations until 1891.

And this video tells us more about the history of home sewing. I adore learning more about the craft that has captured my attention for decades, don’t you?

Combining the two was an interesting journey for me.  Come along and I will tell you about it.  I was challenged to come up with a pattern for a project that involved quilting (which I have not done for almost ten years) and chalkboard fabric.  Rather like cheese and chalk, Or so I initially thought.

First challenge, the chalkboard fabric I had access to is 48 inches wide.  A bit  pricey, and I am a little obsessive in the fabric efficency department.  I wanted to create a quilt strip that would be really close to  (and not over) that length upon it’s completion.  Well any genius could have told me that 4 twelve inch quilt squares would do it, but I wanted to use something that is simple and easy to grab and sew.  So I started with a 5 inch square or charm pack.  Just google charm pack table runner, and prepare to be overwhelmed by the options.

So I went back to my early quilting days, where I would become obsessed with a quilting pattern and the geometry of it, then not be able to rest until I had executed it in fabric.  Can you relate?  I wish I had discovered the “minature quilt” option much sooner, it would have saved me time, fabric, sanity, but I digress…  What were some of my favorite patterns?

Churn Block has always interested me with it’s beautiful simplicity, and Ohio Star for it’s ability to look so different depending on how the squares and blocks were organized, so I opted to combine aspects of  the two.

Starting with a five inch square (charm squares come in super handy here).  I picked four different fabrics in wonderful lime green and azure blue with some grey, and a fun measuring tape print, as the original inclination for this project came from my friend, Linda who had seen a “runner” that was hung from the wall about 2 feet off the ground, and had chalkboard fabric on the sides to mark the height of a growing child.  So the measuring tape fabric really fit the theme.

Half Square Triangles:  For each block, I needed two lights and two darks.   I drew a diagonal line from one corner to the next on my lighter blocks.  Made a seam on either side of the line 1/4 inch away from the line.  A few blocks into this, a vague memory of making HSTs in the 80’s came back to me.  Since I was using a defined stripe for some of these, I needed to sew half the blocks so that the stripes went north and south and the other half where the stripes flowed east and west.  That way they could all flow up and down vertically on my finished project.

The cool thing, is that I needed 8 of each square, and luckily a five inch square will fit 8 times across the width of fabric!  Fabric Efficient is my other middle name.  My first middle name is Reversible, but that is another story.  So with 8 of the measuring tape squares and 8 of the azure grey citrus squares, I ended up with 16 half square triangles.  With the seam on either side of the drawn line, and pressed, just cut on that drawn line, and voila!   I pressed (like Darth Vader, to the dark side) admired and set aside.image.jpg

Quarter Square Triangles:  Same thing as HSTs but with a second step.  Flip one HST on top of the other, so that the seams are matched across the diagonal middle, and the opposite colors are on top of each other.  Then, draw that diagonal line across the square perpendicular to the stitching line, and sew 1/4 inch each side.  There is a nice video here.


Again, start with 8 lime and 8 azure near solids, and you end up with 16 blocks.  Funny thing, though, due to the second seam, that block has shrunk.  Mine ended up being 4.375 inches.  Going back in time, now to a wonderful book that got me comfortable with quilting in the 80’s, and I am going to have to find it now, is Mary Ellen Hopkins, The It’s Ok If You Sit On My Quilt Book.   She has a wonderful sense of writing style, and the PPM concept is absolutely freeing!

PPM = Personal Private Measurement.  I was hoping to find a definition on line, but sadly, Mary Ellen has passed, and I will need to try to explain this myself.  If there are videos of her available, they would be worth the search.  She was brilliant and funny.

When making pieced blocks, and in this instance, we will be making the quarter square triangle first, as that ends up being the smallest finished block.  That 4.375 is my PPM.  Yours could be different.  I stitched these blocks on my Featherweight in the wee hours.  It is currently my quietest machine.  I used the wider side of the presser foot to gain that “1/4 inch from the line” seam.  If I had used the foot currently on my Bernina, then that seam would have leaned a little over 1/4 inch.  Do this twice on either side of the line, then cut and re arrange and seam twice and cut again, there could be a great variation between the finished size made with the Featherweight presser foot, and the Bernina.  So….

image.jpgTake the finished measurement of your quarter square triangle – and it may mean measuring across more than one of them to extrapolate your PPM.  Then trim the half square triangles to that exact same size!  Then choose a center block.  You will only need four of these, and… you guessed it, trim that one to that  exact same PPM.image

While you are trimming, get rid of those nasty little triangles hanging off of each corner.  They will only become a bother later.  Some folks call them dog ears.

Next.  Arrange your four center squares, and the sixteen half square and sixteen quarter square triangle blocks into the Ohio Star/Churn Dash arrangement that pleases you best. A digital camera/aka your phone could be handy here, to record which way you want your blocks to sit.   The sad thing about this runner is that it is only one block wide.  When you line up multiple rows of  Ohio Stars they can have fun with each other creating optical illusions.image.jpg

I kept all of my blocks on top of each other, in order, which helped me sew correctly the first time.  Eye your first two blocks.  I started with the bottom row of the two closest to me.    Flip one on top of the other and make a mental note where that seam will be, and make that seam.  Then do the same thing with the two identical sets sitting below the two you just stitched.  Before you get to the last set.  Pull the first pair off your chain (thank you Eleanor Burns), and make a mental note of how that third block is attached.  Make that seam.  Then continue until you have four strips of the bottom row.image

Ok, what is chain piecing, you ask?  Well, when sewing multiple pieces together, there is a LOT of thread waste  before/after each seam.  Ok, well maybe it is only a few inches each time, but it adds up.  So why not get that next pair ready to go under the presser foot just as you are back stitching the seam on your current pair.  Do this multiple times, and you have saved yourself a bobbin winding every few months, not to mention all the bits of thread that end up in the vacuum, or all over your black slacks, when you least expect it.  It adds up.  And feels so efficient.  Then just take a nice pair of sharp scissors and clip those blocks apart.

