I love blocks. I have always loved quilt blocks. I love how they can be broken down into component parts and combined with different blocks built of the same component parts to form a whole new look. I love they way they can be combined. I love how you can make the same block from different fabrics and have a completely different look. It seems, though, blocks are not popular now, being deemed old fashioned by the Modern Quilt Guild.
I am in a closed Facebook Group that is talking, in a sort of roundabout way, about blocks. The overall theme is the 1930s, so naturally the block patterns in newspapers came up. I have been interested in block designs since I started quiltmaking. One of the first books I bought was The Quilter’s Album of Blocks and Borders, the precursor to the more complete Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns. Both are written/compiled by Jinny Beyer.
I don’t know the history of blocks, in general, though I have read enough about them. The most famous publisher, probably, was the Kansas City Star, because they published quilt patterns in their newspaper. The patterns were syndicated across the country. Quilter By Design says that these patterns were published from 1928-1961, first weekly then monthly. I have not checked the veracity of these date. I am fortunate enough to have set of the newspaper clippings reproduced and spiralbound. In this set is a wealth of inspiration. There are amazing blocks and quilts that spurred on the quilt imagination of a generation of quiltmakers.
I have heard that many of the blocks were not designed by quiltmakers, but by journalists and were never made. The Snowball Wreath is one of those blocks and Barbara Brackman does a great job describing it and showing photos on her blog. Apparently few of this particular block pattern were made into quilts. I salute those ladies! I did a search and saw some that had been made recently. I did a project a few years ago to try and make a block. I made it a little differently than the pattern implies, but didn’t want to make myself crazy.
The oldest block design Jinny Beyer found in her research was from the January 1835 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book, a hexagon design. Ladies Art Company published quilt and other needlework designs starting in 1889. Beyer reminds us that many block designs in a publication such as Ladies Art Company were republished later by other companies.
One thing modern quilters have done is revived old blocks using new methods. Paper piecing is a great way to get good results without too many tears. Rotary cutting templates make the cutting of strange shapes easy. Jen Kingwell revived the Circle Within a Circle (Ladies Art Company, 1897. It was also published as Bird’s Eye View by Clara Stone in Practical Needlework, 1906**) block, calling it Steampunk. You can see a version of the current incarnation on the Diary of a Quilter page. My only objection to this revival is the lack of citing sources. I can’t complain much since Clara Stone didn’t cite her Ladies Art Company source.
I would love to make at least one of the all the Kansas City Star blocks. I would also like to make one of all the blocks in Jinny Beyer’s Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns. I don’t think I have enough time left in my life. I also am refusing to let myself think of that as a real, possible project. Perhaps a project for me and 100 of my friends?
One of the things I have is knowledge about blocks. I was taught to make quilts using blocks and in the teaching I learned about grids. Now, for the most part, I can break a quilt down into pieces and have a good idea of how to make the quilt. Sometimes having a pattern is easier, but not having to spend $12 on a pattern I will make once is something to think about. Of course, I support the designers when I think I will make a quilt. Remember Metroscape?
Anyway, I love blocks. What about you?
** This information came from The Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns by Jinny Beyer, ©2009