Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blooming nine-patch: a perennial favorite

Did you ever construct a quilt which looked really challenging, but was incredibly fun to make because the patchwork was so simple? Well, the blooming nine patch is one of those intriguing patterns. It gives us  the impression of a color wash with the easiest of piecing:  nothing but 9-patch and same-size solid squares.  That's all !

Each solid block alternates with a nine-patch that uses the two adjacent fabrics, creating a subtle transition from one fabric to the next.  The pattern was first published in 1996 by Blanche Young with her daughter, Dalene Young Stone, in their classic book Tradition With a Twist.   Another daughter, Helen Young Frost, arranged the design in concentric diamonds, much like the Amish Trip Around the World pattern.

Batik blooming nine patch, quilt kit, 85 x 93, at Stitchin' Heaven

Blooming nine patch quilts look gorgeous with mottled or tonal fabrics which can blend into each other and create a contrast which is subtle and nuanced. This Stitchin' Heaven kit relies on an orange multicolored fabric of apricot, peach, and tangerine shades, set off by a medium grape inner border. We are showing some of the fabric swatches below, courtesy of Nichole Croft at Stitchin Heaven.

Blooming nine patch quilts are a great way to use medium value or lighter value batiks, because they will produce the gradual variation in tones that give such a soft and gentle look to this design. Also, Stitchin' Heaven has a great selection of quilt kits and block-of-the-month programs (check out their amazing red Dear Jane).

 Nova, by Helen Young Frost, at the Arizona Quilters Hall of Fame

For an inspiring read, check out Helen Young Frost's fascinating biography at the Arizona Quilters' Hall of Fame. Helen is the daughter of Blanche Young and the co-author of Radiant Sunshine and Shadow. One of the early teachers of contemporary rotary cutting and strip piecing, she writes that she has always loved the symmetry and design of the traditional Sunshine and Shadow pattern as depicted in "Nova".

Like many residents of the American West, Arizonans enjoy a "big sky" earthscape, and it's easy to imagine that Helen was motivated to create this quilt from the colors of the sunrise and sunset in her home town of Tucson, Arizona. We like the half-square triangle border, which adds to the contemporary geometric effect of the medallion pattern.

Blooming Nines, 88 x 93, by Peg Graney at Sew Fresh Fabrics, as seen at the 2009 Rising Star Quilters Guild Showcase

Peg Graney won a People's Choice Award at the 2009 Rising Star Quilters showcase for "Blooming Nines", which was machine quilted by Cathy Harnisch.   In her show statement, Peg says:  "I love this pattern because of the fluid look that is created despite all the hard geometric blocks. It was fun picking the fabrics and see how each new row changed the whole look of the quilt." Peg gave the quilt an upbeat contemporary look by incorporating bright colors, along with a lively blue and white pattern at the edge of the inner border.  You can see more of her quilts at Ivy Arts and the Mixt Media Fine Art Gallery. Peg Graney's current blog (and online shop) is Sew Fresh Fabrics.

Blooming nine patch, 72 x 82, by Sarah Griffin, at the 2010 Rising Star Quilters Guild Showcase

The Rising Star Quilters guild in Lexington, MA has so many talented members that their shows are always wonderful. This Blooming Nine Patch, constructed by Sarah Griffin and machine quilted by Laurie LaConte, won first prize, People Choice, for Large Quilts at the 2010 RSQ show. Sarah has superbly blended the neutral tans and chocolate shades so that this quilt would work well in any room in the house, but she has also added a dash of sparkle right outside the russet inner border.  Sarah says:  "I love the way the colors blend into one another going from light in the center to dark at the outer edges."

Paisley Peacock, by Faith Wescom, as photographed by Susie Ziegler at the 2009 Chicago International Quilt Show

The Paisley Peacock quilt was a showstopper at the International Quilt Show in 2009. Faith Wescom says that this quilt is one of her favorites.  Her husband, Gary, notes: "This design originated from a desire to experiment with different but similar shades of fabric. Faith thought they looked good together while on the bolt. I think they look even better assembled into a quilt!"  You can see this and other quilts by Faith Wescom at the Wescom website.  For another photo, see the 2009 Quilt Show Favorites post by Violette Severin. Many thanks to Susie Ziegler for permission to use her photo.

Sunset Garden, by Helen Frost and Catherine Skow, from the book Radiant Sunshine and Shadow and the Quilts 2011 Calendar

Helen Frost and Catherine Skow have used their expert color placement skills to create a quilt with a shimmering halo, which really catches the eye. Like most blooming nine patch patterns, the focal point falls close to the center medallion or the inner 50% of the quilt. Helen has enhanced this radiant effect by choosing a color which is complementary and a few shades lighter than the color of the medallion. In this case she has selected orange as the complement to the muted grape inner medallion, but not just any orange. It's a pastel muted yellow-orange which provides radiant highlights for the medallion itself.

Baby blooming nine patch, detail of work in progress, by Lynn Stalowy at the Bigfork Bay Cotton Company

The blooming nine patch pattern provides a great way to use fabrics from a collection. Lynn Stalowy, quilter and shop owner, says: "This is one of those patterns that looks good in any type of fabrics... I have done it in Cherrywoods, batiks, and just regular cottons like here." You can read the fun post about the project at the Bigfork Bay Cotton Company blog. For those not familiar with the store: check out the Bigfork Bay Cotton Company (in Bigfork, Montana and online). They have a really unique selection of patterns and kits which we love.

Books: Tradition with a Twist and Radiant Sunshine and Shadow

*Image credits and links: Images are shown with permission.  The photo of Paisley Peacock by Susie Ziegler can be seen at the IamSusie photostream on Flickr, and Susie Ziegler's blog can be found at

Note added on 2-26-2011:  Helen Frost explains that the original 'blooming nine patch' design was inspired by an antique quilt of a friend of Helen's.  At a trunk show in Phoenix Arizona, on February 26, 2011,  Helen showed off the quilts from All Star Quilts - 10 strip-pieced Lone Star Sparklers.  You can see the trunk show photos at our Flickr photostream.


  1. Thank you for show casing the nine patch. I love how such simple blocks can be blended to make such stunning quilts! They really can make you think about the colour, value and tone of the quilt you are making!

  2. The nine patch is one of my favorites and I have used it often as borders or setting blocks but never tried these patterns.

  3. These are fabulous pictures, the close up especially emphasized how easy it would be to attempt! I hope to try this use of 9 patch soon.


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