Use quilt fabric strips and simple strip piecing techniques to make a whole quilt’s worth of Rail Fence blocks in a very short time.
Because the Rail Fence quilt block is so simple, it is one of the easiest of all blocks to strip piece. This makes it a great choice for beginning quilters, or for experienced quilters who want to make a quick quilt as a baby gift or charity project. This article shows how to make Rail Fence blocks in several sizes and configurations.
Rail Fence Quilt Block Sizes
This article gives cutting instructions for blocks in three sizes: 3½”, 6½”, and 12½”. You can make your blocks any size, though, by simply cutting wider or narrower fabric strips. Wider strips make a larger block; narrower strips make a smaller block.
Tools and Supplies for Strip Piecing Rail Fence Quilt Blocks
Your quilting room most likely already has all the tools you’ll need to make Rail Fence blocks:
- Rotary cutter
- See-through, no-slip cutting ruler (preferably 6” x 24”)
- Quilt fabric
- Cutting mat
- All-purpose or 100% cotton quilting thread in a neutral color (grey or beige are good)
- Sewing machine
- (Optional) 1/4″ quilting foot for the sewing machine
Choosing Quilting Fabrics for Rail Fence Quilt Blocks
Start by deciding how many “rails,” or strips, you want in your blocks. The most common style of Rail Fence block has three strips, but the blocks can also easily be made with two or four strips – it’s a matter of taste. The first photo at the bottom of the article shows a Rail Fence quilt with four rails. Click on any photo to enlarge it.
Some quilters like to use the same fabric for both of the block’s outer strips, with a contrasting fabric on the inner strips. Another approach is to choose a different fabric for each of the finished block. A scrappy Rail Fence can be a good way to use up fabric from your stash. Alternating two-rail blocks with three-rail blocks can make a beautiful quilt.
The level of contrast between the fabrics you choose will have a huge impact on the look of the finished quilt. Picking fabrics with strong contrasts between darks and lights will produce a dramatic quilt, while lower-contrast fabrics will make a quieter, more peaceful-looking quilt.
How to Cut Strips for 3 ½”, 6 ½” and 12 ½” Rail Fence Quilt Blocks
When cutting strips for strip piecing, trim off the selvages first, then cut the strips the full width of the fabric.
To make 3 ½” Rail Fence blocks (finished block size 3”), cut the strips to the following widths:
- Two-rail block: Two strips 2¼ ”wide
- Three-rail block: Three strips 1½” wide
- Four-rail block: Four strips 1-3/8” wide
To make 6 ½” Rail Fence blocks (finished block size 6”), cut the strips to the following widths:
- Two-rail block: Two strips 3½” wide
- Three-rail block: Three strips 2½” wide
- Four-rail block: Four strips 1½” wide
To make 12½” Rail Fence blocks (finished block size 12”), cut the strips to the following widths:
- Two-rail block: Two strips 6½” wide
- Three-rail block: Three strips 4½” wide
- Four-rail block: Four strips 3½” wide
Step-by-Step Instructions for Strip Piecing Fail Fence Quilt Blocks
Follow these instructions to speed piece Rail Fence quilt blocks. See the photos at the bottom of the article for a visual guide to the strip piecing process. Click on any photo to enlarge it.
- Choose a Rail Fence block size, number of rails, and fabric strip width.
- Cut fabric strips for each “rail” in the block. See the section on yardage below to estimate how many strips you need.
- Stack the strips into sets for sewing.
- Laying two strips with their right sides together, sew the strips along their long edges, using a scant 1/4″ seam. Add one fabric strip at a time to a strip set.
- If you’re sewing several identical strip sets, use chain piecing to speed up the sewing. When you reach the end of one strip set, don’t cut the threads or raise the presser foot. Instead, put the next strip set so its end almost butts against the end of the first strip set and sew from the first set of strips right onto the next set. After you’ve sewed all the strip sets, use scissors or a rotary cutter to cut the threads between the strip sets. Stack the sets and continue adding strips until all fabric strips have been sewed into complete sets.
- Cross-cut the strip sets into smaller sub-units that are the same width as the unfinished block size. If the block size is 6½”, cut the strip set into 6½” units. If the block size is 12 ½”, cut the sub-units to 12 ½”.
- Sew the blocks together into a quilt top.
Learn more strip piecing basics for all kinds of strip pieced blocks.
Estimating Yardage for Rail Fence Quilt Blocks
After you’ve chosen the block size and number of rails you want, you’ll need to decide how many strips set to cut. If each fabric will be used for one rail in the block, cut the same number of strips from each fabric. If one fabric will take up two rails of the block, double the number of strips you cut from that fabric. Here’s the number of strips of various widths that can be cut from a yard of fabric:
- Twenty-six 13/8” strips
- Twenty four 1½” strips
- Sixteen 2¼” strips
- Ten 3 ½” strips
- Eight 4 ½” strips
- Five 6 ½” strips
Once you’ve assembled a strip set, how many blocks can you cut from the set? Assuming a usable fabric width of 40” after selvages are trimmed off, you can cut the following number of blocks from one strip set:
- 3 ½” strip set: 11 blocks
- 6 ½” strip set: 6 blocks
- 12 ½” strip set: 3 blocks
Strip piecing makes Rail Fence blocks so easy that you may want to make a stack to keep on hand for last-minute quilting projects.