May 2022

Covering Quilts

Row, row, row your quilt… gently sew the seams – row quilts

by Sandra Starley


I was recently challenged to create a row quilt and thought I would share a bit about my process and about row quilts in general.
Let’s start with defining a row quilt. A row quilt is a quilt sewn in horizontal or sometime vertical or diagonal rows with each row composed of a different block. The blocks can be made using one technique (i.e., piecing or applique) or several different techniques. Because each row features a separate block design, row quilts are a wonderful way to experiment and try out new patterns. You only need to make a few of each block, much less intimidating than thinking of the stack of blocks you would need for a whole quilt out of a pattern you would like to try. Row quilts are also a perfect way to use leftover, orphan, or ufo blocks (quilt speak for unfinished objects). You can even use a couple of patterns in a single row. Remember, your row quilt, your rules.

Sew Many Choices

Speaking of rules, there really are not any in row quilts. That is a big part of the fun! Instead, there are a lot of choices you can make when deciding how to create your own personalized row quilt. You can make all the blocks the same size or not, you can add plain spacer strips between rows or not, you can add simple filler blocks, you can use a single-color scheme or go scrappy and sew much more. You can develop a full plan for your new quilt or just start sewing and figure out the details as you sew. One hint: If you are designing as you go, I would recommend using a design wall and doing more pinning rather than sewing. As you sew and experiment, your design may totally change. It is much easier to move blocks around the board or wall instead of picking out or reverse sewing.

Row By Row Challenge

I just made my first row quilt for a fabric company challenge. Row quilts are especially well suited to holiday themes. Since it was February, I decided to go with a Valentine’s Day theme. Of course, there had to be hearts. And since I love text or wordplay quilts, I added an ‘I’ and ‘You’ to spell out “I Love You.” My assigned fabric was a black and white collection, and I had some pinks, too, so I was ready to rock. This is my favorite modern quilt color scheme. I had a lot of fun trying out different patterns and playing with triangle pieces in several sizes. I made my blocks in mostly 6-inch squares, but my word row was 6 x 8 inches. That is one of the magic things about row quilts: each row can be its own kingdom. I added a spool block that I had made the month before and then made another so it would have a friend. I used a heart block on the top row to start the Valentine’s Day theme. A Card Trick block finished the last row. It really is a tricky block, and one was enough for me; again, that is fine for a row quilt. I framed the quilt with Flying Geese blocks on the top and bottom rows. This quilt was a design and piecing challenge but a lot of fun. I hope you will give row quilts a try, too. There are many row quilt books, tutorials, Pinterest pages, and hashtags like #rowquilt to inspire you. 

A row quilt, “I Love You,”

A row quilt, “I Love You”

A row quilt, “I Love You,” 2022, by Sandra Starley, 30” x 32”. Fabric provided by Island Batik. (Image courtesy of the author)

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at Send your comments and quilt questions to