If you have been a fan of my quilt patterns over the years, it’s no secret that I am inspired by antique quilts and many traditional quilt blocks. I thought it would be fun this week to talk about some of these blocks and share some facts and trivia about them. For some of these blocks, the origins are known and recorded, but for some it can only be guessed at through study of quilting in American history. Here’s some information I have gathered on some of my favorite blocks.
The Snowball Block
This simple block doesn’t always get recognized as a traditional or historic block. But it is! It actually has its origins in Amish quilting. Until I did a little research, I had no idea. It is a traditional block of theirs that can be found in many quilts, both Amish and not, from the 19th century. The design of this block creates an optical illusion because they look like circles when you step back to view the quilt. These blocks are a fun way to add movement to a quilt. Here’s one of my patterns, Carnival Time, with snowball blocks:
From a distance the blocks do look like circles but they’re actually octagons! Here’s a close up of the block:
It’s a very simple block to learn. These snowball blocks in my quilt were made with 3 1/2″ squares (color print) and tan print 1 1/2″ squares stitched on the diagonal to the 4 corners using the stitch & flip method to create the corners.
Here’s a variation of a snowball block in another of my patterns, Sweet Harmony:
I made 16-patch units and then turned them into snowball blocks, to add my “scrappy” flair.
The Churn Dash Block
Looking at my patterns, you will see that this is one of my favorite traditional quilt blocks. It’s a block that has been around for over 150 years. In the nineteenth century, women would make blocks and would often name them after everyday items they used daily. Even if it already had a name! Churn dash is one of them. The perimeter of the block resembled a churn and the center a “dash” (the stick that was used) to these women.
This block is a fun one to play with because it looks good alone or combined with other elements. Here’s a few of my patterns that use the block.
The block is simple to make. It’s technically a modified nine-patch block. If you look closely at a traditional churn dash, it is a 9-grid block usually with all nine units measuring the same.
It even looks cool on point in a quilt!
The Log Cabin Block
I think this block is my all time favorite traditional block. If you scroll through my pattern offerings, you will see that I return to it again and again. I think it’s because it is so versatile and it makes use of my vast stash of fabric strips. There are many variations of the block too, which keeps things interesting.
These blocks are thought to be very American, representing the pioneers as they moved west and built homes of logs. However, this pattern has been found in earlier quilts and on other items as early as the mid 18th century. The traditional Log Cabin has a center square with “logs” added on alternating sides. Two sides of the block is light fabrics while the opposite sides are built with darker fabrics. Here’s a traditional log cabin:
The center square was often a red fabric to represent the hearth of the home.
One of my favorite variations of the Log Cabin block is the Courthouse Steps variation.
It’s named that because the “logs” look like steps up to a door. Here are a few other variations that I have used in quilts:
These blocks also look cool on point!
Antique Quilt Inspiration
Want some more inspiration? Consider paging through antique quilt books from museums and state historical societies. Here’s one of my favorite books:
I love paging through these books to find new (to me) traditional blocks to inspire some new pattern designs. Sometimes I find a block and re-work it so it’s easier to piece. So instead of “y” or curved seams, I figure out a way to make it with straight seams and/or appliqué!
Here’s an example of an antique block called the Album Cross that I re-worked with simpler piecing.
On the left is the traditional Album Cross, which is pieced with a lot of “y” seams. The block on the right is my re-worked version. It is pieced in 4 parts using the stitch & flip technique to create literally the same design. Here’s one of the 4 units (below) that make up the block above. I start with a tan square, then add the purple stitch & flip corners and then, finally, the black corner.
I used these blocks to make my table runner pattern, Scrap Basket Duo.
So I’ll keep hunting for old blocks that I can put my “easy to piece” twist on. I hope you enjoyed this brief historical tour. See you next week!
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