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How to Change the Size of a Quilt Block

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Examine the Quilt Block's Bone Structure
How to Resize a Quilt Block

Examples of three different quilt block layouts, from left to right: four-patch block, nine-patch block, seven patch block

© Janet Wickell
It's easy to change the size of most quilt blocks once you understand patchwork quilt block structure. I'll repeat a few of the most critical points here, but recommend that beginning quilters read a detailed description of patchwork basics before scaling a block up or down.

Explanations of four popular quilt block layouts:

  • A four-patch quilt block is made up of four square grids, two across and two down (left illustration).
  • A nine-patch quilt block is made up of nine square grids, three across and three down (middle illustration).
  • Five-patch (right illustration) and seven-patch (not shown) quilt blocks are a bit different, because their names describe how many square grids exist in a single row across or down, not the total number of grids in the quilt block.

Four-patch and nine-patch quilt blocks are routinely sub-divided to create more intricate patterns, but once you become a block-watcher it will be easy to identify their underlying structure. Five-patch and seven-patch block grids can be sub-divided into multiple-patch units, but it isn't common, other than half-square triangles, since the grids are usually a bit small already.

Keep in mind that individual grids in a quilt block are sometimes combined, rather than subdivided, like the areas created by red strips in the five-patch block above right.

Why should you care about block structure? Because once you can decipher a block's grids, you can make it larger or smaller with ease. And although structure is important for altering the size of a quilt block, it's also a huge component when designing a quilt, because some blocks just don't 'mesh' when sewn side-by-side, even if they're the same size. You'll learn more about that in my patchwork structure tutorial.

Always make a test block in the new size, or for any pattern, before cutting all of your fabric.

Some Blocks Require Different Methods for Size Alterations

Some quilt blocks are easier to scale using different techniques. An eight pointed star made with diamonds (versus the 'cheater' version with half-square triangle units) and some blocks with curved patches (which are sometimes more difficult to draw correctly) are two examples.

If you find a block that isn't easy to alter using the methods in this tutorial, make a photocopy, enlarging or reducing the block to the finished size you wish to sew. Measure the sizes of its patches (remembering that the dimensions are unfinished). Use templates to construct the block or refer to the patchwork shape cutting instructions to choose a patch and block size that can be easily rotary cut (remember that all shapes must be altered in the same way).

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