Monday, July 16, 2012

Quilt Inspiration: Butterfly quilts (and free block patterns!)

We've been chasing butterflies all around the globe (butterfly quilts, that is).  Our butterfly expedition begins in Australia, then goes to Japan, to the U.S., back to Japan, and back to the U.S.  In the process we've discovered some delightful quilts in traditional and modern styles - and a superb vintage quilt we think you'll love.  So let's begin our journey....

Butterfly Quilt by Lisa Cox at A Spoonful of Sugar Designs (Perth, Australia)

This dynamic quilt really caught our eye. The bright colors look great against the black background, and we love the use of typography prints. Because the blocks alternate directions, the strips appear to weave in and out, giving an almost dimensional look to this quilt.  You can see all the details at Lisa's blog post.   She explains that the project was inspired by the Butterfly Scrap Quilt in the Japanese sewing book, From Quilters Studio (see image below, and Lisa's post about her inspiration here).

This book is one of several acclaimed books written by Kumiko Fujita (written in Japanese).  The butterfly scrap quilt is featured on the back cover of the book, above right.  (Note: As of this writing, you can sometimes find a copy of the book at Ebay or Etsy (try this site); you also can find a selection of Kumiko's fabrics, including text prints, at Ayumills.)

Butterflies Just for Fun by Nanette Merrill at Freda's Hive (Alpine, Utah, U.S.A.)

Here is a fantastic butterfly quilt by Nanette Merrill, done in a unique layout. She picked a great black-and-white hounds tooth print for the sashing, which complements but does not overwhelm the blocks.  To see details of the blocks, check out Nanette's blog post.

In her post, Nanette explains that she had noticed the butterfly quilts in Japanese quilting books, but she was inspired to actually begin the quilt when she saw a tutorial she liked. That tutorial, by Amy Lobsiger at Mrs. Schmenkman Quilts, lays out a method of making slightly wonky butterfly blocks. (Note:  In her post, Amy explains that the tutorial was inspired by Sarah Wheatley at choccybangles [Australia].  Doesn't this just show how inspiration travels?  You can see a photo of Sarah's butterfly quilt at Material Obsession.)

Butterfly Quilt with Applique, seen at Yokohama Quilt Week 2009, photo by Kathryn Krentz at KMKrentz

After musing over modern butterfly quilts, we were thrilled when we came across this great photo by Kathryn Krentz.  Kathy took many photos of show-stopping quilts in Yokohama; you can see more at her post, Yokohama Quilt Week: A Feast for the Eyes.  The floral applique adds a charming, traditional touch to this quilt.  The full quilt also was featured in the Japanese quilting magazine, Patchwork Quilt Tsushin (Japan), No. 164 (October 2011) as shown below.

As of this writing, this edition of Patchwork Quilt Tsushin is available online at eQuilter and at Super Buzzy.

And now, back to the United States....

Butterfly Quilt by Michele Lancaster at Nostalgic Cafe (Belle Isle, Florida, U.S.A.)

This vibrant butterfly quilt was made by Michele Lancaster, who says:  "Butterflies were flitting all over blogland this summer (2010). I thought they made such fun use of scraps, that I started making blocks in my spare time. I ran out of black Kona, so these blocks were destined to be a small quilt."  We love the way in which Michele used three colors of gingham strips to tie the blocks together. The yellow/green gingham really "pops" in this quilt.  For more details, see Michele's posts: Butterfly Flimsy Finished and I Drank the Kool Aid.

Last but not least, on her blog Michele has shared a wonderful photo of an antique butterfly quilt in her collection. This vintage quilt really knocked our socks off!

Antique quilt, collection of Michele Lancaster at Nostalgic Cafe

This beautiful hand-made quilt is different from other butterfly quilts we've seen*!   Not only is the arrangement of the blocks different  - with the blocks arranged in large squares - but the blocks have different proportions, with a much wider strip in the middle.  Each large square is composed of 8 blocks, which are arranged around a central white square. Some of the fabrics - such as the black-and-white polka dots, and the green/orange/yellow print - are repeated in different areas of the quilt,  providing a cohesive look to the design.

We were fascinated by this quilt, and we asked Michele if we could draft the blocks; she graciously agreed.

The vintage block corresponds to a 3 x 3 grid, with the 'body' making up one-third of the block and each wing another third.  This works well for block sizes that are divisible by 3.  The vintage blocks are approximately 4.5" square; when assembled, as shown in the lower right photo, they make a 13.5" square.   We have also created a 6" butterfly block for those who prefer a larger block; when assembled, the 6" block makes an 18" square.  The diagrams include templates for traditional piecing as well as a foundation piecing diagram. The 6" pattern has been tested by Michele; to see her real-life blocks, visit the Nostalgic Cafe.

  • Download the 4.5" butterfly block here 
  • Download the 6" butterfly block here 

Image credits:  Quilt photos are shown with the generous permission of the artists, Lisa Cox, Nanette Merrill, and Michele Lancaster; and Kathy Krentz (Yokohama photo). Special thanks to Michele for the inspiration and assistance with vintage butterfly blocks. 

*Note: Per Barbara Brackman, this block pattern dates to about 1890 in print.  Among the block names: Homespun, Beggar Block, Cats and Mice, Spool and Bobbin.  In BlockBase it is 1758a, 1758b, 1758c.


  1. Delightful! This is one block that I've never made and there are so many variations .... guess what I'm making next. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for the inspiration and patterns. The blocks were a lot of fun to put together.

  3. Butterfly Quilts look so effective, Great resource for anyone wanting to make a Butterfly Quilt. Thanks so much for linking:)

  4. Thank you so much for your kind words. I loved making this quilt so much. I may make another. This article inspires me!!

  5. These quilts are all beautiful! What cool depictions of butterflies... The Japanese one with the appliques was amazing. Brain fight: eyes want to shut down but legs want to run to the quilt room NOW!!!


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