Continue with the middle row, then the top row, and you are making progress with 12 strips of three blocks.  Now back to the ironing board to press seams.  Flip your stacks so the seam allowances are facing up.

On the center row, press all the seams to the left, and on the other two rows, press them to the right.  This will allow your seams in the next step to nestle nicely right up against each other.

Lay your strips out again right side up, in the way that pleases you.  If you joined the digital age earlier and took a photo, refer to it now.  Flip the bottom row over to the center row, and make a mental note as to which side the seam should be.  Pin to make sure those seams match up, and make a seam at 1/4 inch.  Pay attention to the intersections made previously.  and be sure to stitch directly across them, so you do not loose any corners of your blocks with a seam that is too deep or shallow.  Repeat for all four rows, and chaining those seams is a time/money/thread saver!

Press  the seams to one side.  Then stitch the top row on to the center pinning as above.

More pressing, and you have four blocks.  Check them for accurate seaming, and then stitch the four blocks together to make a strip.

My finished piece was about 46 inches long and 12 inches wide.  I found this great fusible foam at my LQS, and thought it would give a lot of stability to my project and was 20/5 inches wide.  I fused it to the back of my quilt.

imagePerplexed as to how to attach this tiny 1/4 inch seam to the heavy chalkboard fabric, I opted for a flange.  The flange I cut was 2 inches wide.  I needed 3 strips and pieced them diagonally to reduce bulk to get the 46 inch length for each side.  With the quilt on the top, so I could see the intersections of my blocks and not loose my corners in the process I attached the flange (two inch wide strips folded in half lengthwise and pressed) to either side of my runner.  My thoughts here were to give the quilted section a finished edge to sew to the chalkboard fabric.

In hind sight, the disadvantage of doing it this way was that the feed dogs pulled the bottom fabric (flange) just enough so that it is a bit longer and fluttery at the edges.  Next time, I will solve this by actually pinning, and using a walking foot for even feed of my fabric.

Quilting presented a fun challenge.  Instructions for chalkboard fabric insist on larger stitches as not to perforate the vinyl.  So the less “quilting” on the chalkboard fabric, the better.  The fusible was fused to my backing, so I centered the quilted strip lengthwise on the foamy “batting”.  Used safety pins to secure, and quilted lengthwise with a serpentine stitch down the center of each of the three blocks and on the center two seam lines.  This left a nice flap of the outer half block and flange.  I wanted the back of the piece to be quilted, so I drew a line.  The place ment of the line was determined to be not where the next quilting line would have been between the flange and the edge of the quilting, as I planned to top stitch my chalkboard fabric there, but where the next line would have been, ultimately underneath the chalkboard fabric.  So about 2 inches from each edge of the foamy batting, I drew the line and quilted.

Next, I measured the area from the edge of my foamy batting to about an inch and a half under the edge of my quilt.  This is another PPM that for me was 5 inches.  Using wonderclips, I secured the edge of the chalkboard fabric to align with the edge of the “batting”.   Pins leave holes in chalkboard fabric.  Then I should have double stick taped the chalkboard to the under side of the quilt, or maybe tried to pin it underneath the quilt, but against all teachings of my favorite yoga teacher, I held my breath and went for it.

Stitching the top of the quilt over the quilt top,  chalkboard fabric, foamy quilt batting,  and backing made me thankful for four things.  The fusibility of the “batting” I used, as it would keep the backing in check and not end up with pesky wrinkles and tucks, the walking foot for helping to reduce the ruffle effect of the flange, the lounge at Hip Stitch, where there was a large expanse of mostly empty table for my quilt to spread out on after it had been under the needle, and most especially my favorite yoga teacher, who continued to remind me to breathe long after class.  Breathing while sewing is very helpful.

With that done, I cut four 2.5 inch wide strips pieced them diagonally, and folded in half to create the binding.  On a utilitarian quilt, I might sew my binding to the back of the quilt, wrap around to the front and top stitch, but I had had enough sewing on the chalkboard fabric for one day, and dinner was calling, so I stitched it to the front, and wrapped it to the back and hand stitched that down after dinner.image.jpg

What I love about this quilt.  I really liked being able to make four blocks, and get the urge to make the Ohio Star/Churn Dash out of my system without having to commit to a monsterous project.  I loved the opportunity to sew with Chalkboard fabric, and the foamy batting that was the perfect width for my project, yes,  that is the fabric efficient obsessive in me talking there.

Next time, I might use InsulBright and make this a table runner, where guests names, or dish explanations/ingedients could be written in chalk on either side of the runner.

Thanks fo Linda and Suzanne at Hip Stitch for the materials,  fun and challenge of this project.








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