sampler quilt example blue Sampler quilts are so called because they sample many different and varied patchwork blocks and types of patchwork fabric. A sampler quilt can have examples of pieced patchwork blocks, appliqué blocks and paper pieced blocks such as clamshell or hexagons to name but a few. The quilter will sort out different block patterns and choose those that complement each other and also that will show off her skills. In a class the tutor will make sure that each block included in a sampler quilt will be a learning curve for the pupil and stretch his or her abilities to the full, use of sewing machines can help speed things up. There are so many traditional patchwork block patterns that sampler quilts can vary from maker to maker without any crossovers of patterns. Often sampler quilts will be made up into Quillows which is an American word which means a cross between a pillow (cushion) and a quilt using quilting fabric and quilt wadding. Nine blocks will be made and sewn together with a tenth block sewn onto the back of the finished piece leaving one edge open. The quilt is then folded and turned into the tenth block through the opening thus forming the cushion. These are exceptionally useful and can be used in the car, at home, on the beach or in any number of ways where a quilt would be in the way until it was wanted for warmth or comfort.

sample quilt close up Often blocks on sampler quilts would be joined with sashing between them so as to show case the individual blocks. This is a good project for a beginner. Block patterns used in a sampler quilt include Flying Geese (picture on left), Castle Walls, Drunkard’s Path, Card Trick, Courthouse Steps, Road to Kansas, Steeplechase, Sunshine and Shadows, Martha Washington’s Star, Dresden Plate and Lady of the Lake.

Patchwork Blocks

sampler quilt patchwork blocks The above picture is of a sampler quilt design showing the various blocks to be used. There is a mixture of pieced and appliquéd blocks in this quilt design. The blocks used are:

Uneven Nine Patch

This is a good block for a beginner to learn how to rotary cut and make a simple pieced block. The block consists of squares and rectangles forming a four patch block. Four patch blocks are so called because there will be four equal patches across and down the block. This is one of the simpler designs and is worked in two colours of fabric. Usually one will work with 12″ blocks so each smaller square in this block will be 3" and the larger square in the middle will be 6″ being a double patch. The rectangles are also double patches so they will be 3″ x 6″. The patches will be joined in rows and then each row will be joined to the next row. Seam allowances are always ¼ inch in patchwork. These would be added to the basic measurements above. The finished block is at the right!

sampler quilt uneven nine patch

Fence and Rail

This is another good block for beginners. It is made by sewing strips of fabric together 1 ½″ x 24″ and then cutting into 4 equal patches (1/4″ seam allowance is added for each patch ie. 2″ x 26″) and sewing together into the pattern below. Place the sewn patches together as shown below and sew. Then join two sets together to make the block as seen on the right.

sampler quilt fence and rail

Hour Glass

This is another popular block. It is a little more complicated than the previous two blocks but still a good block for a beginner. It is another four patch block which means each patch will be 3″ or multiples of 3″. To make the four patch corner blocks sew two strips together and cut into eight. Join to make the squares as shown. The other squares are made of ½ square triangles. When these are made join all the squares together as shown in the finished block on the right.

sampler quilt hour glass

Shoo Fly and Friendship Star

These two blocks use similar patches and it is the arrangement of these patches that creates the design. They both use ½ square triangles and centre squares. Because there are three equal patches across the block they are known as Nine patch blocks.

sampler quilt shoo fly and friendship star


Another nine patch block is the Snowball block. This is a very simple block using the ½ square triangle and plain squares.

sampler quilt snowball

Nine Patch

The nine patch block is worked in a similar way to the four patch used in the Hourglass block except three strips are sewn together before cutting into three and re-arranging into the block pattern. Two strips will be sewn to get the different striped effect.

sampler quilting nine patch

Drunkard’s Path

There are many blocks that come under the description of Drunkard’s Path. Blocks such as Mohawk Trail, Cleopatra’s Puzzle, Dove and Indiana Puzzle. They all use the Drunkard’s Path patch but in different arrangements. The basic patch looks like this:

In some of the patterns such as the original Drunkard’s Path block shown above each fabric is cut out in a mixture of both templates whereas in others such as the block to the right each template is cut out in a different fabric. This block lends itself to experimentation by the quilter who can use different colours and arrangements of the fabric to make new and interesting designs.

