Favourite Patchwork Block Books

I've been meaning to tell you about my favourite patchwork block books for a while and now that I have a new book to add to my collection, it's prompted me into action. I love studying block books - they act as a springboard for all kinds of things, or you can pick one out and make a whole quilt from that block (not actually my favourite way of doing things - I nearly expired through boredom making my snowball quilt) or create a sampler quilt including all your favourite blocks. I noticed recently on Instagram some quilters hash-tagging #tula100 and when I clicked on the hashtag I saw the most amazing collection of blocks being sewn up. They are incredibly modern, full of clean lines and clever pictorial fabric placements - they're all based on the patterns from Tula Pink's City Sampler Quilts: 100 Modern Quilt Blocks. If you're on Instagram do go and have a look...and if you have the book, please tell me about it! It looked as though you make the blocks up at the actual size of the photograph on each page? I love the idea of keeping these finished blocks stored between the pages, like an unfinished dictionary of work.

Anyway, let's move on to the books that I do own. First 163 My Favorite Patterns. This is a Japanese pattern book, so naturally, it's written entirely in Japanese. However, the diagrams are so explicit that words don't feel entirely necessary.

For each block '163 My Favorite Patterns' gives you: a photo of the finished block; an outline of the block which you can create your pattern pieces from, by enlarging it on a copy machine and then adding seam allowances; a numbered diagram of how the pieces go together and what order they should be sewn in; and finally, the absolute best bit, a photo of the back of the finished block, showing how all the seams have been pressed. For a geek, this bit is completely fascinating bedtime reading - I love studying their tiny, perfect stitches, it's also fantastic as a practical aid once you're actually making the blocks. 

I've never been able to gather what percentage the author has intended you to increase the block diagram by, so I guess it's really down to personal preference whether you choose to make tiny or large blocks. 

This iconic book isn't particularly easy to track down and when you do it's likely to be expensive. However, it's one of those books that I take off the shelf regularly to look at, so to me it feels entirely worth the exorbitant price. The Workroom sometimes has copies in, or you could try Etsy. It is pure eye candy.

If you don't fancy paying quite this much and you prefer your books to be written in English, Kerry and  Lynne's new book 500 Quilt Blocks: The Only Quilt Block Compendium You'll Ever Need feels like the anglicised version of '163' and offers even more blocks (and when I say it feels like an anglicised version, I don't mean a copy - more that the kinds of beautiful fabrics used give a comparable flavour to the books). 

500 Quilt Blocks shows a block, gives you brief instructions on assembling it and then gives you several other variants on the same block on subsequent pages. Above is the Mill Wheel block and below left are variants on the Mill Wheel. Not only does this give you an idea of how to tweak a block, so that a homogenous feel can be maintained if you wanted to make a whole quilt based around one block but would like to give it a bit more interest, but it also gives a fantastic sense of how a block can be changed by colour, tone, pattern and placement of these elements. 

There's a close-up of one of the variation pages below. It may be apparent from the hand to book ratio in the photo above that this book is tiny, measuring 6"x6, however, it's one inch thick and jam-packed, so not short on content. Personally, I wish the publisher would offer a larger size of this book when it goes into a second print run, as these variations deserve to be seen at a larger scale...and because my eyes are not the best for differentiating between colours in low light and so it prohibits proper bedside viewing for me (there's daily ribbing about this from my husband as I insist on having the main light on until the moment I get into bed as I don't even like doing something as basic as folding my clothes away with just the bedside lights on). I am aware that at 36 years old I have made myself sound like I'm 100 by requesting that a book be made larger. My next post will feature thoughts about denture fixatives and rumination over why my letter from the Queen didn't arrive on the actual day of my centenary birthday. 

The quilt blocks in this book are beautiful - the fabric choices are just so lovely and remove all the usual stuffiness out of a quilt block book. And their work. It is so perfect. Creating 500 blocks that are so perfectly, perfectly square and that will sit so perfectly, perfectly true for photographing is what tells you that you are in safe hands following Kerry and Lynne's guidance (all of these blocks, including the tiny variants, look as though they've actually been made by hand, rather than created in quilting software and then pattern-filled).  My favourite block is this Electric Fan below - the colours and crisp curves (can you have a crisp curve? This feels like an example of one) make me think of Orla Kiely's designs.

