Make a Block with Me

Last fall I made eight quilts, one for each of Jim’s siblings. When I was done, I wanted to make one for Jim, also. I made a quilt for him a few years ago, but he has it hung on his office wall. It isn’t a quilt to cuddle under.

Here is Jim’s quilt. It’s about 70″ square, plenty big for two people to cuddle under.

The center block of Jim’s quilt is the same as a block used in one of the siblings quilts.

I made another version, also, just because I liked it so much. It became the center of the little quilt for a little girl.

You can make this block, too — it’s easier than it looks. With block made, you can make more to make a larger quilt, frame it once with a border and make a table mat, or make a number of borders for an old-fashioned medallion quilt. What you do with yours is up to you!

Here is the block as I used it in the sibling’s quilts:

And here it is for Jim’s quilt:

And here are two more in completely different color sets, including the little girl’s quilt:

This block measures 15″ square, when finished. That means your unfinished version should measure 15.5″.

There are FOUR color components: center, accent, points, background. For good value contrast, the background should be noticeably lighter OR darker than the points. If the values are similar, the colors need to contrast sharply.

[Note: I wrote these instructions for new quilters, so they are pretty detailed. Experienced quilters may have their own methods that differ.]

1 center, 6.5″ square
4 background, 5″ square
1 background, 7.25″ square
1 accent, 7.25″ square
2 points, 7.25″ square.

With the 7.25″ squares, cut in half carefully and completely across the diagonal. DO NOT move the fabrics after cutting. Now, cut again across the other diagonal. You will have 4 triangles from each square.

Tip: press fabric carefully before cutting. Use a sharp rotary cutter blade; dull ones pull and miss threads (and increase the probability of a bad cut, of either the fabric or you!)

Tip: when cutting multiple squares from the same fabric, I cut strips first along the selvage, as it is more stable and less likely to distort when I cut. For example, for the background 5″ squares, I will cut a 5″ wide strip first, and then subcut to squares.

Lay out the fabric as if it were an Ohio star. Make sure the color combination is pleasing to you before bothering to sew. My first try didn’t work.

Use a 1/4″ seam allowance for all sewing.
Sew 4 of the points triangles to the background triangles, being careful to sew the correct seams. This is easy to do wrong, believe me!
Sew the other 4 points triangles to the accent triangles. Do this the same way you did the first ones. For example, if the points triangles were on top for stitching the first ones, stitch these with points on top, too.

Tip: I use a 1/4″ foot to make my seam allowances better. It has a little “fence” to guide my fabric edge. Still I need to know whether to nudge my fabric against the fence or leave a thread width away from it. If you don’t have a 1/4″ foot, there are a lot of sources for tips (here and here, for example) in getting a better seam allowance. This doesn’t always matter a lot when just sewing squares, but it does matter a lot when sewing triangles.

Tip: the bias edges of the triangles need to be treated gently so you don’t stretch them. Don’t pull the fabric through under the needle. Pulling will stretch the patches and distort the output. Let the feed dogs move the fabric through smoothly.

Tip: think about when you last changed your needle. If it is dull, you may hear a popping sound as it pushes through the cloth. Change it! If you can’t remember the last time you changed it, change it!

Now you have 8 pairs of triangles joined.

With your iron set to the cotton setting, turn the patches right-side down, opened with the seam up. Gently separate the seam with your fingertips without pulling or stretching. Press without pulling or stretching.

Tip: sometimes I press seams open and sometimes I press to the side. I try to press them open when I will have multiple seams that meet in the same place. This allows the intersection to lie flatter.

Lay out your pressed sets of triangles again to make sure you sewed them together correctly. Once you’ve verified that, pin sets to make square patches, matching at the seam line.

Tip: I use really thin pins, and tend to pin a lot on longer patches and when attaching borders. Pinning helps make sure your seam allowance doesn’t shift while you’re sewing, and it also allows you to fudge or ease when the lengths differ a little.

Sew the sets together, and then press the seams open as before.

If you’ve done good cutting and good seam allowances, these squares should measure 6.5″. Check the sizes to see how close you are.

Lay everything out again. You should see an odd nine-patch, with the corner squares each only 5″ and the other squares at 6.5″.

Now you’ll cut the accent edge off the hourglass squares. Do these ONE AT A TIME.
For each hourglass square, measure 5″ from the background edge. Cut the rest off. Then trim the “tags” or “dog ears” at the remaining corners. This will give you rectangles (points units) that measure 6.5″ x 5″.

Lay everything out again. Now you should see the shape of the final block. This photo looks like it is all sewn together, but it isn’t. There are nine patches.

As you would with a nine-patch, sew a background corner to a points unit. Sew the opposing background corner to the same points unit. Repeat for the other end of the block. Sew the middle points units to the center.

Press away from the points units for all 3 pieces.

Pin to match seams. Sew both sides to the center of the block.

Press your completed block. It should measure 15.5″. Here is the view from the wrong side.

And then the fun begins! Now you can decide where to go from here. If you will add a pieced border, think about what sizes and shapes would work. The easiest way is for the number of patches on a side, times the width of the patch, to match the finished length. For example, with a 15″ finish, you might use 1.5″, 3″, or even 5″ patches to make the border. You might try half-square triangles at 3″, for example. You would need 5 on each side, plus 4 more patches (pieced or unpieced) for the corners.

I love this block and will use it again in other projects. It goes together quickly, so you can make multiples of it for a large block quilt, or to get a good running start on a medallion quilt.


6 thoughts on “Make a Block with Me

  1. Thread crazy

    Melanie, I’ve had a chance to check out alot of your medallion blocks and sure want to quilt along with you. I’ve made several star blocks, a few similar to yours, so just need to get myself going and catch up!

  2. Donna DuMouchel

    Wow! You have turned what looks like a very complicated block into one I am no longer afraid to tackle. Thanks!

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      No fear, Donna! It’s really pretty easy. If you can make an hourglass block and if you can make yourself slice across it, then it’s just constructed like a 9-patch.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. shoreacres

    Hi, Melanie! I’m not a quilter, but I’m a quilt appreciator. I have two quilts my grandmother made – I think my mom might have worked on one. They’re truly pieced quilts from scraps. I can look at them and find my old dresses and shorts, one of my mother’s sundresses, and so on.

    I am going to pass your blog along to a couple of quilters I know. One lives in Switzerland and one’s in Alabama. I know they’ll be interested., just like I am.

    Our of curiosity, are there any “quilt barns” up there in Iowa? I’ve seen them in Illinois and Wisconsin – where one end or the side of a barn is painted with a quilt design. I think they’re so neat!

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      Thanks for joining me, and for passing my link along.

      As to quilt barns, Iowa has barns scattered all over with large panels painted with a quilt block design. They’re eye-catching, for sure!


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