Saturday, June 18, 2022

Fool's Puzzle


Fool's Puzzle Design, mid-20th century.

BlockBase+ number 1466

The fool may be the person who tries to classify these patterns,
but for some of us, indexing provides no end of entertainment.
I've spent some time sorting pictures of designs made up of
the quarter circle in a square unit.

We can trace the name Fool's Puzzle and the design
back to the Ladies' Art Company which began selling patterns
through a catalog about 1890.

The Aunt Martha Company also sold a pattern in one
of their booklets in the 1930s.

Unlike its near relative, what we call a Drunkard's Path,
Fool's Puzzle does not easily intersect and form secondary
patterns when set side by side.

Update: Sue in the comments wanted to know the difference between a Fool's Puzzle and a Drunkard's Path above. Rotation of the corner squares. 

West Virginia project & the Quilt Index

A border of partial blocks.

Again from the West Virginia project, the Mays family.
An earlier color and set style, quilt about 1900.

What's the earliest Fool's Puzzle?

I haven't any date-inscribed examples but the
earliest by style and fabrics look to be after the Ladies Art
Company began selling the pattern abut 1890.

From Mary Barton's Iowa block collection &
the Quilt Index

Continuing popularity throughout the 20th century

Late 20th-century

I have not been alone in my indexing patterns. Variations on this square with a bite out of it have fascinated others.

Pepper Cory wrote a whole book on variations several years ago.
Here's a preview:


The pattern, like its relatives, seems to be more of a commercial innovation rather than a design handed around before 1880---a pre-magazine illustration.

Block with a pattern name attached "Fool's Puzzle"
from the New Hampshire Historical Society.

You may have noticed other names for the different shadings. Workbasket magazine called it Arkansas Troubles in their All State Quilt.

 Mary Washington Clarke heard it called I Wish You Well when she interviewed quilters for Kentucky Quilts And Their Makers.

12" Blocks: If design units are 3" square = 66" quilt
16" Blocks: 4" square = 88"

I don't know if I am foolish enough to actually plan to piece all those curves
but it would be a cool quilt.


  1. what is the difference between Fool's Puzzle and Drunkard's Path?

  2. This was endlessly fascinating. thank you