Last week’s blog post covered block history and trivia of some of my favorite quilt blocks. If you missed that post, find it here. This week, I wanted to talk some more about traditional blocks, the history behind them and how I’ve used them in some of my quilt patterns. This also includes a chat about secondary design, when blocks are joined into a quilt top and another design emerges. So let’s get going on this week’s topic!
First an explanation of secondary design. When you look at a quilt and you not only see the block designs but you see another design emerge as you step back, that’s secondary design. Sometimes it’s intentional… and sometimes you just get lucky and two blocks you decide to place next to each other make another design. I like to design these types of quilts because it adds another level of interest. Click here for a post I did last year on the different ways I have achieved secondary design in my quilts. It can be done in one block quilts, two or more block quilts, adding a sashing or even with color in your background!
Here’s another example that is not in the post I linked above. My pattern Paper Chain has this interesting block:
It’s a pretty simple block base on a 9-patch grid. Now when you see it with other blocks in the quilt you start to see another pattern emerge where the corners of 4 blocks meet (circled area):
Now a picture of the full quilt gives you another chance to see more secondary designs:
In the photo on the left, the arrow is pointing to a octagon shape that emerges. The arrow on the right points to squares created by the tan print centers of the blocks creating a checkerboard background. So next time you stand back and look at a quilt, try to see how many different designs emerge.
This is a really fun block to use in secondary design. But first, a little history. According to quilt historian Barbara Brackman, the earliest know date for this pattern in American quilting dates to 1814. She also believes this pattern could have been inspired by a weaving design. However, this pattern has also been found in Ireland by a different name. It was thought to be called “Mosaic” and “American Chain” there. Perhaps Irish settlers brought this pattern with them as they settled in America and it was named “Irish Chain” because of that. As with other blocks used in the 19th century, women would often called it by other names like Double Nine-Patch, Single Irish Chain and The Simple Cross.
This pattern is popular because when it is combined with a plain block in an alternating style, there is a blank area framed by the “crisscross” design of the chain blocks where a quilter or appliquér can feature their work. Or the “crisscross” pattern of the chain blocks can frame a different block when the alternating method is used. The second method is the one I use the most. Here is the Irish Chain variation I use often in my designs:
As you can see, I use it with the lighter fabric creating the “crisscross” design or with darker fabric in that spot.
So here’s a few of my patterns where I use the Irish Chain block.
On the left, I used the Irish Chain block on point alternating with a Churn Dash block. This creates a horizontal and vertical “crisscross” design. On the right, I used the Irish Chain block in straight piecing. I also made it scrappy except for the brown pieces. This creates a diagonal crisscrossing through the quilt top. Both settings create a secondary design that brings movement to the quilt.
You’ve heard of a Sawtooth Star block, but what about a Sawtooth block? Here it is:
This block was also known by other names such as Lend & Borrow and Rocky Glen. With a little tweaking, it becomes a variation of part of a Bear’s Paw block. The sawtooth borders are just pointing in the opposite direction than in the Sawtooth block, with a solid square in the corner.
The sawtooth name comes from the look of the teeth of a saw when the half-square triangle (HST) squares are pieced into a row. The first appearance of anything “sawtooth” came in borders in the early 19th century. They were a popular border for the medallion style quilts of that time. The most well known style block is the Bear’s Paw block:
How have I used it in my quilts? In my quilt pattern, Fan Dance, I made Sawtooth blocks and arranged them in a “spinning” design to add some movement to the quilt top.
On the table runner on the left, the spinning sawtooth blocks look like pinwheels. The wall hanging/table topper on the right has a central pinwheel design created by the sawtooth blocks with additional blocks spinning off of the center pinwheel, which makes the secondary design. That secondary design creates some fun movement.
Well, that’s it for this week! I hope you enjoyed this bit of block history and secondary design. Leave a comment below or ask a question and you will be entered into a drawing for my Fan Dance pattern (pictured above).
The drawing will be on Monday, May 30th. Good luck!