Tips for Students taking Bethany’s “Secret Stairways” Workshop

block detail

The block unit used for “Secret Stairways” is a simple one. The center is pieced from four quarter-triangles cut with the Stack-n-Whack® method. Accent fabric triangles are sewn to each side, making a "square within a square" unit. The illusion of cubes or steps comes from the placement of the accent colors and the arrangement of the blocks in the layout. There are no set-in seams!

To help understand the color and value placement, think of boxes with light hitting them from above. The top of the box will appear light or bright, and the side will be a darker shade, since it is in shadow.

main fabric and accent fabrics

Follow the general guidelines for selecting the main fabric. Look for a print with good contrast, a variety of shapes,etc. The pieces are fairly small, so if you choose a representational fabric like a novelty print, motifs may not be recognizable in the finished block.

For the accent fabrics, study the main fabric and “pull out” two shades, or choose a complimentary color that isn’t in the print. For each color, select two fabrics in different values. In this example, I selected the spruce green and flame red colors to pick up shades in the main fabric. Then I selected a lighter shade of each (the light green and gold).

 accent fabrics detail


For best results, select accent fabrics that have some texture to help camouflage the seams between triangles of the same fabric. Avoid busy or directional fabrics that may detract from the centers. Tonal fabrics like “Moda Marbles”, Timeless Treasures “Marble Mania”, and the Benartex “Fossil Fern” prints work very well for the accent fabrics.

so-so set of four accents Try to keep the same relative distance between the two values of each color. In this example, there is much more difference between the two blue shades than there is between the two rose shades. Although these fabrics would create a three-dimensional illusion, the illusion will be more effective if the value difference between each pair is more consistent.
better accents

In the upper set, the medium rose and blue shades on the left are paired with light rose and blue shades. In the lower set, the same medium rose and blue fabrics appear on the right, this time paired with darker rose and blue fabrics. Either of these set will work better than the example above.


To view some quilt tops in progress from past workshops, click here.

version with two accent colorsfull view 144K

If you prefer, you can use just one pair of accent fabrics instead of two. This will work with either the “Secret Stairways” layout or the alternative“Magical Cubes ” layout shown here. Bring 1 yd. each of two accent fabrics for this version. This color variation simplifies the fabric selection, and also makes the piecing a little easier, so it is a good option for beginners.






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