Sunday, February 15, 2009

UrbanAmish Lesson 1 • Indian Hatchet

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Ruby Short McKim in her book One Hundred and One Patchwork Patterns published in 1931 in Independence, Missouri writes of the Indian Hatchet Block:

"Warlike and treacherous as the name may sound, we guarantee this to be one of the most peacefully simple blocks to put together of all the old-time patterns. Many a little girl has learned to sew on Indian Hatchet blocks, although a mother perhaps supervised the cutting."
It seemed fitting that in 2009, ( 78 years later) we begin our exploration of Urban Amish design principles with this block, one that was already considered old then.

Pamela Zave, my partner in this enterprise is an art quilter. Here is one of her Color Wheel Quilts called Sunlight, Citron, Saffron, Ochre. You can visit her website which is listed in the sidebar of this blog.

I'm a professional fabric designer and license my designs to Blank Quilting. I have also co-authored two books with quilter Barbara Campbell, Fuse It and Be Done and Holiday Quilts.

Pamela has been an art quilter since she took up quilting in 2003. She has stated to me in our myriad conversations about quilt designs not to have a deep love for traditional blocks. I, on the other hand, have an intense love for them.

Since embarking on these lessons, she has developed an affection for particular blocks. All the actual blocks that are pictured in the lessons are hers. The fabrics used are from her own stash. Her stash has quite a few of my own fabrics since she raids my storage area whenever she wants. Above all, though, she has an incredible collection of today's contemporary fabrics all beautifully categorized by color family.

Her enthusiasm for the lessons in fact is so great that she is often, if not always, the instigator for the next Urban Amish lesson. (She has also been heard to exclaim: "Urban Amish! Not for the squamish!" I've threatened to make her a tee shirt with those very words.)

Our method for the lessons is as follows:
  1. I give Pamela a set of templates for the block we are exploring. All our units are 16" finished size, much larger than the great majority of traditional blocks. Click here to download your own set of templates for Lesson 1.
  2. Along with the templates I give her an Urban Amish fabric formula. Click here to download the formula and your own visual guide to Lesson 1.
  3. She goes to her stash and tries to come up with a successful Urban Amish block that is pleasing to her eye while at the same time complying with the fabric guidelines.
  4. She gets graded for her efforts and receives a "report card" with comments.
We want the Urban Amish lessons to help you accomplish several things.
  • Give you a way to be comfortable and successful using today's larger scale contemporary fabrics. Traditional blocks date back to a time when quilting was done with scraps. The pieces in the blocks are usually small. Small-scale prints or tonals such as batiks work fine within this context. Since the resurgence of interest in quilting in the late 1970's, more and more fabric designers are working exclusively for the quilting industry. Fabric designers naturally don't have the scale constriction and design fabrics larger in scale driven simply by love for the fabric itself. However this natural inclination of the fabric designer sets up a dilemma for the quilter. Quilters also respond to the beauty of these bolder fabric designs and find themselves bringing them home. At times, however, these fabrics languish in the stash because traditional blocks at traditional sizes don't quite accommodate the design of the fabrics. Our simple solution is to think big, i.e., change the scale.
  • Give you a way to make beautiful, contemporary quilts with a lot of graphic impact and appeal in a lot less time. This is a natural outcome of the shift in block scale. The downloadable lesson will give you many variations on using the Indian Hatchet blog in effective quilt designs.
  • Give beginning quilters an easy and practically foolproof introduction to quilt design.
  • Give quilters who buy my fabrics an insight into the way I design my fabric lines and suggestions how to be creative with them. In Lesson 1, I use my new fabric line, Sketchbook, by Blank Quilting for Spring 2009 to put the Indian Hatchet block virtually through its paces.
Even though each lesson only requires Pamela to produce one 16 1/2" block design she frequently produces two or three because they are so much fun.
We end this post with some eye candy. Here are the two blocks units that Pamela ended up with. (A block unit is made up of 4 Indian Hatchet blocks.) Be sure to download the full lesson so you can get the Urban Amish fabric formula she followed.

I hope this first lesson is helpful and above all as fun as it is for Pamela and I to put together for you. Please send us your own Urban Amish experiments. We would love to see them. Remember: Urban Amish! Not for the squamish!

Sketchbook, my new fabric line from Blank Quilting will be available in Spring 2009.


  1. Thank you for the lesson! I've downloaded it! As soon as I'm finished with Pat Sloan's OP retreat, I want to try this! Love working with math, formulas, figures and fabric!

  2. Wonderful lesson! I too will be trying it out after the OP retreat. I am so glad that she had a link to your site. I will be back to learn more.

  3. Wow. So. I theorize that these 16" blocks are, in fact, perfect models for the napkins Ken NEEDS for his table.

  4. I can't believe this! I just came from a local quilt show last weekend and this pattern was made up into a quilt. I have been trying ALL week to come up with a name and pattern for this, wanting to duplicate the same quilt. THANK YOU!!! You haved saved my sanity! lol
    Barbara in TN

  5. B in TN... makes me happy that you will continue with your sanity intact. :)

  6. Hi, I think there would be an easy way to make this without a template, but with foundations..I like to use a thin, ugly fabric I wouldn't want to use on a quilt. Whether scrappy or not, take 2 inch or 3 inch strips, your choice and then place down the center of all your 'foundation' squares, sew in continuous long strips, then add a larger piece of fabric face down on one side, stitch and flip. Do the same for the other side. Cut apart and square up.

    hope that is easy to understand, cuz it sure is easy to do! Fast, easy peasy.

    warm quilt hugs, sue in CA

  7. @fabricpixie. Nice alternate methods! Thanks for sharing. I'll give it a try. If you want to sen me some pictures of yourself doing them it'll be easier for beginner quilters to understand.