Thursday, April 21, 2016

Readers want to know -- how to piece ladders like Cher Cartwright

Yesterday Robyn left a comment on my blog post about Art Quilt Elements: "I'm trying to figure our how the ladder work was done by Cher Cartwright...  I don't know if I have the ability or the patience to hem tiny squares ... if that's how it was done!

Cher Cartwright, Chutes & Ladders 2, 28 x 40"

Well, Robyn, I'm here to tell you that you DO have the ability to make pieced ladders!  It couldn't be easier.  Here's how.

Decide on two colors for your ladder (or three or four or whatever).  Cut some strips from each of the colors, maybe six inches long.  I like to cut the strips freehand for a more informal look, but if you are feeling very hesitant, use a ruler.  I also like to cut the strips at different widths, for the same reason, but if you want uniformity cut them all the same.

Sew them into a strip set, alternating the colors.

Slice your strip set into skinny columns.  Freehand or with a ruler, doesn't matter.  If you want your ladder to be straight and regular, cut all the columns the same width.  If you want it to be a little bit wonky, vary the width a little, like the column second from the right, which got skinnier at the top.

Sew the columns together into one very long column for a tall ladder.

Decide which color is going to be the ladder, and cut some side pieces as long as you need for your design. Sew them to the edges of the ladder.

Obviously you can achieve many different effects by your choice of dimensions for the original strips, and for the columns you cut from the strip sets.  All the pieces are going to end up significantly smaller after piecing than you cut them.  Before you invest a lot of time and fabric into a bunch of piecing, make a little sample and see if you like the way it turns out.  If the bits are too small for your liking, cut your strips and columns wider for the real thing.

You can also achieve different effects with your color choices.  I used just two fabrics to make these samples, but because it was hand-dyed fabric with a lot of variation, you're seeing several different hues of green and yellow in the one fabric.  You could have every other strip always the same (for a same-color ladder) or make strips sets with several different colors at random (this arrangement would probably look more like a path of stepping stones than a ladder).

I suggest that you make more strip-set-columns than you think you are going to need; you can always use the leftovers in another quilt.  It's better to have more than not enough, because then you would need to eke out your column with fiddly sewing of little bits.  Much easier to sew larger strip sets and slice them into the small size you need.

I'm not even going to offer suggestions on how to use the ladder(s) in a composition -- you're on your own for that!

If you decide to piece some ladders, send me a photo -- and even better, wait and show me how you put them together into a quilt.


  1. thanks for your very practical art quilt lessons! Very helpful! Regards Ulla from Germany

  2. Thank you so mutch for your explanation. I was our of inspiration and felt a little bit down. But now I know what to do.

  3. Oh thanks so much for the info on ladders (I keep thinking of that old song "Stairway to Heaven"--or are you too young for that one hehehe) beautiful love it Hugs Julierose P.S. so many ideas, so little time...

  4. I have often wondered about this technique, too. Thank you so much for sharing!!
    aquiltersplayhouse at gmail dot com

  5. Thank you for sharing the technique! Your posts are always interesting!

  6. I love sewing tiny little units together and seeing big effects. LeeAnna

  7. Kathleen, I want to thank you very much for all of your shared lessons and insights here on your blog. I'm just exploring your tutorials and learning a lot. Feeling grateful, and want you to know it. <3