Breaking Down the Quilt Block

Spiderweb Quilt, 55" x 65"

pokey boltonWhen I first became interested in quilting, I spent hours staring at traditional quilt squares trying to figure out how they were pieced. Some, like the log cabin pattern, are pretty obvious.

But many block quilt designs present an optical illusion. What looks like a block design from afar is actually the result of piecing four quilt blocks together.

When this Spiderweb Quilt by Elizabeth Dackson came in to be photographed for International Quilt Festival: Quilt Scene earlier this year, the staff went wild for its bold design.

I noticed quite a few people lingering over it to figure out how the quilt blocks were pieced. At first glance, it looks like the webs make up the blocks. But in reality, the webs are built around diamond template to make a star quilt block pattern.

Here is how Elizabeth makes her Spiderweb Quilt blocks.

1. Using the diamond pattern make a template from cardboard or template plastic.

quilt block 1
Figure 1
quilt block 2
Figure 2
quilt block 3
Figure 3
quilt block 4
Figure 4

2. Place the template on 1 of your base triangles, matching the top of the diamond with the top of the base triangle as shown. (Figure 1) Using a water-soluble marking tool, trace the outline along both long sides of the diamond.

3. With right sides together, place your first fabric strip on top of your base triangle, lining up the raw edge of your strip with the line you traced from the diamond template. (Figure 2) Use a 1/4" seam to sew together. Do not trim anything except for your thread tails at this point.

diamond quilt block pattern
The diamond template.

4. Carefully finger press the strip open, away from the center, and line up your next strip on the opposite side of the center of the block. Sew this strip to your base triangle in the same manner. Finger press this strip open as well, then press both seams with your iron.

Note: Once you have sewn the 2 fabric strips that border the center of your base triangle, you will not sew any additional strips onto the base triangle. (It will be folded out of the way as you add the remaining strips.)

5. Position your next fabric strip, right sides together and raw edges aligned. Fold back the base triangle and sew the seam.

6. Continue adding strips until you have covered the base triangle, finger pressing and pressing your strip seams open along the way.

7. Turn the triangle to the wrong side, and using the base triangle as your guide, trim away the excess strip lengths. (Figure 3) Then, fold back the excess base triangle fabric, and trim it away.

8. Lay out 4 completed triangles in a star formation. (Figure 4) Using a 1/4" seam allowance, line up 2 triangles at a time and seam them together. Continue for all blocks. Press the seams open. Next, seam the half-blocks together using a 1/4" seam allowance.

See how it all comes together?

While pieced quilt blocks have not been my preference to make, I admire them greatly. And, the modern patchwork movementwith off-kilter designs and lots of white spacehas me reconsidering block quilting. Just so long as I can add my precious surface design touches to it!

For the latest quilting trends out of International Quilt Festival/Houston 2011 (and projects to try), be sure to get your copy of IQF/Quilt Scene 2011.

P.S. Do you ever make traditional or contemporary quilt blocks? Do you use a pattern or improv piecing? Share in the comments section below.

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4 thoughts on “Breaking Down the Quilt Block

  1. Although I make mostly art quilts, I have a passion for piecing, and enjoy the challenge of taking old block patterns and interpreting them in today’s fabric selections. Many are free-cut, no templates or rulers, reassembled and sewn back together. I use a pattern as a starting point, but then leap off on my own tangent.

    I love this spider web technique, it’s quite different than the one I’ve made, thanks for showing it! .

  2. idon’t do traditional quilt blocks very often. unless i am making a bed quilt for a special person.
    but i do like taking traditional blocks and curving them, and using them as part of a larger design.
    i made a large wallhanging – 90″ square, of a trotting horse of another color. the entire background was pieced of curved hole in the barn door blocks.

    another horse quilt (the view from behind, with dimensional tail of silk fiber, decorated with silk flowers) was placed on one very large, curved hole in the barn door block.

    i have a spirit scape quilt in progress – the mother and baby whale are in front of an ocean made of curved storm at sea blocks.

    so i like using traditional blocks – but in a very artsy way. ckquilter

  3. I love this spiderweb block. It would be a great way for my Gr. 5/6 students to learn straight stitching on the sewing machine. So bright and colorful too. Thanks for the inspiration. Carole.