This week’s easy quilt block is made of nine small fabric squares arranged in a checkerboard pattern. The graphic above shows the two kinds of nine-patch blocks you can make from two fabrics. That’s what I will show you how to do in this post.
You can also make a scrappy nine-patch block like the one below, where every square in the checkerboard is a different fabric. The cutting and sewing are the same, but the look is quite different.
The versatile nine-patch is one of the basic quilt blocks every quilter can make good use of. While nine patches may look fussy, they actually go together very fast with strip piecing. This tutorial shows you how to make strip pieced nine-patches.
Here’s what you will need:
- Fabric strips in two colors, one lighter and one darker
- Rotary cutter
- See-through cutting ruler
- Cotton or polyester thread in a neutral color like beige or pale grey. I use 40- or 50-weight cotton thread from Aurifil.
You will also need your sewing machine, of course. If you have one, a 1/4″ quilting foot makes it easier to sew accurate seams. If not, I recommend making yourself a homemade 1/4″ seam guide with painter’s tape.
Sizing Your Block and Fabric Strips
Before you start cutting, you need to decide how big you want the finished block to be. This determines how wide to cut your strips. This chart shows you how wide to cut your strips to make blocks of various sizes:
Cutting the Strips
For each block, you will need to cut three strips each of the light and dark fabrics (or buy precut strips called jelly rolls at the local quilt shop.) These instructions assume that you cut the strips for these blocks across the full width of your fabric, from selvage to selvage. The table below shows you about how many finished blocks you can make from each set of six strips. (The precise number you will get depends on the usable width of the fabrics, which varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.)
Sewing the Fabric Strips into Strip Sets
After you cut the strips, you will sew them into two sets of three strips each. One strip set has two dark strips on the outside and a light strip in the center, like this: The other has two light strips on the outside and a dark strip in the center, like this: Here’s how to sew the strip sets together:
- Lay one strip of light fabric and one of dark fabric with right sides together, like this:
- Sew along one long side of the paired strips with a scant ¼” seam, then press the seam toward the darker fabric.
- Sew a third strip to the strip set so the light and dark strips alternate. It’s good to sew in the opposite direction than you did the first time. This helps keep the strip set straight.
- Press the seam toward the darker fabric.
- Sew the second set of strips together, pressing the seams toward the darker fabric.
Cross-Cutting the Strip Sets
Next, you will cut the strip sets into smaller units.
- Lay the two strip sets with right sides together so the seams nest. If you pressed all the seam allowances toward the darker fabric, the strips should fit together neatly.
- Use your rotary cutter and a cutting ruler to cut sub-units from the paired strip units. The sub-units should be the same width as the original strips. For example, if the fabric strips were 1½” wide, cut the sub-units 1½” wide.
Assembling the Strip Sets into Nine Patch Blocks
The last step is to sew the sub-cut units together.
- Count the sub-units and set aside one third of them. You will use those to complete the blocks later.
- Sew together the remaining two thirds of the nested sub-units, joining each pair along one long side. Use chain piecing to save thread and speed up the stitching. Press the seams to one side.
- Separate the last third of the sub-cut units so they are no longer nested together.
Sewing Positive or Negative Nine Patch Blocks
At this point, you can choose to make two different kinds of nine patch blocks:
- Positive nine patch blocks, where the darker fabric anchors the four corners. They look like this:
- Negative nine patch blocks, where the lighter fabric is in the corners. They look like this:
Some quilt patterns call for positive nine-patch blocks, some call for negative blocks, and some call for both. Once you decide whether you want to make a positive or negative block, you can sew the final sub-unit onto the block. Here’s what to do.
- Sew the last sub-unit to the larger section. Position the units like this to make a positive block: and like this to make a negative block.
- Press the blocks and square them up. They are now ready to use in a quilt.
Here are the two blocks that came from the strip sets you saw in this tutorial. The positive block:
And to inspire you to use nine patch blocks in a quilt of your own, here’s a nine-patch quilt I made a couple of years ago. I got the pattern from one of my favorite easy quilt books, Judy Sisneros’ 9-Patch Pizzazz.