What Is A Block For Quilt Design? – With 10 Popular Samples


Quilts and quilt designs are often created with a single block or group of blocks. Usually a block is made from a grid of squares, with the same number on each side.

For example, a simple Four Patch is made using 4 squares (or patches) in one block — 2 on each side. Not wanting to be too limited, quilters figured out that they could subdivide the Four Patch into even more units, making 16 or even 32 patches within the block. The basic premise is that the entire block could be divided into 4 units overall, thus remain a Four Patch.

Nine Patch Blocks work the same way. The basic block is a grid of three patches on each side, and can be sub-divided into more units (or patches). And each of those patches can be divided into smaller units as well. For example, in the block shown above, some of the patches are divided into triangles. Because each of these triangles is created when a square is divided in half, the triangles are called Half-Square Triangles (HST). In addition, there is one patch (the patch in the center of the bottom row) that is further divided into a rectangle and 3 different size triangles.

Dividing the patches in blocks and changing the colors in the patches is what makes a pattern in a quilt. Repeating the blocks, rotating the blocks and changing the colors in the blocks within a quilt are the elements that give each quilt its unique design.

Tree of Life Quilt Block

In early American days, clipper ships brought cargoes of Indian and Persian cotton prints into western Atlantic ports. When quilt designers were looking for pattern ideas, the Tree of Life design, common to Oriental rugs, was easily converted to a quilt pattern.

The appeal of the block lies not only in its intrinsic beauty but in its quality of faith and belief in eternal life. The design quickly became a favorite among the religiously inclined settlers of the New World and their descendents.

There are many variations of the design. A search in Maggie Malone’s book, 5500 Quilt Block Designs, offers 6 variations. According to tradition, the distinguishing feature is the patchwork of the tree foliage and the trunk — which is appliquéd on.

The favored fabric for these old quilts was a calico in green tones with a darker green or brown fabric for the trunk. While the foliage was always a patterned fabric to show the variation of the light and dark of the tree, while the trunk was always a solid fabric.

Patterns also can be found showing the block “on point” with the tree standing straight and tall.

Jacob’s Ladder and Stepping Stones

Tidbit of Quilting History — Jacob’s Ladder is a pre-Revolutionary design.

All Jacob’s Ladder quilts are made in two tones only, with the dark patches being very dark and the lights being correspondingly light. No intermediate shades are allowed since the fundamental idea of Jacob’s Ladder is extreme contrast resulting in a series of dark “ladders” running up and down the quilt or diagonally across.

Now take the same block, reverse the light and dark fabrics, and add a medium, and you get Stepping Stones (in Virginia and New England), The Tail of Benjamin’s Kite (in Pennsylvania), The Trail of the Covered Wagon or Wagon Tracks in Mississippi and the prairie states, and The Underground Railroad in the Western Reserve (Connecticut and the northeastern portion of Ohio).

Each new name suggests characteristics of its locale, and creates a image in the mind’s eye — grass-embedded stepping stones set between planters in old Colonial gardens; Benjamin Franklin, pompously dignified in small-clothes, with his jacket and broad-brimmed hat flying a child’s kite in a thunderstorm; the covered wagon trekking its way across the prairie carrying settlers to their new homeland.

And, isn’t it amazing how changing just so few colors can make a difference in the look of the block and quilt?

Fox and Geese Quilt Block

Do you want to increase your chances of winning the marathon?

It sounds awful, but primitive people believed eating fox lungs strengthened breathing. After all, they saw foxes were excellent runners, and rarely were out of breath!

Hmmm…..Interesting logic.

Frogs in Your Tea Block

Whether it’s just an old wives’ tale or a joke from a bar, it’s still funny….

During the Colonial Days in the US, men met at the taverns for several rounds of brew while the ladies met for evening tea. Remembering that these were the days of the Stamp Act where tea was a luxury, women frequently found ways to sip tea in secret, in spite of the fact that men were mostly willing to deny themselves.

The coffee pot from the Bell Tavern in Danvers, Massachusetts was a perfect disguise for tea, and the pot would find its way to the house of the evening. The ladies were known to pour the coffee out, saving it for later replacement, and brew a pot of the delicious, forbidden tea.

One evening a large party of ladies gathered at the home of a quilter whose husband was known to stay at the tavern until the wee hours. In his absence, the ladies enjoyed tea and quilting, secure in knowing that the master would be much delayed in arriving home.

The tea was carefully poured into the big coffee pot from the Bell Tavern, and left to simmer on the hearth during the evening of quilting and talking.

The evening drew to a close and the ladies prepared to pour the remaining tea out of the pot as they paid their compliments to the local “Tory who sold tea.” The lid to the coffee pot was removed and the pot tipped up.

Along with the tea leaves, out poured the body of a big toad — speckled and bloated — and flopped on the hearth. The shrieking ladies quickly forgot their earlier enjoyment of the tea, and it is said, that tea consumption in the town dropped off for a time.

Lady of the Lake Quilt Block

History has it that the Lady of the Lake Quilt Block was named after a poem by Sir Walter Scott, published in 1810.

The pioneer men and women loved the heroic tales of Sir Walter Scott, and the women honored him in their most practiced method of artistic expression by naming a patchwork block after the poem.

The Lady of the Lake quilt block appeared shortly after publication of the poem, one showing up in Vermont some time before 1820.

The pattern must have been popular because examples are found in most parts of the country, and it is one of the few quilt block patterns that have never been shown by other names.

Abraham Lincoln Quilt Blocks

Quilters have participated in politics in the United States since the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. But, since women couldn’t vote until 1920, at first their participation was in the form of “advice” and support for their husbands.

Not satisfied with quietly sitting in the background, quilters created quilt blocks and quilts to express their political opinions.

Quilt blocks like 54-40 or Fight, Tippecanoe and Tyler Too are two examples of quilt blocks created to support political candidates.

Many American presidents have also been honored with quilt blocks.

Lincoln’s Hat Quilt Block

Abraham Lincoln was famous for his stovepipe top hat, so it’s not surprising that a quilt block was designed to memorialize it.

His hat has a silk-like finish, and sits in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

According to tradition, the height of the hat equals the width of the brim.

The Lincoln’s Hat quilt block shown to the left has 4 hats with the suggestion of Lincoln’s face.

What is interesting to me is that the block design shows the brim below the base of the hat. Curious – is the picture of the quilt block design I found incorrect? If not, why was it designed that way?

Regardless, this is an interesting block and a great way to honor President Lincoln and is relatively easy to sew.

Another quilt block honoring President Lincoln is the Lincoln’s Platform block.

Lincoln’s Platform Quilt Block

It dates back to the 19th century and was included among the pattern templates offered by the Ladies Art Company in 1895.

These patterns were included in magazines, just as quilt block and quilt patterns are offered in quilting magazines today.

The difference is that the magazines offering quilt block patterns in the 1800s were magazines with general information for women, not specializing in quilting!


By Penny Halgren of http://www.How-To-Quilt.com. 

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