The Lily Pad: The Journal of White Lotus Quilting


Sub-atomic quilting particles: the square

Okay, for those of you who noticed that the quilting ‘atoms’ I’ve mentioned so far — the four-patch and the nine-patch — are they themselves made of smaller units — good job!  You’ve discovered one of the great difficulties of modern science — deciding which are the smallest, indivisible pieces of matter.  You see, every time the scientists think they’ve found the smallest piece, they find that those pieces are made up of even teenier pieces.

Look here to find an educational link about the quest for elementary particles.  You can even click on their section on accelerators and particle detectors if you want to get all geeky and find out how the physicists are doing their detective work.  (As an aside, I used to live near a giant particle accelerator, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, a 2-mile long tunnel made just for atom smashing purposes… check out their link and see what’s happening!  They even have a virtual vistor’s center you can click on.)

But for us in the quilting world, what’s an elementary particle?  Why, something that’s sub-atomic, of course.  The obvious unit in this case that is smaller than the four-patch and nine-patch atoms — the square.  Here, for instance, in the ‘economy’ block of the first Behemoth installment — squares are the fillers at the corners and hold open the vast space in the center.

Assembling the economy block

The economy block consists of four flying geese (those triangle in rectangle thingies), and five squares, one of which is larger than the others.  And even though there are nine pieces to this block — after the flying geese are assembled — it isn’t considered a nine-patch, because the grid of the block is 4 X 4.  So it’s kind of a four-patch.  Or a 16-patch if you want to be more accurate.  The math definitely works out better if the finished dimensions are divisible by four.

Haven’t made flying geese before?  No problem.  Click on the picture link below and it will take you to the flickr album of pictures (it’s the last one in the set, so you’ll have to get back to the beginning to see the process) about making flying geese with the ‘Lazy Girls’ No Math Flying Geese x 4 ruler.

Making flying geese for economy block

Flying geese are proportionally twice as wide as they are tall, and the tip of the triangle is at the halfway point.  Well, it will be after it’s sewn in place :).  And I think flying geese are useful enough — and appear often enough — in patterns that we might as well consider them another quilting atom.

Getting back to that sub-atomic square.  You could make a quilt just with squares, and not even bother with the intermediate step of four- or nine-patches.  (But at some point you’ll probably lump groups of them together to make it easier to compose the next step.  You could arrange the colors in diagonal chains of lights and darks — or make no effort to arrange them at all.)

I found a searchable quilt image index site composed by several museums, and have enjoyed looking through their collection.  Try the link — where I’ve already put in the search term ‘postage stamp’ — and you’ll get to see several postage stamp style quilts, made entirely of small squares (often as small as an inch square finished).  Postage stamp quilts were often scrappy — meaning they had more than a few fabrics –and sometimes were even ‘charm’ quilts (where no two fabrics were the same).

See?  It makes everything we’re doing look simple!

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