Wednesday, September 12, 2012

1800's Block of the Month

I've been having trouble finding new web sites that show antique quilts from the 1800s.  But I recently found this site.  Check out the quilts of the Great Lakes Quilt Center of Michigan State University Museum. The first quilt shown in the collection is a wholecloth from 1790. The most recent is 1993.  Although navigation through the quilts is pretty clunky you do see some wonderful old quilts.  There are very few pieced quilts compared to whole cloth and applique.  

Let's try a little paper piecing for this month's block. And, yes, you will be making your own foundations.  

This month’s block was shown in the book Remember Me by Linda Otto Lipsett.  Rather than being a book of patterns it is a history of friendship quilts that became a fad in New England in the early 1840s and  then spread west as people migrated.  This block can be made leaving room for a signature of a friend or perhaps the maker’s name, date and location.  I made mine with a regular 9 patch in the center.  Check below for a close up picture of the block from the book if you would like to leave room for a signature.

Cut – 8 -- 3 ½” squares. 4 are for the foundation pieced triangle units and 4 for the outside corners of the block.  (If you don’t mind using a larger piece of fabric on your foundation cut a piece larger than 3 ½” but I had good luck cutting the exact size.)
Cut – 8 – 2 ½” x 4 ½” rectangles for the sides of the triangle units
Cut – 5 – 1 ½”  square of dark fabric for center 9 patch*
Cut – 4 – 1 ½” square of light or medium fabric for center 9 patch*

*(If you want to make this like the photo from the book cut one light rectangle 3 ½” by 1 ½”; 4 dark or medium 1 ½” squares and 2 light 1 ½” squares. (use photo to the right for how to place fabrics for the patch.) 

Making the foundation:
Using 4 squares to the inch graph paper draw a 3” square.  Mark the center of the top.  Draw diagonal lines from the center out to each of the bottom corners. Then draw a ¼” seam allowance around the previously drawn square.  Extend the  diagonal lines through to the cutting lines.  Note that the bottom of the diagonal lines do not go through the center of the corner of the cutting lines.  Yep, that’s the way it is suppose to be. 

Make 4 copies on the foundation paper of your choice.  I’ve had really good luck with Electric Quilt’s Foundation Sheets.  I was amazed how easily they tear off.  If you choose to print copies of your foundation make sure you check that from seam line to seam line the block is 3" square. With the seam allowance added the block should be 3 1/2" unfinished.  I found it just as easy to trace 4 copies on my foundation paper. 


Layout the 1 ½” blocks to form a nine patch.  Sew the patches to form rows; then sew the rows together.Press each seam to the darker fabric.  The only difference if you are making the signature block is you have a rectangle in the center rather than 3 blocks to sew together. Sew the units into rows, matching seam lines.  The unfinished block is 3 ½”. 

Paper Piecing the triangle blocks:
When sewing paper foundations use a smaller stitch.  I usually set my machine for 1.5 (normal is 2.5).  It is recommended to use a larger needle but I generally don’t unless I’m using copy paper rather than a thinner paper. For foundation piecing you line up your fabrics on the right side (no writing) of the foundation and pin and sew from the wrong side.  To hold the 3 ½” square inside the drawn square, I used a very small dab from a glue stick. I placed the glue inside the sewing line at the top triangle and inside the sewing line at each bottom corner.  (It’s best to use temporary glue if you have it although I used so little of the permanent glue I had on hand it wasn’t an issue.) 

It was much easier for me to work with the next fabrics not having to deal with pins or the first fabric moving.  Holding the foundation to the light, place the rectangle piece so that ¼” is over the sewing line, right side to right side.  Because I have problems getting fabrics to completely cover the required space, I always pin on the seam lines, flip the fabric over and make sure there is enough fabric to cover all the way to the cutting line of the foundation. If there is, I pin perpendicular to the seam line and then remove the pins on the stitching line. If the fabric doesn’t cover all the way to the cutting lines try again until it does. Stitch right on the line from cutting line to cutting line. Fip fabric 2 into correct position to make sure it actually covers the whole #2 space and the seam allowances. (Hey, I double check ALL the time on foundations…)  Fold back the foundation on the sewn line and make sure #2 fabric is out of the way and cut fabric #1  a quarter inch from the seam line. Iron fabric #2 in place.
Repeat for fabric #3 – sew on the line, trim the under fabric away leaving a ¼” seam.  Iron the unit.

Trim the block on the cutting lines.  It should measure 3 ½” unfinished.  Carefully remove your foundation from each block.  Be careful handling the blocks at this point as there is some bias in pieces # 2 and # 3.

Layout the block as shown and sew the units into rows.  I pressed my seams to the darks in my block but the center row I pressed to the little 9 patch.  Sew rows together.  

We are close to having all the blocks made for this quilt.  I will have two more blocks to share with you and will give you measurements to put the tree of life block on point.  I haven’t decided about borders but I’m sure the top will need some.  My big question is will I run out of my fabrics before the borders?  Seeing my block in the pictures made me question the colors of the nine patch.  Don't know whether I will change them or not.  Here's a final picture of the quilt this block was taken from. This quilter was very careful about her use of stripes.  She did a great job with them. 

Any questions?  Feel free to email me at



Thanks for visiting. Let me know what you're thinking about.