Tweaking Tradition a Block at a Time

Stack of blocksWhen asked to join See How We Sew, I was just finishing an interesting project by quilt historian, Barbara Brackman. Her project, Grandmother’s Choice, was a Block of the Week (yes, I really said week…).  If you know Barbara, you know that you always learn something new from any  of her blogs. This particular project was based on the fight for women’s right to vote. Each week came with a brief history lesson on a person or place relevant to the suffragette movement and included a block to represent the week’s subject. For the past 49 weeks, I have been fascinated with Barbara’s articles, but even more so, I have been taken with the beauty of each block. Some are simple. Some are complicated. I found myself wanting to make them again–experimenting with the colors, values, and techniques.  When the See How We Sew team asked me to join their blog, it seemed like the perfect chance to do a bit of exploring and share the results with all of you!  

Squaring up blocksNormally, I don’t work quite this traditional, but since it was going to be a weekly history lesson for me, I decided to go full-blown traditional and work in red, white, and blue Civil War reproduction fabrics. Because I tend to like things small, I chose to scale the 8″ blocks down to 6″ just to drive myself even crazier . . . but I am so glad I did!  I love the way this project unfolded! I have a few more blocks to clean up, and then it’s on to sashing and posts.

Barbara Brackman's Block of the Week, Grandmothers' Choice
Barbara Brackman’s Block of the Week, Grandmothers’ Choice

Round 1 – For my experimental blocks, I wanted the designs to vary enough to give me room to “play” a bit differently with each of them. I chose three blocks to work with.

1. Jack’s Delight    2. Ladies Wreath    3. Everybody’s Favorite 

How would you reinterpret these?

Round 2 –  I stayed pretty true to the original design in this round. I decided to replace the fabrics with more contemporary patterns and colors.

BOW Design workThis gave me a chance to look at the blocks in a different manner. It also became obvious to me as I put them together that there were elements I wanted to tone down and others I wanted to explore further.

I love the horizontal star that emerged on this. The prominent background is not thrilling me, though. Hmmmm. Maybe tone that down a bit?

Now this is fun! There is a simpleness to the design, even if it is a bunch of tiny half-square triangles! Could it be even more minimal?

Okay, that’s just darn cute! Set this idea aside for a baby quilt in the future!

Round One

Round Two
Well, that’s a considerable change, now isn’t it? Where do I go from here?

Round 3 – Now was my chance to get really creative. I further minimalized the designs by using more solids and fewer prints. Adding a white background seems to make the design float inside my blocks. On each of these, I tried something different, being reflective of things I like in the Modern Quilt style.

I used free-form strip piecing to replace the fussy-cut center block. I like the way this becomes even more extreme with the horizontal star.  I would love to see what this looks like alternating one block horizontally, then one vertically.

Note to self: When doing a free-form strip set, then slashing, and sewing it back together, it might be best not to do teeny-weeny half square triangles. There’s a lot of bulk in those seams . . . but I do love the whimsical look. It makes me want a Jolly Rancher!

For the last block, I went over the top. I free-form strip pieced the border, fussy-cut the centers out of a giant polka-dot print to make them petal-like, and then I went crazy with some embroidery stitching and colorful threads. The verdict is still out on this one, but it was fun playing!

Round Three
Hard to believe that they are the same blocks!
Experimental Blocks
Do you have a favorite?

For more information on Barbara Brackman, check out her other fabulous blogs, Material Culture, and my new latest favorite Historically Modern Quilts, Textiles and Designs. You are sure to learn something in every read!

Signature Cropped

19 thoughts on “Tweaking Tradition a Block at a Time

  1. What fun! You have given me the confidence to take a traditional block and play with the more modern fabrics! I am relatively new to quilt making, (almost one year), and I look forward to more of this fun information on your blog. Beautiful work!!!


  2. I really like the last block or the one with the embroidery stitches. It is fun and very different from the norm. Love love your original blocks. What a great July quilt!


  3. Thank you to everyone for your wonderful comments. They are so helpful for me to know what interests you. I am really excited to be here and get to know all of you! I look forward to your feedback for future projects! See you soon!


  4. Welcome to the blog, I loved this post and thanks for sharing Barbara’s blog. I love the idea of testing blocks in different fabrics. As a relatively new quilter I haven’t tried this but will now! Look forward to learning more from you.


  5. The last Everybody’s Favorite block with the embroidery is my favorite. Love the complementary colors as well as the values used. It pops!


  6. Wow, This was fascinating to see the progression from traditional to modern with the same block pattern. It gives me more confidence in my adaptations. Thanks so much Jonesie


  7. Nice job Pati Loved your post! Those blocks look challenging to me but perhaps a larger size would be for me. My favorite block was the green against the white background and the modern strips in the middle. Looking forward to more….


  8. Love your final take! I did see this Block of the week but there seemed so many things to take in – I was confused by the EQ size and other choices and so gave it up. Now I wish i had not. The history stuff was interesting though.


  9. Thanks for the wonderful lesson on how to change out these blocks. A favorite? I would have to say your modern adaptation.


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