Making Curved Blocks

According to some books on the subject curved seam blocks were not in evidence until the middle to end of the 18th century as they were considered too frivolous and time consuming. Originally the whole idea of a pieced quilt was to whip something together quickly to use as bedding to keep the cold out at night. So the appearance of a curved seam would seam to indicate a change in the quilt maker’s life style. Perhaps more time to look around and think of new ideas to be ‘one up’ on a neighbour!

The Orange Peel block is probably one of the earliest. The first one was said to have been made to commemorate the Marquis de Lafayette in colonial days. He was a famous French general and supported the revolutionary forces. It is said that at one ball where he was being honoured he shared an orange with a local belle who then took the curved section of peel home with her and designed a patchwork pattern to remember him by.

The Drunkard’s Path block is one of the more popular ones from that time and there are several blocks that have been formed around its concepts. Some of these are Fools Puzzle, Falling Timbers, Wonder of the World and Dove. There are several variations of each one and the way colour is used can have quite a different effect on the result. Moor’s Paving is another curved block but is thought to be later in origin. Mohawk Trail is another popular block and simple to piece.

sampler quilt curved blocks

Templates for Curved Seams

Some templates for curved patterns can be bought but often one has to make one’s own. The template for Drunkard’s Path includes ¼″ (6mm) seam allowances. The pieced squares of this block can be arranged in many different ways.

sampler quilt template curved seams

There is no useful rule of thumb for making patterns based on arcs. Each is different and must be worked out in its own way. Graph paper is useful as is a compass, a piece of string and a drawing pin. These last two items are for using when the compass will not draw a circle large enough. Tie the string around a pencil close to the point and tie a knot in the other end so that the length of the string is equal to the radius you want. Put a drawing pin through the knot and push it into the paper which should be on a board or firm surface. Then holding the string taut draw your circle.

Sewing curved Seams

The easier the curve the easier it is to piece. Unless the curve is very sharp there is no need to clip the seam allowance. Mark the centre of each curve and with the concave piece uppermost pin both pieces in the centre putting the pin in at right angles to the seam. Now pin both ends in a similar manner. Then gently stretching the curve pin the in-between pieces. Now machine.

Don’t backstitch at the start or double stitch at the end as this can ruck the seam and distort it. If you are anxious about sewing over pins then tack the seam but there really is no need. Very intricate, curved designs are often done using appliqué techniques. When the seam is stitched the edges are pressed towards the smaller piece so that the edges of the concave piece lie flat.

sampler quilts curved seams

Lady of the Lake

This block which uses the ½ square triangle in two sizes is a most attractive block but not so easy to do as there are so many corner points to match when putting the block together. It Is worth making the effort though! This block is a six patch block and it is easy to draw out the individual patches each one being 2″ and the centre square 8″. When drawing a square to cut into half to make triangles add 7/8″ to the measurements instead of ¼″ for seam allowances.

sampler quilts lady of the lake

Lemoyne Star

Each quarter of this block is sewn in the same way though changing the colours as shown. Each patch is cut separately and then joined in the order shown below. Then the squares are sewn together to make the block. This is a very good block but needs care when cutting and sewing the diamonds. Again this is a nine patch block.

sampler quilts lemoyne star


Lily, Black Eyed Susan and Peony

These three blocks are all individual pieced blocks. They are fairly complicated and care must be taken with the cutting of the patches. The Lily block is a nine patch block but this is not so obvious when first looking at the block diagram. The Black Eyed Susan block is a curved block and most effective as a centre piece. The Peony is the most complicated block of all. It uses diamonds and ½ rectangles with squares and triangles. This block uses insetting to sew the triangles between the diamonds.

