Quilt Designs

What quilt designs are the most striking? Are they difficult to master?

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Traditional quilting designs use geometric shapes, and forms from nature. Most common are: squares, rectangular strips, and triangles. Forms in nature include vines, leaves, feathers, stars, and moons. Curved forms are more difficult to cut and sew, and the most meandering forms (vines, leaves, flowers) are often created from appliqué rather than simple piecing.

Geometrics are great for beginners. They are easy to cut and measure, and easy to stitch together. Here are some examples:

  • Log Cabin
  • Flower Basket
  • Amish Diamond Center
  • Bear Claw

Log Cabin 

The Log Cabin pattern is considered quintessentially American, and is a favorite among classic quilt designs. It uses narrow strips of cloth said to resemble logs.

Sashing is a method of using cloth strips to visually separate the pieced blocks as the top is being put together.

The following illustrations show you how the Log Cabin quilt blocks can be varied to stunning effect. In principle, any pieced top allows you the same ability to arrange, rotate, sash, and border your blocks to suit your taste.

Basic Log Cabin Block
Basic log cabin block:
20 strips around center square
Log Cabin With Sashing
Log cabin block with sashing

The basic Log Cabin block is made up of narrow strips around a small center square. The number of strips you use is up to you – 12, 16, or 20 strips around the center square are typical combinations.

Blocks can be laid out in many ways, creating a variety of effects. Make your blocks, then choose the arrangement that pleases you.

Log Cabin Quilt
"Log Cabin"
Illustration of pieced top

Log Cabin Quilt
"Log Cabin"
Rearrage the blocks for a very different effect

Some quilt designs lend themselves to many arrangements. The Log Cabin pattern is one of these. Either of the variations above would typically get a finished edge called quilt binding. In the following illustration, quilt sashing, a border, and binding have been added. Notice how sashing actually dilutes the optical effects of a repetitive, geometric design.

Log Cabin Blocks Quilt
"Log Cabin Blocks "
With Sashing, Border, and Binding

History of Log Cabin Design

The earliest examples of Log Cabin quilts in the U.S. date to the first quarter of the 19th century. This design has consistently been in use since the mid to late 1800s.

The origin of the Log Cabin quilting pattern is an ongoing source of intrigue for quilters, since examples of its usage in other forms pre-date American history, with the design now traced back to ancient Egypt. In the early 1800s, when British and French expeditions opened Egyptian tombs, the Log Cabin pattern was found on animal mummies, with the exact usage of dark and light rectangular strips seen in quilts of the 19th century.

Some believe that since this pattern was documented in Europe following its discovery in Egypt, its usage may have been brought to America as a result. But other theories exist as to its origin, including its depiction of the linear furrowing and cultivation of fields, which dates to the Middle Ages. And of course – the traditional American story – pioneer log cabins. 

Whatever its origin, this pattern is infinitely beautiful, variable, and great for any skill level.

Flower Basket

The Flower Basket quilt design uses squares and triangles, formed into blocks. The squares and triangles resemble a basket of flowers.

Again, fabric patterns and colors dramatically change the look of the quilt. Experiment with their combinations like the examples above to create your preferred design.

Flower Basket Quilt
Flower Basket Design

Amish Diamond Center

Amish quilts are some of the most stunning of the traditional designs, and remain extremely popular for today’s quilters. They are also highly collectible. (Located primarily in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, the Amish are a sect of Mennonites.)

While the everyday elements of the Amish lifestyle seem plain and sobering by the standards of more “mainstream” culture, their quilts are anything but! Using bold geometrics, often set against black, Amish quilt designs are great for the beginner, and are striking works of art.

Unlike block quilts, there is no repetition of like-patterned units. The quilt is formed of a single large design. Strips of fabric are used if necessary, depending upon the size of the quilt.  

Amish Diamond Center Quilt
Amish Diamond Center

In Amish design, the pattern of quilt stitching becomes very important. It adds a finer level of visual interest, usually through the use of intricate curved and straight lines.

In the illustration below, a fragment of a circa 1920 variation on the Diamond Center, note the superb hand quilting. The simplicity of the top piecing is what allows the intricate hand quilting to shine.

Fragment of an Amish Quilt
Fragment of an Amish Quilt

Bear Claw

Using squares, triangles, and rectangles, Bear Claw is a fun and beautiful quilting design for quilters of all levels.

Bear Claw Piece
Bear Claw

Notice how the Bear Claw quilt pattern seems to need the visual separation that sashing provides.

Bear Claw Quilt
The Bear Claw is a design the benefits
significantly from the use of sashing.

To try your own Bear Claw quilt, check out http://www.ezquilt.com/patterns/bearofnorth/bearofnorth.htm for a free pattern and step-by-step quilting instructions, including fabric yardage.

Other Popular and Easy Quilt Designs

There are hundreds of quilting patterns available, through bookstores, online, and through quilting organizations. Other patterns that you may want to look up include:

  • Pinwheel
  • Double Wedding Ring
  • Irish Chain
  • Lone Star
  • Broken Star
  • Drunkard’s Path
  • Nine Patch
  • Flying Geese.

Contemporary Quilt Designs – Do Your Own Thing

Want to experiment? Contemporary quilts have become a widely accepted art form, and many art quilts are exhibited in museums and galleries, and sold at premium prices.

Use fabric shapes as though making a collage, or vary a classic quilt pattern with your own touches. Use fabric paint or embroidery to embellish a block or an area of your quilt. Do what you like!

What Next?

To see more classic quilt designs and how they progress from pieces to blocks to completed quilt top, see our bonus feature, Classic Quilting Patterns.

Ready to get started making a quilt of your own? Read on, and see how simple it really is.


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