A nine patch quilt block is one of the simplest blocks to create, and yet has the promise of being able to be changed into scores of different designs. The variety of this block relies on the placement of your nine little patches.
What is a Nine Patch Quilt Block?
A nine patch quilt block is made up of nine humble squares arranged in a 3x3 grid. The beauty of these blocks is that you do not need any fancy templates or complicated formulas for sizing your blocks or for calculating angles. It really doesn’t matter what size your squares are, as long as they are all the same size!
History of the Nine Patch Quilt Block
The nine patch quilt block goes back to the times of the pioneers of America. It was chosen because it was easy to put together by hand (no complex angles here!) and was economical meaning there is no wastage when cutting out your squares. Pioneer women could use up various scraps and piece them together to create something which kept their families warm at night. They were also used to cover windows and floors.
Because of the simplicity of these blocks, they were often used to teach young girls how to sew.
The scrap quilt became popular again during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Women had to create warmth and decorations out of old clothing, with the worn out patches cut away. The nine patch quilt was a great favorite for these scrap quilts , as the squares can be as small as your scraps are! In those years they also made both clothing and quilts out of feed and flour sacks. Eventually the manufacturers started printing these sacks with decorative patterns so that the fabric could be used for clothing, curtains, and of course, quilts.
These days, quilters often prefer to purchase special quilting fabrics, often in pre-cuts such as fat quarters. This has the advantage of creating beautiful color co-ordinated quilts, as well as ensuring that your entire quilt is made from similar weight and thickness of fabric.
Charm squares, which are precut squares of fabric, usually sold in co-ordinating colors within a pack, are ideal for nine square quilt blocks.
Nine Patch Quilt Block - Supplies
- FABRIC - Quilting cotton in a light to medium weight cotton fabric with a tight weave.
- THREAD - Cotton or polyester blend thread in matching colors, or neutrals. (Sewing thread types)
- CUTTING TOOLS - Rotary cutter, self-healing cutting mat, quilters ruler. (Quilting tools)
- GENERAL SUPPLIES - Sewing machine, straight pins, iron, and ironing board.
- STARCH - Spray starch is helpful, but not essential. It keeps your squares firm and prevents stretching and fraying while you are sewing your seams.
How To Make a Nine Patch Quilt Block
These blocks are just an array of nine squares placed together to form a larger square. The simplest arrangement of squares is a chequerboard pattern, alternating light and dark squares.
The most straightforward way to assemble these is to join three blocks to form a strip. Use a ¼ inch (6 mm) seam allowance. Sew three strips in this way.
Press the seams towards the darker color.
Join your first strip to the second, and finally add the third strip to complete your block. You must line up your seams exactly every time you join another strip. To do this, place your pins precisely in the seam lines on both strips.
You can scale your blocks up or down as you like, as long as they are all the same size.
For the chequerboard pattern your colors must be in the following order-
- First strip- dark, light, dark.
- Second strip- light, dark, light.
- Third strip- dark, light, dark.
Your adjoining blocks must be in the opposite order i.e.
- First strip- light, dark, light.
- Second strip- dark, light, dark.
- Third strip- light, dark, light.
This will ensure that your pattern remains constant when your nine patch quilt blocks are joined together.
You can also use completely random colored blocks, if you want a really scrappy quilt effect, or if you are using up all your little scraps.
Do remember to press your blocks in between each seam, and to square up your blocks neatly before assembling them all together.
Nine Patch Quilt Block - Strip Piecing
Of course, with quilting and patchwork, clever people have always devised short cuts! One of these, which is used for nine patch quilts, is strip piecing. This speeds up your cutting and piecing time considerably.
You start by cutting three long strips of fabric. Jelly rolls can be used here.
Join your strips in bands of three. Be sure to use a very small stitch length on your sewing machine, as you will be cutting through these seams and there will be no anchoring stitches where you make the cuts.
Cut your joined strips into smaller bands of three colours. The width of each segment that you cut must be ¼ inch (6 mm) wider than the height of one square. This is to give you your seam allowance.
Then join your ‘opposite’ sequence of colors. Cut into small bands as before. Once you have cut apart enough small strips, join them to create your nine patch, using alternate bands.
You could also rotate the strip pieces to make an interesting nine patch quilt block pattern.
Variations on the Nine Patch Quilt Block
The simplest variation is to place plain blocks in between each nine patch quilt block. The plain blocks must be cut to the size of your completed nine patch block. If you choose to use three fabrics, instead of only two you can make nine patches with either a negative or a positive effect.
Common Variations of the Nine Patch Quilt Block
- Negative - This has a medium color in the corners.
- Positive - This has the lightest color in the corners.
- Diagonal - This quilt has a diagonal line of squares running across the center of each block, which gives your quilt a feeling of movement. If you place these blocks alternately with plain blocks, you will create the classic Irish chain quilt.
- Rail Fence- There is a quilt block known as the Rail Fence block, which is made from strips, rather than squares. But you can use your nine patch technique to create this effect by piecing the same colored squares together.
- Square in a Square - By piecing colored blocks around a central white block you will get this square within a square effect. You can use any neutral-colored block as your central square.
- Opposite Corner - You can group the same or similar colors in opposite corners of your block.
- Jigsaw Puzzle - Your squares appear to be interlocking.
- Contrast Corner - One contrasting block is sewn into a corner of your nine-patch block.
Placing sashing in a neutral color in between each block also creates a whole new effect. Sashing refers to strips of fabric placed between each block to create a frame-like effect, similar to window sashing. This allows your blocks to stand out without looking too crowded. It also serves the purpose of unifying all the colors on your quilt if you are making a scrap quilt.
By playing around with your blocks to see what different variations you can achieve you will see just how many versions of this nine patch quilt block can be created!
Disappearing Nine Patch
No post on a nine patch quilt block would be complete without mentioning the “Disappearing Nine Patch Block”. This one, to me, is almost magical in its illusion. It takes a little more time and effort, but creates such a different, complex-looking block, without needing any special skills!
You create your nine patch block exactly as explained previously. Then you slice your block horizontally and vertically. You will have four new pieces.
Now you rotate your top right and bottom left sections by 180 degrees. Then sew these four blocks together to create an extremely complex looking pattern. Once again you can experiment with the placement of these newly created blocks to design your finished quilt.
You can also cut your nine patch diagonally, and rotate these triangles to form yet another complex pattern.
After reading this, you will have a lot of food for thought about patchwork! It is really fascinating how your choice of color and placement can make such a difference to your final quilt.
What To Make With A Nine Patch Quilt Block?
- Use your experimental practice squares for the nine patch quilt block (once padded and quilted with batting) as hot pads in the kitchen.
- A lovely idea for a table runner is to place a nine patch block on either side of an embroidered panel. You can embroider your own central block, or use a vintage piece of embroidery, cut to size.
- Create a nine patch quilt block lap quilt to keep you warm on winter evenings.
- Make a throw to cover your furniture, either as a washable cover (easier than upholstery cleaning), or to cover old and worn furniture.
Nine Patch Quilt Block - In Conclusion
Have fun playing around with this nine patch quilt block. It really lends itself to experimentation!
Cut with hope
Stitch with grace
Quilt with dreams
Bind with laughter
Share with love.
Enjoy your creative time!