sampler quilts lily black eyed susan peony

Card Trick

Not a difficult nine patch block but care must be taken when sewing the patches so that the effect of pieces being interlinked is obvious. The patches are ½ and ¼ square triangles.

sampler quilts card trick


A complicated design which looks really good when sewn. Sew the patches together following the arrows in the diagram at the right. When the triangles are sewn to the diamonds then sew the diamond to the triangle as shown by the double headed arrow. The larger triangles on the edge of the block then have to be inset into the space between the diamonds. Make the block in two halves adding the last inset triangles when the middle seam has been done. To make this block easier to sew the large inset triangles could be cut in half so that they can be seamed normally!

sampler mosaic quilt

Dresden Plate

The Dresden plate block is a mixed block being both pieced and appliquéd. The basic shape is a petal with either a rounded or pointed top. The straight seams are sewn together by machine and then the whole piece is appliquéd to the square background by turning in the top of the shape. This is a most attractive block and is not only good for adding into a sampler quilt but also makes a good centre or corner piece in a quilt.

sampler quilt dresden plate

Grandmother’s Fan

The Grandmother’s Fan block is a quarter of the Dresden Plate block. The petals can either be rounded or pointed and they can be placed around a centre circle or into the corner. For ease of piecing a quarter circle is often used with this block.

sampler quilts grandmothers fan

Grandmother’s Puzzle

This is a five patch block which looks more complicated that it is. Join the corner patches as shown. Inset the centre small square and then inset the two diagonally opposite patches.

sampler quilts grandmothers puzzle

Kaleidoscope Block 2

This is a very simple block though care needs to be taken with joining the patches in the centre so as not to get a lump! As well as being a form of pinwheel this block also works well as a kaleidoscope block where patterns can be used to great effect. There are only two shapes used in this version of a pinwheel type block and many interesting effects can be achieved by the use of different colours and patterned fabrics.

sampler quilts kaleidoscope

Pinwheel also known as Turnstile

This block is one of the simplest pinwheel designs. It consists of triangles and ¼ triangles.

sampler quilts pinwheel turnstile


This version of Pinwheel is most commonly used for Kaleidoscope quilts and has a fantastic appearance when different parts of a patterned cotton fabric are used in each pinwheel. It is very similar to the Turnstile version of Pinwheel but instead of a plain triangle it has a half rhomboid shape plus an equilateral triangle so that all the triangles are the same size and shape. A quilt made entirely of pinwheels has a starry quality and can be most effective.

sampler quilts pinwheel

Star Quilts

Star quilts are similar to Pinwheel Quilts but are not constrained as to the number of points that each star can have. There are many different star block patterns that can be used. Some of these are Ohio Star, Friendship Star, Lone Star, Grandmother’s Star, Blazing Star and Feathered Star. These star blocks can be used singly making a large central motif on a quilt like a Medallion Quilt, or they can be used as a repeat or many different star blocks can be used on one quilt. Some of these star patterns are simple pieced designs whereas others are much more complicated and need to be done using foundation piecing. Some star patterns are not immediately recognised as stars such as the Grandmother’s Star block top right. Other’s such as the Ohio Star block on the left and the Evening Star right (showing 4 blocks joined together) are very obviously star patterns.

sampler quilts star

Mosaic Block no 21

There are many Mosaic blocks some of which are also known under different names. This block is very common one and often used in sampler quilts. The patches are joined to a central square and care has to be taken when insetting the made up corner patches. Opposite sides would be joined to the centre square and then the two other opposite pieces would be inset into the block. This is the simplest way of putting this block together.

sampler quilts mosaic block 21

However for a beginner the centre square could be divided into 4 triangles and this would make the piecing simpler. Each quarter would be sewn and then joined to the next quarter. Then these two pieces would be joined to the bottom two pieces.

sampler quilts mosaic block 21

Alabama Variation

This block is a variation on Log Cabin or Pineapple depending on how the colours of the fabrics are arranged. One would start with a plain strip and then continue with two strips with squares on the end and then finish with a strip with two squares. The next round would start with a plain strip and continue in the same manner as the first round. Continue in this way until the block is the size that is wanted.

