Chinese Lanterns (more commonly called Courthouse Steps) is a Log Cabin variation, one of many traditional patterns that work well for using up small amounts of fabric. Pieced in the same order as a Log Cabin block, Chinese Lanterns, is coloured in quarters rather than in diagonal halves. In this variation, the colours are planned so that each quadrant fits with a like-coloured quadrant in the adjoining row, creating the lantern-like shape. Colour and value planning is critical.
Quilting writers often give the impression the quilt they are writing about was created perfectly and without hesitation. I don’t write that way. A proverb in quilting tradition, often attributed to the Amish, says that every quilt must contain a mistake — even an intentional one — because only God is perfect. I don’t need to make intentional mistakes. I make them quite unintentionally. I believe that I should point out my mistakes (so that you can make different ones) when following my directions.
The actual piecing in this quilt went smoothly but my struggle was to balance the colours and values. If you look carefully, my intense colours and light and dark values aren’t distributed evenly across the surface of the quilt as I try to do when making scrap quilts. An even distribution is more pleasing to look at. Sorting out those colours and values would have been easy if I’d been able to make all the blocks first, and then decide how they would be placed in the overall pattern. Unfortunately, Chinese Lanterns doesn’t work that way. The blocks are constructed so the colours interlock. You have to decide colour placement row by row.
When I started this quilt I cut all my fabrics (or at least I thought I did) before I started sewing. Then I dove right in. I pieced about half of it, deciding my colour placement as I went, and then realized I’d used a lot of my richer and darker colours and only had dull and lighter fabrics left. I put the quilt top away — for at least a year. When I took it out again, I cut a few more blocks hoping for better colour and value balance. Now that it’s finished, I’m not 100 per cent pleased with the distribution of colour and value.
I did, however, figure out how to plan colour and value after I made my quilt, so heed my advice. Feel free to do all the cutting before you begin to sew, as I did. But when you are cutting your strips, also cut a 1.5-inch square of each fabric. Then, using a sheet of paper and a glue stick, play with these squares and make a paper mock-up of your finished quilt layout (Figure 2). You will cut some of these squares in half diagonally to make the edges work. Making this mock-up will help you scatter the lights, darks, dulls and brights throughout the quilt top and will help you decide which colours look best side by side. Borders can be determined after the centre is complete.
Cutting directions (see Figure 1). 7 blocks x 7 blocks with approximately 4.5 inches of border makes a 90-inch-square queen-size quilt.
Centre square (A):
2.5-inch square of black solid B quadrants:
Cut 1.5-inch strips, then cut 2 each of the following lengths: 2.5 inches 4.5 inches 6.5 inches 8.5 inches 10.5 inches
Cut 1.5-inch strips, then cut 2 each of the following lengths: 4.5 inches 6.5 inches 8.5 inches 10.5 inches 12.5 inches
Piece in numerical order, starting with the centre black square (see Figure 1). Add borders as desired. I prefer to define the centre of most scrap quilts with a narrow black border. This quilt has a 4-inch print border. I chose this fabric after the centre was completed. Layer and machine quilt as desired. Bind. I do my own machine quilting so I design a simple quilting pattern — straight lines or easy curves, which can be stitched without turning the quilt or using free-motion quilting.
Ruth Bergen Braun writes from Lethbridge, Alberta