The Courthouse Steps quilt is an oldie. A reeeaaaal oldie. We’re talking civil-war-era-old. But the courthouse steps quilt pattern hasn’t lost its visual charm, or its meaningful history – and I’m about to prove it. Get ready for everything you never knew you never knew about the Courthouse Steps Quilt. (And yeah, I’ll throw in a top-secret important tip for your next Courthouse Steps project, too!)
I'm pretty selective when it comes to the quilt books I allow on my small book shelf. I do, however, LOVE this one by Denyse Schmidt – Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration. There's a fantastic Courthouse Steps pattern in there that you get a glimpse of on the cover.
Courthouse Steps is a Variation of the Log Cabin Pattern.
Now that you’re thinking about it, I’m sure you can see the similarities between the Courthouse Steps quilt pattern and the Log Cabin quilt pattern. I absolutely love the history behind these quilts. I think that a good quilt history makes a quilt feel even warmer. Don't you?
Old Log Cabin quilts were made with a red square in the center of each block, representing the hearth of the cabin. The “cabin walls” were made with light fabric strips on two sides, and darker fabric strips on the other two sides, to represent the sun shining on one side of the cabin, casting shadows on the other. Isn’t that the most charming thing you’ve ever heard? You can read more about Log Cabin Quilt patterns here!
The Courthouse Steps quilt pattern had perfectly symmetrical strips on alternate sides of the center square, instead of “wrapping” around the square like the Log Cabin pattern. Because of this symmetry, each row of strips resembles… you guessed it! The stairs of a courthouse. Courthouses were central fixtures in the 1800s, so the symbol of the courthouse stairs would be familiar and meaningful to quilters of this era.
Courthouse Steps Quilt Blocks are the Easiest to Sew!
Of all of the different Log Cabin quilt block variations, the Courthouse Steps block is said to be the easiest to sew! This makes it a great choice for quilters that are just branching out from the standard square.
The Courthouse Steps quilt pattern also doesn’t require any extra tools or rulers, or working with a bias edge. It’s just strips and squares. The cool thing about this design, though, is that it makes strikingly different visual effects depending on how the blocks are oriented when sewn together for a finished quilt. Which takes us straight to our next point...
The Courthouse Steps Quilt has so, so Many Beautiful Variations.
You never knew how many different looks you could get from strips and squares… until now. A traditional Courthouse Steps quilt block can achieve a ton of different looks, just by rotating the blocks. Then, if you want to get really crazy, you could try a few different variations within the block itself – like making concentric squares, or experimenting with light and dark colored fabric strips.
Let’s take a look at some modern Courthouse Steps quilts that play around with both color and block orientation. Get ready to have a whole new appreciation for fabric strips...
You can read more about my new found love affair with Kristi Schroeder's work here. I could go on and on about how beautiful her quilt designs are, or I could just point to the quilt above. Isn't it stunning? Now here's another exciting treat for you – this is a FREE pattern Kristi designed for Robert Kaufman. Well ain't today just your lucky day!?
Alexis is a textiles artist currently working with traditional motifs and quilting techniques in a more contemporary way. She lives outside of Boston and is a member of the Boston Modern Quilt Guild. As a personal interjection – daaaaamn SHE GOOD!
Last but not least, Anna Marie Galvin takes the Courthouse Steps block and just keeps on going until it’s a completed mini quilt… and a beautiful one! The mix of woven fabrics from Anna Maria Horner's collection with various shades of white, cream and beige sends my little heart a pattering. Major swoon.
And Now, As Promised, My #1 Tip for Courthouse Steps Quilting!
Are you ready for this? Okay, here it is: when cutting strips for your Courthouse Steps quilt, always cut with the lengthwise grain. I know it might seem counter-intuitive at times, but cutting with the lengthwise fabric grain instead of the crosswise grain will give you less stretchy strips, and really minimize distortion when you start sewing them together. (If the terms "lengthwise" and "crosswise" are new to you, check out this blog post about fabric grain.)
This single tip will give you more uniform quilt blocks for your Courthouse Steps quilt! You know, the one you’re going to want to make immediately after reading this post. I, for one, can’t wait to see it.
Already made your Courthouse Steps quilt? What variations did you use? Share your thoughts and, if you have them, links to pictures!
*The main image picture and two picture below are quilts made by Loretta Pettway between 1958 - 1980. These designs were first published in Gee's Bend, The Women and Their Quilts.