Thursday, December 13, 2012

How I Use BlockBase

Quilt top from about 1890-1920
What's the pattern?

BlockBase is a computer program for Windows and PC's that I wrote with the Electric Quilt Company. It's been updated for new operating systems and now is available again. I use BlockBase everyday and I thought I'd show you some of the ways I use it.

I began keeping a file of patterns in the early 1970s---I was going to make a quilt in every pattern. Note there are 4,000 patterns advertised. I gave up that goal. Then I was going to make an index card in every pattern with its published names. I almost did that.  I published small drawings from the index cards as a book ---The Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns---which is out of print. But it's all digitized in BlockBase.

One of my main interests was identifying pattern.
It's like solving puzzles to me.

Here's another red and white top from about 1900.
What's the pattern?

The first step is identifying the block.
I usually start at the corner and sketch it out--- digitally or with a pencil. Then I scroll through BlockBase until I find a category that fits. The categories are based on the seam lines. In this case Four Patch blocks "Like Hour Glass"

The major visual organization here:
  • The block has 4 basic units: A Four Patch
  • And at least two of those areas are pieced of triangles
  • With a diagonal directionality
You can see that consistency in the screen view above. 

Sometimes it helps to rotate the block to match the direction in the index.
This block is at the top of the second column from the left.

If you click on "Notecard" you get a digital view of my index card.
It's number 1312 and was published in 1929 by the magazine Wallace's Farmer as "Hour Glass."

It was a popular pattern. Here's another way to shade and set it.
This quilt is probably from 1900-1920.
Here it is again, but grouped into larger blocks and then set with sashing

The block at the top of the page has the same pattern structure, but it's slightly more complicated so we'd find it on the same BlockBase page but further down. It's right below Hour Glass in the second column. The blocks are indexed from simple to complex.

It's number 1313 and has at least three published names:
  • Crosses & Losses from the Ladies' Art Company about 1890
  • Fox & Geese from Carrie Hall in 1935
  • Bouncing Betty from the Pictorial Review in 1911

Here's an Amish Quilt dated 1898 from the Stephen & Faith Brown collection, a slightly more complicated design--- more squares cut into half square triangles.

The block is numbered 1316 and has many names. If you want to see all the names click on the "View Name List" button. This variation has been published many times with many names so you have to scroll down to see them all. Do notice that it's 1316a. Popular patterns were often published in various shadings so the a or b or c refers to a different shading.

Here's another color for 1316a

This variation of 1316 with a sort of a dark stripe across the
 center hasn't been published.
All the quilts I'm showing are from the years
 1890 to 1920 or so.

Here's a similar block that's a little older---by the madder browns I'd guess maybe 1875-1890. It's slightly different from those directly above---the triangles go a different direction.

 Now I know this is a bit OCD but this is an INDEX so you have to get fussy.

The block above is 1317---
Old Maid's Puzzle is one name.

If you like puzzles and patchwork you'll enjoy finding the patterns. But the best part is you can print out the pattern any size----
Rotary Cutting, Paper Piecing or  Templates as shown below

Any pattern---any size.
One good way to learn how you can use BlockBase is to join the BlockBase Sew Along by clicking here:
Jenny Novitsky gives you a project of the week and EXPLAINS how to do it!


  1. I have a program for my mac, but never got the hang of it, guess I should read the instructions, lol.


  2. Thanks so much for sharing how to use BlockBase. Very timely as we are using it for the Arizona Quilt Documentation Program that we are starting up again after 20 or so years. We are using the book also, but I really love how BlockBase gives so much historical info. My only wish is that I could have it on my IPad. It would be so easy to take to Documentation Days. Any chance that there might someday be an app for BlockBase?

  3. Lynn---I'll ask the programmers. Glad to hear you are documenting quilts again. Hope you find some great ones.