My alternative to writing in the winter is quilting and the 4-patch was my first pattern. It’s so simple and turns out so well that it and the 9-patch are my favorite blocks.
Before we get started, though … my fellow blog hoppers are also exploring this topic. Well, maybe not quilting — but how to do something.
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First, there are some tools you need to acquire. Fortunately you can do this at the fabric store where you buy the main ingredients to this work of folk art.
Sewing machine (you can hand piece, but I wouldn’t).
Iron & Ironing Board (or a towel on a table if needed)
Rotary Cutter (trust me, it makes the squares go a great deal faster)
A cutting mat and quilting ruler (again, these tools make the process so much easier than the old hand methods)
4 squares of cotton fabric the same size. A 5th square that is another pattern that is about twice as much. You want a lot of contrast in your 4-patch. I used purple and white in this one. The purple has a dense non-directional pattern. You want the 4-patch to pop. The open block is a great place to include a repeat of the colors from the 4-patch. I prefer a larger pattern here, though I didn’t use it in my example. I prefer something with almost no pattern for the “neutral” block, though I obviously violated my own rule on the example.
I recommend washing and drying (using low settings) your fabric before you start because cotton always shrinks a bit and this should be gotten out of the way before you do the sewing. Trust me, you want cotton and no a cotton-poly mix.
Generally, I like to start with fabric swatches that are 1 yard (3 feet) by the width of the fabric bolt. I like my smallest squares to be 2-inches when finished.
To use the cutting mat, quilting ruler and the rotary cutter to best advantage, fold one of the ironed fabric swatches four times in the same direction. I prefer to match the selvaged edges together, then fold it a second time at the midway point, aligning the folded edge with the selvaged edges. Squareness is critical in this pattern, so use the guides on the quilting ruler to determine that your fabric piece is square along the selvaged edge and the folded edge before you use the rotary cutter to slice off the ragged edge at the top of the square. Now cut the rest of the square into 2 1/2 inch strips. Do that to all of your squares.
Do this to each of your fabric swatches.
Take two different fabric strips and put them right sides together, matching the raw edges. Sew along one edge with a 1/4″ seam. Measure it. For me, that’s the distance from my needle to the outside of my presser foot, but not all machines are the same. If your machine is not like mine, I suggest tape on the sewing bed to tell you where 1/4″ is.
Repeat with your other strips.
You now have two fabrics stripped and matched and two fabrics waiting for you, though ironed and squared.
Heat your iron to cotton setting (use a lower setting if you’re using polyester thread — cotton thread works better). The iron is best dry (no steam).
Put one double-strip on the cutting mat and measure 2/12″. You’ll notice that the opened double strip actually measures 2 1/4″. Using the rotary cutter, cut 2 1/2″ squares from the double strip. What you end up will look something like what’s to the left here.
Open the pairs of squares so that the seam is behind the darker fabric or the fabric with the busiest pattern if they’re the same tone. You want the fold in the fabric to be as close as possible to the stitches. Press the seam flat. Inspect it with your fingers. Set the iron on the seam. Do not move the iron from side to side as this distorts the fabric. Slowly slide the iron the length of the fabric, assuring the fold remains close to the stitches.
Take your first pair of squares and put it down with the right side upper most and the dark fabric nearer you (the seam should be underneath and pointing “towards” you). Take your second pair of squares and put them on top of the other so that the right sides are together (inside) and you do not have the same fabrics facing each other. Match the raw edges and nestle the seams snugly up against each other.
Sew a 1/4″ seam down the right hand side of your squares. When you get to the seam feed it gently under the foot so that it doesn’t flip and try to keep the seams butted right up against each other.
Take you sewn block to the ironing board and press the seam flat, then open as before (you can’t only press to the dark side this time) and there is your completed 4 patch block.
Now take your 3rd fabric. Iron and fold it as before and cut into 4 1/4 inch strips. On the perpendicular, cut the strip into 4 1/4″ blocks. Place the 4-patch block right sides together on the open block and sew together. Take your sewn block to the ironing board and press the seam flat toward the field block side.
Arrange so the blocks alternate between 4-patch block and field block. You can see from my example quilt that I have a pattern that goes from one corner of the bed to the other. I’m told by other quilters that this is not absolutely necessary, but I’m personally OCD about it.
Now, look at the finished quilt top. I never pick my border colors until I’ve finished my top. I’m going to need a narrow border to frame the top and a wider border to hang off the side of the bed, plus a backer fabric that will provide the inspiration for the binding.
I want my frame border to really put a finish on the top, so I will usually pick the boldest color in the topper and sometimes make it darker. I prefer monochromatic frames. I have a friend who always frames in black and another who always frames in white, but I prefer to get my color pallet from the topper. If I were using the example 4-patch (which I stole from someone else), I would make a dark blue, probably navy frame. You can see from my example that I picked a green from my field blocks as the frame.
The outside border is a cool place to deal with your least favorite color in the quilt. I’m not a fan of yellow or pink, so my outside border often includes those colors. I to like use an amorphous pattern. Although the example quilt has a narrow outside border, I generally prefer to make them wider so that they don’t let air in under the blankets when someone is lying under them.
Bindings, batting and backing are a whole new set of skills that I’m going to leave for a future post.
My friend Traci Wooden-Carlisle is discussing this topic at her blog. Traci Wooden-Carlisle began writing poetry and short stories as soon as she was able to form words on paper. She used that as a way to creating worlds, as well as, to communicate with God. A native of Los Angeles, California, she grew up attending United Methodist Church under the leadership of a pastor whose heart was for youth. Once she finished college at she found herself at a loss. She felt caught in the transition between childhood and adulthood. She surrounded herself with saints and volunteered her services as a graphic artist. Through the early-morning prayer, all night Friday prayer and 3-day shut-ins she started on her journey toward her most desired gift, an intimate relationship with God.
Today, Mrs. Wooden Carlisle lives in San Diego with her husband, David Carlisle. She serves as a church Office Manager, teaches fitness classes, continues to praise the Lord through dance, and is currently writing her second book in her Christian-fiction series.