How to design a quilt block

Okay, so “how to design a quilt block” is maybe a little too general.  What I’m actually going to tell you is how I designed the block I’m making for the current quarter of the 4×5 Modern Quilt Bee.

I talked about how this online quilt bee works last quarter (before I moved all my sewing related posts over here), which was my first participating, but here’s a quick refresher.  I’m in a group with 5 other ladies (men could play, too, but quilters tend to be women).  We each indicate our color choices and a background color (usually white, ivory, gray, black).  I make 5 quilt blocks of the same design, using the specific color choices of my group members in each block.  They, in turn, do the same, and I receive 5 quilt blocks of different designs, all in my chosen color scheme.  Four times a year, the deadline occurs and then the groups change.

This time, I started out sketching two possible block designs.  

I love the stars.  And I thought I was being all clever and original with the 3 different sized stars in the same block.  Ha!  As we were chatting about our blocks in the group forum, Sarah mentioned that she was thinking about stars for her block as well.  She had already picked a star block.  It’s published in a book called Modern Blocks.  It’s called Stargazing.


Yeah, pretty much the same block I drew.  As I don’t ever recall seeing it before I drew it, I’m not as clever and original as I thought I was, it seems.

Anyway.  On to Plan B.  The stacked bricks design.  But I didn’t really like that little rectangle-in-a-diamond on the left of the above drawing.  So I kept playing with that concept.  That resulted in a couple more sketches.

The first one was too cluttered.  The second one also wasn’t making me very excited, but I can’t put my finger on exactly what about it turned me off.  I kept playing and sketching and ended up with the concept of two rows of bricks “moving” in the same direction, and I added a little separation between each brick.  And now they look like stair steps to me.

The next page in my notebook is completely unrelated; I just threw in another possible design.  Looks like a patchwork river to me; I may revisit this idea later.

And, we’re back to the double staircases.  I drew out the design again, this time trying to figure out what would work in terms of size and placement of all the pieces.  I had to determine how big I wanted the “steps” (width + height), how much I wanted them to overlap with one another, how much background fabric I wanted separating them both horizontally and vertically, etc.

Okay, now that I’ve determined my proportions of all the parts, I now have to figure out the best way to cut out the fabric and put it together.  I spend the next four pages working on that.

Finally, I arrive at the cutting layout here, on the left.  Ta da!  (see how I even put a star on the page?  A star.  Like a 2nd grade spelling test.  I gave myself a star.  Good job … me?  *rolls eyes*.  I digress … )

And after all that, we get to: the manifestation of the design in fabric.  Hooray!

In this particular design, the block is the same right-side up and upside down.  The spacers of background fabric are below the bottom 4 rectangles of color and above the upper 4 rectangles of color.

I’m already thinking about a variation of this block into a whole quilt design where the spacer of background fabric is always on the bottom, for example, and then the steps will continue to climb without interruption across a whole quilt.  Perhaps a rainbow of stairs?  I’m thinking this would be a great project to use those color wheel charm squares I’m expecting.  It just so happens that the stairs are cut at 5 inches wide, the exact width of a charm square.

1 reply
  1. Carmen
    Carmen says:

    I love seeing someone’s thought processes! You designed a great block, too! This is my first time in the 4×5 so I went with a simple block, but next time I’d like to try my hand at designing.

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