The book has a comprehensive introduction covering all the basic techniques you'll need to complete the blocks. Again, it's tiny, but there's so much information packed in there. Did you know that it's better to use a dry iron when pressing a quilt block, as steam can distort it? I love it when I discover a glaring gap in my knowledge. This method also has the potential benefit of meaning you don't have to run the will-my-iron-suddenly-splatter-limescaley-water-all-over-my-just-finished-quilt-block gauntlet. Or is that just my iron? It looks clean, it's descaled regularly and yet it delights in squirrelling away grubby water in crevices my descaling apparently can't reach, to throw out suddenly at inopportune times. You can find this book here. If you're familiar with Kerry and Lynne's blogs it's a game in itself to go through the book guessing which one of them made each block by looking at the fabric choices.

Finally, I wanted to tell you about Jinny Beyer's book, The Quilter's Album of Patchwork Patterns: More Than 4, 050 Pieced Designs for Quilters. I bought this book a few years ago and again, it's one that I've looked through often enough to justify its high price. It's a great tomb of a book, bound in hardback that would flatten small elephants if it landed on them. Out of the three books I've featured here it's by far the most exhaustive, however, if you favour more modern fabrics it does take a substantial amount of imagination to transpose in your mind the myriad of quilt blocks onto more up-to-date fabrics.

Additionally, most of the quilt blocks in the book are computer generated, which I'm not a fan of. However, despite my perceived drawbacks, it's an amazing book. The book comes with a transparency grid sheet, so that it can be placed over any block and studied to help you in determining whether it's been drawn on a 2x2 base grid or an 26 x 26 base grid or anything in between (although it's always mystified me as to why they couldn't just tell me that bit next to each block). Once you've ascertained that though, in theory, following the instructions at the beginning of the book, you should have all the information you need to redraw absolutely any block by referring to the block's line drawing, which is shown at the bottom of each page. This is basically the book you'd want if you're interested in designing your own variations of traditional or modern quilt blocks or if you prefer to draft quilt blocks on paper, although you can obviously redraw any of these blocks using computer software too.

The links in this post are amazon affiliate links - it means that if you buy the book after clicking on my link they give me a tiny cut of the profits. It doesn't increase the price for the buyer, nor does it mean any of your details are passed on to me...it just means Amazon share their profits with me). If you'd rather this didn't happen but would like to buy the book, simply open Amazon in a new tab and type the book title in independently.

Do share any books you love in the comments - it's always lovely to find new sources of inspiration.

Florence x


  1. I can definitely vouch for the fact that all 500 blocks were sewn by Lynne and I- the memory of such a feat is all a blur, it drove us a little crazy! I love 163- the variety and techniques are such inspiration, I recommend Maggie Malone's 5500 quilt blocks, a treasure trove of blocks old and new

  2. I think I'd like to see Kerry and Lynne's book in a bigger format too. By the way, Florence, I seem to recall you got married pretty young, so you won't necessarily have to wait for your 100th birthday for a card from the Queen - my Nana and Grandad got one (with a TASSLE on it) for their 60th wedding anniversary. Speaking of my Nana, she is an astonishing whiz with an iron and she reckons the limescaley spluttering is to do with the iron cooling down. She might be right - mine does it much less when I have it on full heat and therefore it's not constantly cooling slightly and heating up again to try and maintain a medium temperature. Does that make sense? Also, I only ever put filtered water in it, which does seem to help. There's still the occasional maddening splotch, though. x

  3. I'm so excited for Kerry and Lynne's book -- it will DEFINITELY be in my Christmas stocking (and it's small enough to fit!). I hear you about the size. I bought one of Anna Maria Horner's books, one of the spiral bound ones -- I can't remember which because I only had it for a couple of hours before putting it back in the box and returning it to Amazon. It looked like a lovely book (by a lovely author, who happens to be local to me), but I could not read it! And at the time I was 37, not 67. The text was so tiny. I knew that if I wouldn't even read it for pleasure, then I certainly would not be opening it up to use as a resource.

  4. Florence these books are just stunning and beautiful and I would love one of these in my Christmas stocking. lots of love

  5. I'm loving the Japanese book, but equally like the sound the book mention by verykerryberry Maggie Malone's 5500 quilt blocks

  6. 500 Quilt blocks is already on my wishlist, and I love the look of the Japanese book too. I concur wholeheartedly on the dry iron thing - even though the water is soft-ish here, the steam setting sometimes throws out bits of scale. I usually spray my fabrics/quilt blocks with water and iron hot and dry. Have you tried starch/pressing spray? I was wondering about getting some to avoid wobble and distortion.


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