Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Chicken Run matchstick quilting tutorial

Meet my two rebel chicks....

I loved learning how to piece the mini log cabin blocks to make sweet patchwork chicks but I thought it would be fun to go a little funky and try some improv techniques. The small size makes these chickens a cheap and easy way to try something new

I gathered up some scraps from my stash and combined them with a pair of sleeves salvaged from a light grey linen shirt I found at a resale shop. There was enough fabric in the sleeves to make 2 chicks, so I ended up with one using the slash and insert method, and a second with really easy no-fuss applique.

This tutorial will take you through the slash and insert piecing and the matchstick quilting for the pink and grey chick. I’ll also show you how to lay out the applique pieces to make the chick sporting the orange mohawk!

For each chick you will need: 
  • body fabric - two squares at least 4 inches on a side. 4.5 or 5 inches is safer if you want more wiggle room or haven’t done any slashing and inserting before.
  • scraps of contrasting fabric to insert into the body fabric (at least 1 inch x 6 inches)
  • beak - about 1.25 inch square of fabric
  • comb - a piece of fabric at least 1 inch x 2 inch
  • tail - one 4 inch square and one 3 inch square
  • embroidery thread for the eyes
  • scrap of batting at least 5 x 10 inches ( its easiest to use low loft )
  • quilting thread
  • stuffing ( you can use poly fil, pellets, sawdust, or even grits or rice )
  • Rotary cutter and mat with a plastic ruler (a 3.5” inch square ruler is handy for squaring up your blocks, but if you don’t have one that’s ok.)
Press your body fabric. I like to use spray starch at this stage to give the fabric some extra
stiffness so it won’t distort as much after it’s cut diagonally.

Cut 2 squares for each chick. You can get by with 4 inch squares but 4.5 inches will give you extra insurance.

Using your rotary cutter make 1 or two strait slashes across the body squares. I made both
sides the same, but you can make them different.

Cut your insert fabric into strips at least 1 inch by 6 inches

Fold your beak fabric square diagonally twice and press

For the comb, fold your scrap in half wrong sides together  and cut the open edge all wiggly

Place the beak and comb where your chicken's head will be to hep you visualize the final look .. ( or just b surprised! ) You will make the tail later.

Double check your alignment and seam allowances!

Mark your seam lines. since you are looking at the right sides of your fabric, at this stage, it is easier to just mark a dot with a chalk pencil, or use a hera marker or even a small strait pin to mark the end of the seam line on BOTH fabrics. This will help you get everything positioned correctly again when you flip the body fabric over right sides together to sew your seams.

Flip the top body piece over so it is right sides together on top of your first insert piece. 

Be sure to check that you have both pieces positioned so your planned seam line dots

line overlap or touch each other.

After you sew the first body piece down, flip it back open to double check it is in the right place, then move the next body piece over on top of the insert piece and using your marks, get it positioned correctly and sew your second seam. Now you have one insert done
and it's time to trim and press before you go on to the next step.

Trim the extra seam allowance off each seam, and press all seams toward the body fabric. Leave the extra insert pieces sticking out, you will clean them up later when you square up your final block.

Mark and trim both the front and the back. They don't have to be the same and they don't have to match at the seams unless you just get crazy if they don't match up.

Next it's time to sew the front seam!

Lay your two pressed body parts out side by side. Be sure you have your planned “face” part at the top and on the inside ( yellow dashed circle shows the “face area”. ) 

Be sure your beak is folded twice diagonally and pin it in place with the raw edge lined up with the left edge of your body piece. Keep the single folded edge of the little triangle at the top and the double folded edge at the bottom. Make sure you move it down enough that the top corner falls below the seam line ( white dashed line in the photo )

Check to be sure everything looks right and if so, you are ready to move on to the quilting part. Set your comb aside for later and press and starch again if your fabric has lost some
of its crispness from handling. 

Lay your open chicken body right side up on top of your batting scrap. The beak should not
be pressed down. Leave it sticking strait up.

If it isn't perfect, don't worry .. mine is not perfect. I save the perfect points and exact trimming rules for when I am doing crucial piecing. This is wonky and fun.

I like to preview the quilting thread color before I actually work on the real thing. I tried both the pink thread that I liked with my fabrics and also a grey thread that is a close match to the body color. I decided that I wanted the texture to show more than the stitching, so I changed my mind and used the grey thread instead of the pink.

I usually decrease the pressure foot setting a little, change my stitch length to somewhere between 2.75 and 3.5, and slow down my sewing speed so I’ll have time to get nice irregular wavy lines.

It would be faster and make a lot of sense to do free motion quilting here if you like .. I’m still terrified of the BSR foot and the jumping foot, so I use this embroidery foot since it has a small clear sole it is easy to see my stitching and it manuevers pretty well. I have also used the even feed foot on my machine or a walking foot with success, but this project is so small that I didn’t even try to use any of those bulky attachments.

As for basting .. yes, you should probably baste for a more controlled outcome. You will have less problem with your fabric distorting and getting all out of square as you quilt. I did use some thin little strait pins around the outside edge and it held the fabric nicely. It's a pretty small area we'll be quilting, and you can also easily spray baste, or glue baste if you like those methods.

Congratulations!  I hope you love your rebel chick!  

Using the quilting stitches to applique decorative elements is super fast and easy. Cut out your body blocks ( use the 4 inch size since you won't be doing any inserts ) and skip all the insert fabric steps. Jump ahead to placing and sewing your beak in place.

Plan your applique .. cut out wings, or stripes, or dots, or any thing you like and temporarily attach them to the front of your chicken body. You can make the comb from felt or fabric, or get crazy with it and add some personality with something unexpected.

Follow the directions above to quilt and finish this fun option. I loved how quickly it came together.  

If you want to know more about The Chicken Run, or enter to win one of my chickens, go here to read more, or visit The Chicken Run Gallery here.


  1. Super fun tutorial Anne!! That looks like a must-have addition to my flock!!! I love both those crazy chickens!!

    1. Thanks you so much, Sarah! I'm so glad I fell in love with your cute little hen and got started on this adventure. It's really made me "stretch my wings" and try out so many new things.

  2. WOW Anne, this is a really cool tutorial... especially the well made lovely layout! Cool!

    1. Thank you! I love finding tutorials for fun projects, and I have to say, its just as fun to put one together, too. I'm glad you liked it!