sampler quilts alabama variation

Mosaic Block no 3

This is another mosaic block. It is exceptionally simple being composted of half square triangle patches. The choice of cotton fabric will make the block more exciting and several colours could be used instead of just two as shown in this picture.

sampler quilts mosiac block 3

Mosaic Block no 18

Another mosaic block using the ½ square triangle method. It is the choice of colour in the cotton fabric used in this block that makes it so strikingly different to the previous mosaic block. This mosaic block is much more reminiscent of a star.

sampler quilts mosaic block 18

Four Patch Variation

This is one of the simplest blocks. It is a very easy block to sew and to design as the squares are arranged on point in each alternative patch. There are several blocks that reproduce actual objects such as houses, ships, birds, flowers, animals and people. These were very popular with patchworkers in the 19th and early 20th centuries when the designer of the quilt would try to make it relevant to their life.

sampler quilts four patch variation

Old Country Church

This block and various house blocks are all very similar. There would be variations in size of patches and the colours of fabric used. These blocks would be very easy to sew together being made up of squares, rectangles and triangles, all of which would go together without the need for insetting. Depending on the type of building the colours of the fabric would represent the sky, the ground or garden plus trees or flowers and then the building itself would be cut out in fabrics representative of the age and type of house.

sampler quilts old country church

Sailing Ship

This is one of the simplest patterns for a boat or ship made out of patches. This block uses squares and half square triangles to make the boat, sea and sky. This is a more complicated boat block. The templates for the patches aren't equal and although the sewing up would be simple the actual cutting of the block would require thought and graph paper!

sampler quilts sailing ship

Sunbonnet Sue and Sam

These are the most popular of the patchwork blocks of people. They are appliqués and each figure would be made up on a background square. There are many variations, especially of Sunbonnet Sue. The design elements are very simple and can be sewn by hand or by machine onto the background fabric.

sampler quilts sunbonnet sue and sam

Applique Patchwork Blocks

Often sampler quilts include appliqué blocks. There are many of these and often they would be circular in design and of flowers and/ or leaves.

Rose Wreaths

Wreaths were very popular, especially with roses. This is one of the simplest designs. The shapes are very simple and are arranged around a centre circle in green.

sampler quilts rose wreaths

Tulip Wreaths

Tulips were another popular flower for using in wreath blocks. They were a simple shape to appliqué and bright colours could be used. The block on the left is typical of this type of block.

sampler quilts tulip wreaths

Heart Wreaths and Heart and Flower Wreaths

Hearts were always popular in patchwork blocks and were often combined with flowers. Usually there would be four elements in a block and these would be very stylised. Even if there were other elements in the design the main four appliqué shapes would be the focal points.

These designs were an integral part of sampler quilts as they provided a variety of techniques for the quilter to use.

sampler quilts hearts wreaths


The border on a quilt is very important. A border is a strip of fabric or fabrics which frames the quilt at the edge. One border can be used or several borders. The borders can be of several sizes and they can be plain or pieced. Choose borders that complement the quilt. With a sampler quilt a plain inner border separates the very busy blocks from a pieced border which would go on the outside of the quilt and not immediately next to the blocks. Also with a sampler quilt the blocks could be outlined with sashing so that each block stands out. Borders can be mitred in the corners, have inset squares or be sewn in a log cabin fashion.

Broken Sash

This block would make a good border for a quilt as the pattern is bound with plain strips. It is an easy block to sew and one would just make as many as were needed for each side and then put a square into each corner. The square in the block could be extended to become a diamond as shown below.

sampler quilts croken sash

Flying Geese

Another good border block is Flying Geese. This can be made in any direction so that the ‘geese’ could fly in the same direction around the quilt edge or they could be flying in the same direction on opposite sides of the quilt.

sampler quilts flying geese

Flying Geese can be used with many other blocks such as Friendship Star and Nine Patch to form quite complex borders.


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