Tag Archives: Economy block

Turning a Block On Point Twice

Friday Jim and I drove down the Mississippi River from La Crosse, WI. We were returning from a two week trip to see our son, who lives in Washington state. With 2,000 miles behind us on the train, it felt great to switch to our own car.

In Prairie Du Chien, WI, we stopped for lunch. On one wall of the diner hung a quilt with a patriotic theme. It was a medallion quilt, centered by a stylized American flag. The flag block was turned on point twice, emphasizing its importance and creating a nice, large center.

I liked the setting, and especially liked that a non-square rectangle was turned that way. It’s a setting I haven’t used myself.

I’ve written plenty about turning large blocks on point to center a quilt. In one post I described the types of blocks suited for an on-point setting, if it is only turned once. In another I showed how to do that, with the math needed to cut your setting triangles large enough. I’ve also written about turning small blocks twice, creating an “economy block.”

But I’ve never written about turning a larger rectangular block twice. Here are some cool things I learned about it.


The Part I Already Knew
If you turn a square block twice, you’ll double its dimensions. Consider an example of a 15” block. Turn it twice with an exact (not over-large) setting, and you will create a block that is 30” wide. Using the math for diagonals,
15” x 1.414 = 21.21”.

Now turn it again:
21.21” x 1.414 = 30”.

This block setting is often called an “economy block.” It’s an especially effective way of highlighting a small centerpiece, such as a special or fussy-cut piece of fabric.

Economy block setting – a square turned on point twice.

The Part I Didn’t Think About Much, But Probably Knew, Too
As it turns out, you can do this with non-square rectangles, too.

Non-square rectangle, squared first with unequal triangles, and again with equally-sized ones.

The Part I Didn’t Know, And Figured Out Last Night
The size relationship for both types of blocks can be generalized, and is far easier than multiplying by 1.414. If the length of the inside shape is A, and the width of the inside shape is B, the distance across the diagonal of the interior square is A+B. That means the length of the exterior square is A+B.

In the economy block example above, the interior square is 15”.
The resulting block is 30” square, or 15” + 15”.

In the second example, if the interior blue rectangle is 12” x 18”,
the resulting block is 30” square, or 12” + 18”.

The next time you want to frame a rectangle with setting triangles, remember how easy it is to determine the finished size. Length plus width of the interior rectangle (square or not!) is the width of the resulting square.

Ain’t math fun? 🙂


Spinning Star

Some projects turn out roughly the way one expects, and others? Not so much. My Spinning Star is one of those.

Earlier this year I was invited to facilitate a three-day workshop at an art center. I was honored! And excited! And I started planning a quilt project that could convey many lessons of medallion quilts, while allowing the students to create designs unique to their own tastes.

When I teach my Medallion Improv! class, I offer a common blueprint so the students can focus on some design principles and elements, but not all of them. With given sizes for the center block and border widths, for example, they don’t need to worry much about proportion.

For the three-day workshop, I planned to use a 16″ center block. Each student would bring their own to the first class day, to set the foundation for their own design. The first order of business in class would be to demonstrate setting that block on point. The on-point setting expands the center block both physically and visually. The 16″ space, with exactly sized setting corners, suddenly becomes 22 5/8″. It’s an efficient and dramatic way to increase the size of the project. (To see how to set a block on point, check this out.)

In order to provide an example for promotional materials, I got to work and made a 16″ block of my own. The setting triangles are slightly oversized to take the new center to 23″. Using oversized corners helps with two aspects. One, it doesn’t require perfection in placing those corners, making it an easier task. Two, it allows the quilter to trim the center to a size that is simpler to use. Using 23″ finished means I can add 2.5″ (finished) borders on each side, taking the top to 28″. That is an easy size to use.

You can see more information about how I started this in my post Medallion Process — A New Center Block for Class.

And then … the invitation was rescinded because the art center decided they needed a bigger name. (Yes, I am a bit disappointed by how that all went, but you don’t need to worry or comment on that. There are challenges and opportunities in how we deal with disappointments, too.) Immediately it was apparent that this project would not go roughly as I imagined.

At about the same time, I was working on the slide show for my guild’s quilt festival. You can find the video of A Quilt Is More Than A Blanket in this post. Though I was deep in the midst of making my red and white quilts, I realized that to show the process of making a quilt, I needed to take pix of a quilt in process! For various reasons, I didn’t think the red and white ones were good candidates for that. So onward and upward! The spinning star became a priority again.

Spinning Star. 50″ x 50″. Finished June 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The center block is made with paper piecing. The first framing border (not setting triangles) is unpieced strips. The fabric of the border repeats the dark blue, red, and black that came earlier. It also adds some lighter chalky blue for value contrast and relief. The print is supposedly an Australian Aboriginal design. The border takes the center (everything in the center so far, including the border once added,) to 28″.

This really is an easy size to use, if one is making a pieced border of square blocks. You can divide 28″ a lot of different ways, including into 7 blocks at 4″, 8 blocks at 3.5″, 14 blocks at 2″, and so on.

My original plan for the workshop blueprint was to use 3.5″ half-square triangles. There are a lot of lessons to learn with HST, and there are fun ways to demonstrate them. (Here are a few ways to look at HST.) But once plans changed, and I wanted to increase the size more quickly in order to finish more quickly, I decided to use a wider border.

