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What is Patchwork?

When you embark on a quilting project, you'll often encounter the term 'Patchwork.' Although these two techniques are often used in coordination within a project, they are in fact two different processes. Whereas quilting is used to form the structure of a quilt, patchwork is the process of sewing fabric pieces together to create a block (usually square) or a strip design. Once you've made several blocks or a series of strips, you then stitch them together to create a larger design which forms your Quilt Top – the upper layer of your quilt sandwich. Alternatively, a single shape can be used and repeated in an Overall pattern until the Quilt Top is the desired size.

Fundamentally, patchwork quilts consist of many fabric pieces of differing patterns, colours and textures, combined together in a variegated style – but with an underlying theme. Often each piece is precisely measured and cut using an acrylic template and rotary cutter, thus making them easier to piece together. There are several ways to create patchwork pieces, the most common being Patchwork Blocks, Overall and Strip Piecing.

Patchwork Blocks

Patchwork blocks are squares that consist of repeated patterns and shapes, but of differing colours. The blocks can be any size, although many patterns are created in 12" squares. Each block is made up of patches – in essence, they are a grid of squares. A four-patch grid features four squares in the gridded arrangement, whilst a nine-patch grid contains nine squares in the grid. The size of the grid doesn't change, however the patches within the grid can be divided up. When you've decided upon your grid size, you can then create patterns and designs within that structure. Once your blocks are constructed, they're then stitched together to form a larger arrangement.

Four Patch Grid

Basic Four Patch Block

Four Patch with Divisions

Nine Patch Grid

Basic Nine Patch Block

Nine Patch with Divisions


Overall patchwork designs consist of specifically shaped, incremental geometric pieces that are sewn together with a larger design or ultimate pattern in mind. Often featuring a variety of different coloured pieces, these shapes can be placed at random or following a regimented order to create spectacular colour progressions or effects. Examples of overall patchwork designs include Clamshell, Starburst and Hexagon.




Strip Piecing

The strip piecing technique involves sewing multiple fabric strips together lengthwise to form a strip set. Typical strip sets consist of three long fabric strips of the same pattern, but of differing colours. The long strip set is cut into individual segments to ensure each patch is completely identical. Working with the strip piecing technique means you don't need to work with smaller, fiddly pieces and can instead quickly produce repeated patterns.

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