Design your own Sampler Quilt

Sampler Quilts are a great way to showcase your favorite technique or build some new quilting skills.  Many designers offer Block of the Month programs that become sampler quilts.  Maybe you have started a few projects and now have a drawer full of “orphan blocks.”  Don’t wait any longer – it is time to design your own sampler quilt!

Here are two important questions to consider –

Do you have blocks made (or planned) that are one size or a variety of sizes?

Do you have a finished size in mind (lap, twin, queen)?

The answers to these questions will set the course for your sampler quilt journey.  Let’s sit down with my friends* Bernie and Jan to see how they planned their sampler quilts.

Block Sizes in Sampler Quilts

Block size is a key factor in any quilt.  Larger blocks are faster to make, and it takes fewer blocks to finish a quilt.

Bernie says, “I am making a charity quilt. All the blocks will be the same size. I am going to have fun choosing different patterns for each block.”

Jan takes the opposite view. “It will be interesting to make blocks of various sizes.  The design challenge to make them all fit is exciting!”

With a consistent size block, Bernie can use a traditional layout such as straight rows or an on point setting.  See examples of these standard layouts in this post. Jan knows it is more difficult to combine blocks of different sizes.  Working with variable block sizes can be made easier by including negative space or choosing blocks that “play nicely” together, such as multiples of 3 or 4.  For instance, a quilt with 6-inch and 12-inch blocks will combine easily, as will 4-inch and 8-inch sizes.  If you are comfortable with y-seams or partial blocks,  you could certainly build a quilt that includes 6, 8, 9, 10 and 12 inch blocks.

Putting the different sized blocks into rows is one way to solve the challenge.  These flower blocks were 3, 6 and 12 inches, so I made rows of large, medium and small flowers. row quilt with variable size blocks

You can also design your sampler by randomly placing the largest blocks, and filling in with smaller sizes.  Here is an example from the Keepsake Quilting catalog.  Notice the filler blocks use flying geese, pinwheels, or even a plain swatch of fabric.

sampler quilt with variable size blocks

What size quilt do you want?

Size does matter!  Will your sampler quilt be used in a crib, couch, or king size bed?  Are you giving it to a child to snuggle or for a 6-foot tall man in a recliner?  Think about the final destination.  Sampler quilts with their intricate details beg to be admired, so perhaps there is wall space in your home to put this project on display.

Bernie says, “Quilts of  Valor is my preferred charity and they request quilts that are 60 x 70 inches.”

Jan says, “I’ll just play with my blocks and be happy with whatever size it turns out to be!”

Bernie is working towards a specific sized quilt, with consistent blocks.  It will be easy to find 12 patterns to make a traditional sampler quilt.  Jan is taking an improvisational approach to a sampler quilt with various block sizes. Kris shares a similar journey on her blog, Coloring Outside the Lines.

Design a Sampler Quilt

Once you have made the important decisions about block size and quilt size, you are ready to sew!  But where do we start?  Maybe you have a few favorite blocks in mind, like I did for this table runner “My Favorite Stars”:

star sampler blocks

Another terrific resource is the Quilters Cache.  Marcia has organized a library of quilt blocks that include cutting and sewing instructions.  The block patterns can be sorted alphabetically or by size.  When I planned my 92 Stars sampler, I focused on the 9 inch blocks and found over 40 patterns to include in my quilt.

I’d love to see your sampler quilts!  Please email me a photo for our gallery or use hashtag #samplerquilt on Instagram.

Click here to download a plan for a sampler quilt with variable size blocks.

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