I looked for inspiration in a number of places and ultimately saw a round robin quilt in Instagram I liked. It had a middle border of light bars and darker bars, arranged in a staggered way. I think the proportions of the bars were different from mine, but the idea is the same. One advantage to this design is I could make it as wide as I wanted. (“Wide” means the dimension perpendicular to the edge of the center. The two lines in this symbol ⊥ are perpendicular to each other. “Length” is the dimension along the edge.) The width is 6″, taking the top to 40″.

Running the blue bars through the middle creates a stable line, and makes the V-pattern of the staggered darks a little more subtle.

I also knew I wanted the corner blocks to echo the center shapes. Using the same blue and red fabrics from the very center, as well as one of the orange fabrics, gives a direct repeat. And using the economy block gives a less direct repeat of the center with setting triangles. (For directions on making the economy block, see my most-viewed post ever.)

With the center then at 40″, I had another easy length to divide into square blocks. I chose a 5″ wide border, this time of the HST I didn’t use before. Well, sort of. My plan was to use HST, simply made from a solid orange and the same blue Aboriginal print from before. I made 8 of the 36 required blocks (8 on each side and 4 in the corners,) and they were awful. The orange was much too much, too orange, too much orange. (NOT articulate, huh? I wish I’d taken pictures to let you see exactly what I mean.)

I still liked the idea of using the HST to make Vs around the edge, but the orange wouldn’t work. I tried other ideas and other fabrics. I flipped the orange underneath to reveal less of it, and put that against another blue. Ah. Much better. However, the solid orange still didn’t work for me. Instead I cut strips of the squiggly orange stripe from the center setting triangles, and added pieces of the blue that looks like it has finger-painting smears on it. One benefit of this is I could still use all the blue Aboriginal print I’d already cut!

The completed top is 50″ square. I quilted it very simply with a large double meander in a marigold-colored thread. (The double meander is done with one very large stipple or meander across the surface of the quilt, followed by another pass back, winding and ribboning through the first pass. It’s simple and fast and looks great on a lot of quilts.)

The binding is made from the African fabric used for the red and black stripes of the setting triangles. Though the red and black were fussy cut from it, the design also includes dark blue, so it was suitable across its pattern.

This quilt did not go roughly how I expected. It didn’t go much as planned at all. But I was pleased to use it for the video, and I like how it turned out. I think it will have a special owner some day, but right now I don’t know who that will be.


A Gift for My Friend BJ

Recently I mentioned I’ll be giving away a few quilts. I sent off two on Friday, and yesterday (Saturday) the first one arrived for its new owner!

In July and August I had a few quilts displayed in a local quilt shop. One day my friend BJ met me there to take a look, and to enjoy some time together. BJ and I met 18 years ago (MY GOODNESS!) at the bank where we both worked. We worked closely for several years prior to her retirement, and we’ve remained friends since then.

BJ is a sports fan, and while there were a couple of the quilts she especially liked, I thought this one suited her well. It is named Play Ball! and is 46″ x 56″.

This fun little quilt started from a pillow panel. Several years ago, on my first excursion into our local Mennonite thrift shop, I found two square pillow covers. With their vintage baseball theme and strong blues, reds, and greens, likely they were used in a boy’s bedroom. Besides the square(ish) panels on the front, the envelope closures on the back were lined with small baseballs on navy blue.

I used one panel to inspire a baby quilt for my youngest grandchild. (He is going on 5 now, so not a baby anymore.) It uses the Burgoyne Surrounded block on the front and the pillow panel to center the back.

But I still had one panel left. With a nice range of color and value, I continued the baseball and All-American theme.

The dark green tone-on-tone framed the panel to represent the grass of the infield, and then I mimicked the baseline and bases in the corners with cream and tan. Spark and movement comes from the simple border of 4-patches and half-square triangles.

The busy stars print frames all that, followed by borders only on top and bottom to elongate the quilt. This border uses the “economy” block, or square-in-a-square, described in this tutorial. I was able to use four of the fussy-cut baseballs for the corner blocks. Finally I framed the whole thing with red. This gives a balance between the red, navy, and green in the center panel.

I enjoyed making this quilt. I have a feeling BJ will enjoy watching her baseball playoff games and quite a lot of football snuggled under this lap quilt.

Playing with Color and Value Placement

Recently I showed you a block that uses the economy block as the center. It’s called “Union Square,” or “Contrary Wife Variation.”

Union Square block

I showed you two different versions of it. Here is the straight set with sashing.

Union Square straight set

Union Square or Contrary Wife variation, straight set with sashing.

What a difference it makes to remove the sashing. If you’re like me, your eye starts to focus on the dark shapes rather than on the blocks. In fact, you might start to see T blocks.

Union Square unsashed

Union Square unsashed

And one more change, putting some subtle color in the blocks’ corner patches. For me, this really blurs the block outlines.

Union Square unsashed 2

Union Square unsashed, with color/value variation

Now let’s try placing the values differently. Different colors, here, too.

Union Square unsashed 3

Union Square unsashed variation

Honest to Pete, it’s the same blocks. Putting the darkest value in the corners and their adjacent wedges takes the eye directly to them. In other words, the visual weight is where the dark values are. That is accentuated by using the pale yellow to create squares on point between the dark segments.

The lesson in this, if there is one, is that the way you see a pattern or design first is not the only way it can be done. Most of us are used to using our own preferred colors. But values can be placed differently, too. Experiment with designs to see how color and value placement changes the look.


If you’d like to see my other posts on economy blocks, the first post showed you how to make the economy block ANY SIZE with my tutorial and cheat sheet. The second showed you 17 different arrangements of the block with alternate blocks. They range from simple to fairly complex. The third is linked at the top of this post. It is on blocks that use the economy block as their center.