Thursday, September 16, 2010

Finding the Repeat

A few weeks ago I wrote about finding a quilt pattern in BlockBase if you know it's number (the Brackman number). It's a different process to find the pattern if you don't have the number. You have to use a visual interface ----your eyes.

First you have to identify the block. It's easy in the friendship quilt above as the makers have kindly separated each block with sashing.

Then you identify the main seams. Think as if you were going to piece the block. What kind of units and sub-units would you piece?

The logical way to do this would be to create an X-shaped nine-patch. I called this category Nine-X when I was developing the visual system for the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. You can go to the bound Encyclopedia or the digital BlockBase version and look through the pages classified this way until you come across the pattern.

#2895 Friendship Quilt
from the Kansas City Star in 1938

It takes a while to learn this system but it's worth it. Not only can you print out a pattern to make the above block any size in BlockBase, but you can use the information about the name and source to help date the quilt. It is very likely after 1938, after the pattern was printed in the paper.

In some quilts it's hard to isolate the block. This quilt from an online auction has many kinds of repeats going on. I always look at the corner of the design, which you really can't see in the photo.

I can usually isolate the block there.
Here's the block.

Here's the pattern structure. I classified this as Maltese Cross in the Encyclopedia.

And here is the design from BlockBase
#2721 Sugar Loaf from Hearth & Home magazine

What makes the quilt above so terrific is the way she shaded the corner shapes yellow and brown, creating secondary patterning.

Here's another. If you look at a corner inside the yellow border you will see the block.

Top left hand corner.

The block is one of the most basic. It's two half-square triangles. In this case one of the triangles is pieced of more triangles. I called this category a Two Patch in my Encyclopedia.

The block in question is #3161, which Ruth Finley called Birds in the Air, Flying Birds or Flock of Geese in her 1929 book. The diagram and the quilt are shaded differently but it's the same design. Again the maker has alternated darks and lights to get a secondary pattern.

Looking at the corner doesn't always work, but try it the next time you are puzzled by a design.


  1. I like quilts that don't reveal their block without some work by the viewer. A strong secondary pattern adds to the delightful difficulty. :)

    I'll keep an eye out for your book.

  2. AS always BlockBase is the greatest. I use the online version and have the book. Sometimes I look at the category and look at all the blocks in that category. I also love that you can search by source...that has been a lot of fun. Bonnie

  3. Thank you for this great post, and some beautiful quilts too. We've got it bookmarked for future reference.