Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Square Roots


A simple, yet effective design, this one from about 1820-1840
from the New Jersey project.

I've used variations on this pattern several times. Here's one from my book
Making History done in William Morris reproduction prints.

The block is a basic square in a square, published with names in the 1930s but much older than that. It's #2375a in the old BlockBase and the new BlockBase+. But what makes the quilt above work so well is the shading trick, alternating color emphasis, a design technique called counterchange.

What's dark in one block is light in the next.

And if you are successful you get a secondary pattern
of a star.

Quilt from about 1890-1925

With three shades the star becomes more prominent.

I have been drawing it up in EQ8 in my Ladies Legacy Civil 
War era fabrics from Moda....

Inspired by this antique from an online auction.
But when I look at the shading on this one I realize it's even simpler.

A pattern so basic it doesn't have a name. Nobody
ever published it so it's Unnamed and Unknown in BlockBase+
But at least it's in there.

Certainly quilters made it with or without a published pattern. 
This one maybe 1900-1920?

Once again a simple shading change makes a more complex design
and a more interesting quilt.
The unnamed X blocks are all shaded the same but rotated. And the alternate squares are shaded in dark and light rows. Think in rows.

Took me a while to figure that out in EQ8.
10-inch Layer Cakes cut into 4 triangles with two cuts will
give you a finished block about 9 inches. (I'm guessing.)

Well then I saw this red, white and blue fragment on eBay.

Looked familiar but it's not what I first thought.
Once again it's a simple block alternated with a plain
square shaded counterchange fashion 

It's NOT in BlockBase+.
Rats. But if it were it would be #1000 as a set for a simple four-patch on point...

Block maybe 1900-1940?
...which once again is so basic nobody ever published a pattern
so it's not in BlockBase (where it should be #2380.5)

What next?

Ladies' Legacy is perfect for this pattern with all its red, white and blues.

All the four-patch blocks are shaded the same but rotated in
rows. The plain, unpieced squares are dark in one row, light in the next.

Pretty simple, pretty cool.

Now I keep saying "simple" but if you are thinking of making these square-in-a-square blocks
you need to be careful to get your points to line up at the block seam. It's easy to blunt them. A challenge but it will be good practice in points.

See a post I did a while ago on these two block designs:

Other patterns we've done for Ladies' Legacy.

Look for Patriot Dream Quilt Pattern by Wendy Sheppard.
And Squared away by Nova Birchfield for It'sSewEmma.


  1. Thank you for sharing this information Barbara. I've never heard the phrase "counterchange". How far back does that term go?

    The blue star with red and white 4 patch is a lovely design. I may have to try that one.

    San / Gypsy Quilter Designs

  2. When I see that "unnamed" X block I think of Hour Glass or Broken Dishes. Being a bit dyslexic I have trouble seeing the difference.

  3. I’ve always called the X block an hourglass, too. Maybe I’m missing something?