A Tisket, a Tasket, Let’s Make Some Baskets

There are more than 400 basket quilt images in Pinterest.  If you search EQ8 for basket blocks, you’ll get 50 patterns to choose from.  If anyone wants to make a basket quilt, there’s probably a block out there you’ll love.  And we’re not the only group of quilters who share a love for this block.  Quilters have been piecing and appliqueing baskets for hundreds of years.

While the earliest known quilt pattern is Mosaic – which is now called Grandmother’s Flower Garden – quilters have always been influenced by objects used in everyday life.  In all cultures, the basket was a daily presence in a woman’s life.  Light willow constructions, white oak egg baskets, schnitz baskets to hold Pennsylvania’s store of dried apples or feathers – all were filled and emptied and refilled in the eternal repetition of housewife’s duties (pg 7 and 8, Small Endearments:  19th Century Quilts for Children, by Sandi Fox).  Quilters pieced replicas of baskets because they were familiar with them and gave them names which were well-known to them – Tulip Basket, Basket of Lilies, Garden Basket and Fruit Basket.  This occurred with several early quilt blocks such as Monkey Wrench and Churn Dash.  Quilters drew and pieced blocks, influenced by familiar objects. 

The earliest baskets were on whole cloth quilts.  If you remember from my blog:, these quilts weren’t pieced, but were large pieces of finely woven cloth which were layered with a batting and a back and then heavily (and beautifully) quilted.  One of the first motifs used on these quilts were baskets.  Sometimes the baskets were trapuntoed to stand out in relief to the background.  Women who had these quilts or made these quilts were quite often women of time, talent, and money:  Money to either purchase the quilts or the funds to purchase materials and have additional household help so they could have the time to make these quilts.  These whole cloth quilted baskets were followed by ones in broderie perse.

Then used in Medallion Quilts.  Baskets were particularly popular with Medallion Quilts.  These baskets ranged from very stylized ones to appliqued ones from plain fabric. 

Baskets are heavily used in Baltimore Album Quilts.  Baskets began to make appearances in Baltimore Album Quilts as early as 1870 in a quilt from Vermont and are still common in today’s Baltimore quilts. Crazy quilts also had baskets in them, although these baskets were embroidered, not pieced or appliqued. 

What does make basket blocks and quilts different from other blocks and quilts is they were appliqued before they were pieced.  With other types of quilt blocks, this process was usually reversed – they were pieced first then quilters appliqued them (just like alphabet quilts – the letters were first pieced and then appliqued). 

Eventually, somewhere along the quilt journey, either a quilter didn’t have the time to applique a basket or was ingenious enough to try to piece one.  Around 1855, the move was made to piece baskets in quilt blocks instead of appliqueing them.  The earliest and most “primitive” baskets used triangles and diamonds which were cut from fabric and then pieced.  The simplest baskets used a triangle as a base and had appliqued handles.  Eventually the baskets developed to the point a triangle was used as a base and then had diamonds radiation from it to represent flowers. 

Along the way, basket blocks found their place in Friendship Quilts. 

Almost everyone appreciates and loves a good basket quilt.  And given there are large enough spaces to write one’s name and a sentiment in most basket blocks, they proved to be a staple in many of these quilts. 

The great thing about basket blocks is the quilter can run the designing gamut with them.  They can be elaborately pieced or appliqued. They can be filled with flowers or fruit.  Ribbons and birds can be added.  Appliqued baskets can be woven from narrow strips of fabric or made from different pieces of cloth.  I didn’t think I owned any basket blocks until I wrote this blog and began to look back through my personal quilt library.

There is this, from my Spring Tulips Quilt.

This fun little block from my Farmer’s Wife Quilt. 

Coincidently, this is the only block in the first Farmer’s Wife Quilt pattern with applique – the tiny handle is appliqued into place.

And this basket of apples in my Fall mini quilt which currently sits in my entrance way.

And this woven basket I’m working on.

There are literally hundreds of basket patterns on the market, but if you want to make your own, it’s really pretty simple.  A basic basket block comprised of triangles like this:

Is easy to grid out.  This basket is on a 4 x 4 grid:

It’s made of HSTs, two rectangles, and one square. 

No matter what size block you want, the 4 x 4 grid works.  Let’s play with a 10-inch finished block.  Since this basket is gridded on four parts (four across and four down), we divide 10-inches by 4 and get 2 ½.  This 2 ½ measurement is the finished measurement, which means we will need to add an ½- seam allowance. 

2 ½ + ½ = 3.  The unfinished square and HSTs will need to measure 3-inches. 

The rectangle along the right side should be estimated as follows:

  1. The length of the rectangle is the sum of two of the finished units – 2 ½ + 2 ½ = 5.  Then we need to add ½-inch seam allowance (for the top and bottom of the rectangle) to bring it the unfinished length to 5 ½.
  2. The width of the unfinished rectangle is the same as the HSTs and square – 3-inches.
  3. We need to cut the rectangles 3-inches x 5 ½-inches.

Personally, I want to make the HSTs by marking and sewing two squares of fabric together.  This method doesn’t expose the bias until the last minute, so it avoids stretching it out of shape.  We need to do an additional bit of math here, so allow me to introduce you to another wonderful formula – how to calculate a HST if you want to make it from two squares of fabric.  To do this, you simply add 7/8-inch to the finished size of the square.  Since our finished HST is 2 ½, we add 7/8 to 2 ½, which gives us 3 3/8-inches.  We need to cut the two squares to make the HST 3 3/8-inches.  I also like to cut my HSTs a bit bigger and then trim them down to size (making HSTs by any method can become a bit wonky because you’re dealing with bias).  Trimming them down just a bit ensures all my HSTs come out the correct unfinished size.  To do this, I add an additional ¼-inch to the formula:

2 ½ + 7/8 + ¼ = 3 5/8.

I’ll cut the squares for the HSTs 3 5/8, knowing I’ll trim them down just bit.

Now for that large HST in the middle.  Returning to the grid diagram, we can see that middle HST take up four 2 ½-inch squares – two horizontally and two vertically use this information to determine how big the finished HST should be:  2 x 2 ½ = 5.  The center HST should be 5 inches.  We can apply the same formula we used above to determine how large to cut the squares for this block unit:

5 + 7/8 + ¼ = 6 1/8-inches, but because I dislike dealing with 1/8-inch increments, I’d round this up to 6 ¼-inches. 

Now returning to our basket, we know we will need to cut:

Two 3-inch x 5 ½-inch rectangles from the background fabric

Four 3 5/8-inch squares of background fabric

Four 3 5/8-inch squares of basket fabric

One 6 ¼-inch square background fabric

One 6 ¼-inch square basket fabric

One 3-inch square of background fabric

To construct, you would place each 3 5/8-inch square of background fabric to a 3 5/8-inch basket fabric right sides together, draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of one of the pieces, then stitch ¼-inch away on both sides of the line.  Cut along the drawn line to produces two HSTs.  Press and trim down to 3-inches.

Repeat with the large, center HST.  Then stitch the block together.

This is a simple, easy, pretty basket.  And when you think about all the possible designs which could be used, the quilt is only limited by your imagination.  You could use contrasting colors

Or go tone-on-tone

Or reverse the lights and darks

Or go scrappy.

They could be Christmas baskets

Or baskets from the 1930’s.

And batiks are never out of the question. 

Baskets are only limited by your imagination.  This is truly one of those blocks which the fabric can do most of the work for you.  Try graphing out a basket block on your own and using the formulas given to come up with your own block.  Jump out of your comfort color zone and do something different!  You may decide you need an entire quilt out of these sweet baskets!

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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