The Last Word

I know it feels like I’ve beat the topic of drafting quilt blocks to death, but trust me, I do have a purpose in mind.  Bear with me as we give this topic one more week and then I promise we will move on.  It’s simply important to me that I give you every tool I can so you can change any quilt block you want.

By now we know that drafting frees you as quilter.  Armed with a pencils, graph paper, erasers, a calculator, and a basic knowledge of how to grid out a quilt block, the sky is literally the creative limit for most quilt blocks.  This same knowledge can be transferred over to a quilting software program (such as EQ), if you decide to draft your blocks with this method.  Some of this information will be review for those of you who ready my blog on a regular basis.  Some of this information will be new.  Just bear with me to the end.

The process can be problematic when you’re working with blocks from heirloom or antique quilts. With older quilts, it can be difficult identifying the block and the grid, especially if the quilt top is complex. If this is the case, the first step is to figure out the base grid.  The base grid is a grid we’re really familiar with, such as the Nine-Patch. 

Traditional Nine-Patch

In this block

Double Nine-Patch

the Nine-Patch is doubled (and it’s called the Double Nine-Patch).  When we look at this block, we can see the 3 x 3 Nine-Patch grid.  This one isn’t too difficult to grid out, and you’ll find this block used in some Double Irish Chain quilts.

Double Irish Chain Quilt

But if we look at this block:

Card Trick

This is also a Double Nine-Patch, but some of the patches are divided into even smaller units 

To determine the patches needed to reproduce a quilt block, simply follow these four steps:

  1.  If you’re working from a quilt top, isolate the block on the quilt you want to reproduce.
  2. Visualize the grid used.  Look for a repeating pattern across the block and then count how many times the pattern is repeated.
  3. Measure the block to get its finished size.
  4. Draw the block out on the graph paper.  As you’re drawing each patch, remember to add seam allowances. 

However….by now you have (I hope) a lot of knowledge about graphing and gridding in your quilting tool box.  So….what if you want to draw an original block?  The steps involved are similar to the ones used in drafting a block from an antique quilt top, but there are a few additional ones.  But before we get into the actual process involved in  drafting an original block, let me throw out a few tips:

One, get several sheets of graph paper.  A few weeks ago I told you about  Go to this site and print off several sheets of the type of graph paper you use.  Normally I use the eight squares to the inch graph paper, but when I’m designing a block, I use the four squares to the inch.  I use this kind in designing because the squares are bigger and I can get a better idea of how each unit in the block will look. 

Two, think about the base units first – such as half-square triangles, four-patches, flying geese, etc.  Draw these in the grid squares first.  Be easy on yourself.  If you’re using pencil and paper instead of a computer program, be aware you may have to erase and redraw several times before you get the block exactly the way you want it.  Also, be aware the size of the finished block is often determined by what pattern is used.  When designing an original quilt or modifying an existing pattern, adjustments can be made for a specific size.  However,  the grid for the block used may determine the finished size – for instance, it’s easier to make a finished 9-inch nine-patch than a finished 10-inch nine-patch.  The pieces are simply easier to cut.

Keep in mind computer programs make this a lot easier.  Quilting software allows you to explore multiple block options quickly and without re-drafting.  They’re a huge time-saver if you find yourself doing a great deal of original design work.  Fabrics and colors can be added and then taken out.  Block units can be re-drawn or eliminated.  Even applique blocks can be drafted out with the software. 

Three, remember not all quilt blocks can be gridded out.  If it’s a block with tight curves or odd shapes, it may not work on a grid system.  These blocks may need to be appliqued or paper pieced.  And some  blocks may require more than one technique.

Four, always test your fabric choices.  Always, always, always.  After you’ve graphed out the block to your satisfaction, select your fabrics and then make a test block.  There are a couple of ways to do this—you can cut the block units out (unfinished size) and sew them together or you can cut the block units out finished size and lay the units on the grid.  If you chose the second way, glue the fabric to the paper graph.  After you’ve made the mock-up block by either method, place the block several feet away (a design wall is perfect for this) and look at it critically. At this point, if I’m still not sure about fabric/color placement, I make several copies of the block on my copier, trim the paper away from the block image, and lay those out to try to get a better feel for the way the quilt top will actually look.  These are easy to move around and see if secondary patterns will emerge. 

Five, if you plan to use your copier to make photocopies of the pattern, check it for accuracy.  Be aware that copiers can distort images.  Before using any photocopies as templates for piecing, make a test copy of the block at 100%.  Measure the original and the photocopy to ensure they’re the same size.  And try not to change copiers when making additional copies.  Keeping the same copier will assure you of consistency in the quality of the copies. 

Using the Grid Method for Your Own Blocks

Many, many quilt blocks are based on a grid or can be broken down into one.  By now you know a grid organizes a design and makes cutting and piecing sequences easier to understand and perform.  As you begin to draft your own block, there are several commonly used grids to keep in mind.

Two x Two Grid – A grid of four undivided or divided squares such as a Four Patch or 2 x 2 squares offers almost unlimited design options.  Take a look at this Windmill Block.

Windmill Block
Broken Dishes

Four three-triangle units on a grid of 2 x 2 squares form this block.  Half-Square Triangle units placed on a subdivided grid form a Broken Dishes Block.

Squares and half-square triangle units on a subdivided grid form the Northumberland Star.

Northumberland Star


Three x Three Grid – A common block/block unit in quilt making is the Nine-Patch, which is on the 3 x 3 grid.  This grid, just like the Four-Patch, can vary in the number of squares it uses, but that number always needs to be divisible by three.  The Friendship Star

Friendship Star

Is a good example of a block on the 3×3 grid.  Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder

Is also on the 3 x 3 grid, even though it incorporates Four-Patch units.

Five x Five Grid – This grid is one of the most versatile. The five squares across and five down setting gives not only great options, but a center focal point.  Examples of this block are:

Cake Stand

Checkered Star

New Mexico  — which is a variation of the Checkered Star, but is formed with four Nine-Patch units and four three-bar units that replace the square in the center.

Seven x Seven Grid—If you want to draft an intricate block, this is the grid to play with. Bear’s Paw (or if you live in an area that was settled heavily by Quakers, this may be known as Hand of Friendship in your quilt circles) is a great example of a 7 x 7 grid.

Bear’s Paw

You have sashing and half-square triangles and squares to form Bear’s Paw.

Tree of Paradise is also a 7 x 7 grid which consists of squares and half-square triangles radiating from a rectangle in the center.

Tree of Paradise

After you determine the grid you’re using to draft your own block, now you need to think about the center point.  This isn’t difficult, but it is important to keep this fact in mind:  Even-numbered grids allow for symmetrical designs.  Odd number grids can be oriented around a center unit.  For example, in a Four-Patch grid, the corners of the units meet at the block’s center and is its center point.  An example of this type of block is the Sawtooth Star.

Sawtooth Star

On the other hand, a Nine-Patch grid has a block unit as its center point.  The Ohio Star is based on a 3 x 3 (Nine-Patch) grid.  The center of this block

Ohio Star

Is a square.  This square could be gridded out into another Nine-Patch unit, a Four-Patch unit, or serve as a great spot to showcase a focus fabric or a little applique. 

You have a lot of gridding knowledge in your quilting toolbox now.  Don’t be afraid to pull it out and use it to your benefit.  And the more you grid, the easier it becomes.  It won’t be long until you will be able to look at a quilt block and know what kind of grid it falls into.  And with some determination and practice, you will be altering blocks to suit your needs or designing your own blocks before you know it.

Until next week, Level Up Your Quilting!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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