Check out our newest Amy Butler quilt made from her Soul Blossom's collection!
The pattern is an uneven 9-patch block made from fat quarter strip sets.
One of my favorite blocks is the 9-Patch. Simple—yet elegant—with three squares across and three rows down. I like to say that the 9-Patch block is the haiku of patchwork.
The 9-Patch is often considered a “beginners” block because it’s so easy to piece. But experienced quilters gravitate to it too because it’s so versatile and can be modified and laid out in amazing complex designs.
There are some variations on this block, typically based on the type of setting quilters use in their overall layouts. The 9-Patch has been set “on point,” alternated with solid setting squares or pieced with light and dark fabrics to produce the “split” block. Of course color blocking with just two or three fabrics will produce stunning results too. Just think about Amish quilts or an Irish Chain.
Shortly after opening the shop, we received a shipment of 1930s reproduction fabrics (aka “happy fabrics.”) After dutifully cutting up fat quarters, I grabbed one of each and took them home. Not having any purpose in mind, other than being able to enjoy the bright pastel colors and sweet little conversational prints, my happy fabrics sat on my dining room table and lasted longer than fresh flowers.
Many weeks later I found myself needing to sew something. I grabbed my happy fabrics and went to work on 9-Patch blocks. The completed quilt has lived at the shop for years and generated lots of requests for the pattern to which I’ve said, “I'm working on it." Now, four years later, I've finally finished writing this up. Sorry for the delay. I hope you enjoy making this block as much as I did.
Opposites Attract (aka the Uneven 9-Patch)
An uneven 9-Patch is a variation of the standard block, but instead of each piece being perfectly square, the uneven block has a bulging middle section. My block finishes at 6”. The middle section is 3” and flanked on either side with two 1.5” sections.
My finished quilt is a queen size measuring 75” x 93”.
That’s 11 blocks across by 14 rows down for a total of 154 blocks.
The white inner border is 1.5” and the piano key outer border is 3”.
It’s easy to modify the size of this quilt because of the block construction. Just remember, your finished block size is 6”. I’ll let you figure the math.
You will need 31 fat quarters to yield the 154 blocks for my queen size.
I used Amy Butler's Soul Blossom collection, so I started with 33 fat quarters. While this provided lots of color variation, it was more fabric than I needed and I had extra blocks left over. The upside of having more blocks than you actually need is that you have lots of flexibility to move things around when you layout your quilt top.
If you’re modifying this quilt, figure 5 blocks to each fat quarter x 2 for pairing up two fabrics per block.
In the old days, that’s BRC (before rotary cutters,) quilters would have made 9-Patches by cutting each little square (or rectangle) by hand and then piecing them together like mosaics. No more! Now we can piece much more efficiently by making strip sets.
Begin by rotary cutting the following strips from each of your fat quarters:
4 (2”) strips
2 (3.5”) strips
Save the remaining fabric from each fat quarter to make the piano key border!
Piecing Strip Sets…
I named this quilt “Opposites Attract” because each block is made from two contrasting fabrics. The goal here is harmonious contrast—meaning you want to use two prints that complement one another—yet contrast enough to create some differentiation. To achieve this, think about the colors in each print. The colors should speak to one another in a pleasing way. Pulling a secondary color from the first print for the opposing fabric will create a pleasing pairing.
For instance, in this first example I’ve pulled the lighter green from the center of the honeydew buttercups fabric and partnered it with the green/mint tone-on-tone print.
NOTE: I like to layout all my pairings before I start to sew my strip sets. This way I know that each of my fabrics has a complementary opposite--or as my grandmother would say--every pot has a lid!
Each block will be constructed from sections of two opposite strip sets.
In the first strip set you will sew the two 2" rust floral strips to the center 3.5" green strip--
In the second strip set, you will reverse this and sew two 2" green strips to the 3.5" center rust floral strip--
I like to chain piece my strip sets because it's fast and relaxing.
Once you have your strip sets pieced, you'll need to press them with the seams going in the same direction. Do not press the seams open! That's for garment sewing--not patchwork.
Here's a little piece of advice...press toward the same fabric. This will help you nest your seams when you attach the sections into blocks. For instance, in our example above, press the green fabric toward the rust in both strip sets.
Cutting Sections from Strip Sets…
Once you’ve sewn (and pressed) all your strip sets, it's back to the cutting mat.
From each strip set cut the following:
4 (2”) sections
2 (3.5”) sections
You will have enough left over from each of your pairings to squeak out one more block. So cut two (2”) sections from one strip set and the middle 3.5” section from its opposite.
Piecing your blocks…
Each block is constructed from three sections—one 3.5” middle section flanked by two (2”) sections from the opposite strip set.
Laying out your quilt top…
If you’re lucky enough to have a design wall—good for you! If not, you might want to consider a making a temporary design wall with a flannel sheet. I’ve attached a flannel sheet to my dining room wall so I can step back and get a better perspective on my color placement. The cotton fabric blocks will stick nicely without pins—but beware--a strong wind from an open window can obliterate all your hard work!
When I laid out my quilt top, I thought about a couple of things…
COLOR…I deploy a separation strategy for color placement.
First, I try to avoid placing like prints and colors next to one another. I also like to alternate cool (blues, aquas and greens) from warm (red, orange, gold) tones to enhance the contrast.
BALANCE…I like to balance the layout by using the same blocks in key positions.
For instance, I anchored the corners and middle positions with the same blocks. The twist is that I do them kitty corner from one another. So in the top row I have a red and an orange block in the left and right corners. On the botton row I flipped it and placed the orange on the left and the red on the right.
Finally…a little DISTANCE goes a long way…
If you have the space to layout your quilt top and then leave it there for a day or two—great.
Sometimes when I work too closely with layout, I miss some obvious mistakes like two of the same blocks right smack next to one another. If you can walk away for a day or two—do so. After a little time and distance, you will return with a fresh eye.
To border or not to border…that’s always the big question!
Lots of modern quilts don’t have borders. If you don’t feel like your quilt needs a border, then it probably doesn't. In fact I’ve made lots of quilts without borders. But this time I felt that this big top needed that extra touch in order to help give it definition.
The right border, like the right frame, can really enhance the quilt. And just like a mat on a picture, I think it works best when you use a smaller inner border to set the stage for the bigger and bolder outer border or frame.
I like to use scrappy borders on scrappy quilts because it’s consistent with the overall sensibility of the patchwork. Pulling just one print could work too—but then the question becomes—which one to use?
Here my inner border is white kona cotton cut in 2” strips so they finish at 1.5”.
For the outer border I made “piano keys” from the extra fabric I had left over from the fat quarters I used in the blocks.
- First I cut 2” strips and sewed them randomly into scrappy strip sets. Then I cut 3.25” sections from the strip sets and pieced these end to end for the outer border.
- I sewed the sides on first and then added the top and bottom borders.
My patchwork top was quilted by Sally Evanshank from Windy City Quilters. She does a great job and I love her work.
Good luck everybody! Have fun sewing....and send us pictures when you're done!