Cascade Tutorial

Tutorial: Cascade

carla Quilting, Tutorials 4 Comments

I’ve had several people mention they would like more information and possibly a tutorial for one of my latest finishes, Cascade. I don’t know if this qualifies as a tutorial, but I’ll walk you through the design decisions I made and some suggested sizes.


Cascade is essentially a variation on a plus quilt. There are lots of ways to construct them, but I chose to use a grid of squares rather than mixing in rectangles. You could use rectangles for the crossbars, and in doing so save yourself approximately an inch of fabric for each bar. I chose not to do that because I was already working with charm squares from some swaps and I thought it would be easier to line up all the seams at the end if I also used charm squares for the crossbars of my pluses.

Almost all of my designs start with an idea or a sketch in my sketchbook, followed by a line drawing with or without color on the computer, and then finally fabric. I don’t have a huge stash, and I hate waste, and those are two things that really drive my design style, sensibility, and the size of my finished quilts.


Deciding on Size
Once I knew the basic idea and the size of the squares I was going to use, I did a little bit of math to determine the biggest size quilt top I could make that would fit on a twin-sized piece of batting (72″ x 90″) and still have a bit of room left for basting and quilting. I tend to cut this measurement shorter than others might – this quilt was designed to be  63″ x 85.5″ which would have left some room left and right and been pretty tight top to bottom. As I mentioned, I was going to be OK with that since I trim my batting and backing down quite a lot before I quilt my quilts since I don’t like dealing with extra fabric during the quilting process. (As it happens it didn’t matter because I had it longarmed by the fabulous Sarah.) 

Once I had the size down I put together a diagram on my computer.

Cascade in progress

Here’s the diagram I created for my layout on the computer. You could do this on graph paper.


In my design there are 14 columns and 19 rows, a total of 266 squares. Broken down there are:

  • 24 full pluses (5 blocks each)
  • 3 partial pluses (4 blocks each)
  • 1 partial plus (3 blocks each)
  • 4 partial pluses (1 block each)
  • 127 low volume background pieces

Within each plus the fabric should be the same, within the quilt you can repeat fabric as little or as much as you would like. I let the fabric I had dictate my overall layout. I recall I worked with layer cake slices (10″ squares) so some prints I only had enough to cut four blocks, and those became partial pluses.


I lay out my quilts on the floor since I don’t have a design wall. For this quilt I printed out my diagram for reference and started with row one, laying out all low volume. As I progressed through each row I checked the diagram to make sure I was on track and laid out each plus that started in that row, so I only had to handle those pieces of fabric once. As the design filled out I filled in around the pluses that were already started with the appropriate fabrics (new pluses or low volume depending on the row).

After everything was laid out I tried to make sure that there was good contrast between each plus and its neighbors. I spent some time arranging and rearranging to make sure the colors were evenly distributed and the contrast was enough.

Then, since I can’t have a quilt in the middle of my floor forever, I took a lot of pictures from different angles so I could refer back to them later if my pile of fabric got messed up. I also pinned row number tags to the start of each row, and stacked the fabric in each row together left to right so the left most block in that row was on the top of the stack, and the right most on the bottom. Then I stacked each row on top of the next starting with row 1 on top and ending with row 19 on the bottom.

Cascade in progress

One of my layout photos I took for reference. You can see my diagram on the far right.


Slow progress

Rows with tag markers


Since it was important for me to keep this project contained I used my favorite method – a big zip top bag. It is easily transportable and keeps everything in order nicely.

Secret Plus Quilt stack

This stack of fabric went into a big ziplock back to keep it tidy for storage. Each row is stacked on top of each other with a tag marking the row number. 


Piecing the Top
Working one row at a time I pinned all the blocks in a row together, and then sewed them. I don’t know if it’s true but it felt like it saved time – pinning was the most time consuming part.

I didn’t do any pressing until all of the rows were sewn together. Once I was ready, I pressed the seams in opposite directions – even rows toward the pinned on row marker, odds away from the row marker so that everything would nest nicely in the end. Once the pressing was done I laid it all back out on the floor and pieced the rows together, pinning at each intersection. I tend to piece rows in pairs first, and work my way up to larger chunks. I find it easier to deal with that way. Once all the rows are together press all of the horizontal seams in one direction and you’re done!

Slow progress

Rows ready for pressing. I pressed evens toward the row marker and odds away from it so that each intersection would nest nicely. 


I used two IKEA fabrics for my backing, a bold stripe and some remnants of my favorite origami animal print. I like the IKEA fabric because it is 59″ wide. These particular fabrics are also a little bit heavier than normal quilting cotton.

Cascade back

As with any quilt you should layer your backing, batting, and top, baste, and quilt as desired. I had Sarah do a realistic feather pantograph on this quilt. if it had been on my home machine I probably would have done straight line quilting following one of the stair-steps in the pattern. Sarah machine bound this quilt for me using one of the Tula Pink prints featured in the quilt top.


Tips and Tricks

  • I kept all my row number tags on until the quilt top was completely done. This helped me stay organized.
  • Pin each seam intersection to make sure it nests nicely and matches up nicely.


Suggested Sizes
I’ve done some of the math for you if you’d like to make your own!

  • Baby: finishes  42″ x 57″ using 3.5″ unfinished squares
  • Twin: finishes 63″ x 85.5″ using 5″ unfinished squares
  • Queen: finishes 84″ x 114″ using 6.5″ unfinished squares

I would redraft the design if I was going to make a broader queen or a king sized quilt to make it more square to better fit those beds. Luckily it’s easy! Just decide how big you want your squares to finish, do a little bit of math to see how big you can make your quilt top, and then go to town either on the computer or with some graph paper and colored pencils!



I hope this helps! If you have any questions please feel free to ask, and if you make a version I’d love to see it!

carlaTutorial: Cascade
  • Heather Ferguson

    I love this quilt! Thanks for the tutorial. I’ve had a plus quilt on my bucket list for a while, but I knew I didn’t want the whole thing to be darker pluses. I love the way yours fades and brings the focus to the middle of the quilt.

    • modern bias

      Thanks so much Heather! If you make it I’d love to see it!

  • Cari

    This quilt is just gorgeous! Thanks for sharing more about the design. I’m filing this away for future reference!

  • Susan James

    I’m in love with this quilt. It’s really fabulous. Such an imaginative use of color. Your explanation is really super, too. Thanks!