Posted in Quilting

The Ultimate Guide to 4-Patch Quilt Blocks

Welcome to the Ultimate Guide to 4 patch Quilt Blocks! In this guide you will be able to read about the Basic 4-patch quilt Block Layout, 4-patch Quilt Block Colour Options (there are three to explore), an easy way to Make Your 4-patch Quilt Blocks Go Further and of course, How to Make 4-Patch Quilt Blocks (there are three different methods to suit your needs).

The 4-patch quilt block is a simple yet very versatile block that has been around for a very long time. You will see it in its simplest form, or as the foundation to a more complex design. This versatility means that it lends itself to both traditional and modern quilt designs so once you start looking, you will see it in many quilt designs.

It really is a quilt block that has and will continue to stand the test of time!

You can scroll through The Ultimate Guide to 4-patch quilt blocks in order (grab yourself a cuppa) or you can click on any of the links below to be taken the to section of this page that you want to read.

Basic 4-Patch Quilt Block Layout

In its simplest form, the 4-patch quilt block is made up by four equally sized patches or squares. These four squares are laid out in a 2×2 grid, that’s two rows of 2 squares each.

There are a number of different ways that 4-patch blocks can be made, each of which are explored later in this guide. The illustrations below show the one at a time method of making 4-patch quilt blocks.

In this Ultimate Guide to 4-patch Quilt Blocks all of the illustrations and examples are based around this simple 4-patch layout made with squares. There are however many other ways that a 4-patch quilt block can be laid out. Each of the four squares can be made more intricate by piecing half square triangles (HSTs), quarter square triangles (QSTs), strip piecing or a combination of these techniques.

Here are some great examples for you…

Want to explore 4-patch layout styles even further? 

If so, then click to read this great blog post that looks at some of the wonderful quilt blocks that you can create using the 4-patch layout. There are lots of options to inspire you for your next patchwork and quilting project!

Basic 4-Patch Colour Options

Simple 4-patch blocks can be made from anywhere between two and four different colours (or fabrics). Each makes a different impact when used singularly or indeed when repeated several times over (such as in a quilt).

Regardless of how many prints you are planning to work with, try to look for contrast in value to get the most impact from your block (unless of course you are working with a pattern that tells you otherwise). If you don’t have enough contrast in your project you run the risk of losing the detail in your work as the colours/prints ‘merge’ into one another.

In this Ultimate Guide to 4-patch Quilt Blocks you will able to read about three different colour options you might like to consider when making a 4-patch quilt block.

In each section below you will be able to see the individual blocks and also what they might look like when repeated several times over in a project such as a quilt. In each case the blocks have been laid out in a 4×4 grid, i.e. 4 blocks across and 4 blocks down, making 16 blocks in total. 

You can scroll through each of the options to read each of them in detail or just click on one of the buttons below.

Colour Option 1 - TWO Colour 4-patch Quilt Blocks

A two colour 4-patch quilt block is a real classic. It’s the 4-patch in its most basic or simple form.

When making a 4-patch quilt block using just two colours (or fabrics) you ideally want to choose fabrics with different values in order to get the most impactful result. Go for one light and one dark value fabric.

You can see from the second illustration here that when a two colour 4-patch block is repeated several times over, you get a wonderful checkerboard effect!

2 colour 4-patch quilt block – Single Block

2 colour 4-patch quilt block – 4×4 Layout

As a variation to the checkerboard effect, rather than making a larger number of identical blocks, you can pull together a larger number of different pairings and make just a few of each.

In the example below there are four different pairings, each of which have been made 4 times. They have then been placed together in a 4×4 layout.

2 colour 4-patch quilt block – Single Block

2 colour 4-patch quilt block – 4×4 Layout

If you are looking for a truly scrappy look to your project, you can make each block in a project with completely different pairings. The 4×4 grid below shows 16 completely different blocks laid out together. You can see how you can achieve some really impressive results with such simple pairings and not too much thought.

Colour Option 2 - THREE Colour 4-patch Quilt Blocks

When using three colours instead of two on a 4-patch quilt block you will have two squares in one colour and one square each of the other two colours. As a result, one colour will be more dominant and may sometimes be referred to as the ‘background’ colour.

3 colour 4-patch quilt block – Single Block

The prevalence of the ‘background’ colour on a three colour 4-patch block becomes more obvious when repeating the block several times over. Below are two examples of how the above 3 colour block can be laid out in a 4×4 grid.

The first layout shows all of the blocks laid out in the same orientation and the second layout has every other block rotated 90 degrees. This layout give the illusion that you have done a lot of complicated cutting and sewing but in fact it’s just 16 identical blocks that have been laid out in this arrangement. Isn’t it great how such a small change can make such an impact?

3 colour 4-patch quilt block – 4×4 Layout
(all blocks in same orientation)

3 colour 4-patch quilt block – 4×4 Layout
(alternate blocks rotated 90 degrees)

A great twist to the 3 colour 4-patch block, when working on a multi-block project, is to use one colour for the ‘background’ throughout, but then to vary the colours/prints used in each block.

I have taken the scrappy 2 colour layout from further up this blog post and converted each of the 2 colour blocks to 3 colour blocks. I have used each colour/print one time each and have introduced a 3rd ‘background’ colour (which is used twice in each block).

You can see from this layout how you can create a more cohesive project whilst still working with a scrappy selection of fabrics. The addition of the third fabric in each of the blocks allows the eye to rest a little and is an opportunity to highlight the other fabrics more.

This technique is also a great way of making pre-cut fabrics go a little further…all you need to do is add some yardage as the ‘third’ colour for your blocks!

Colour Option 3 - FOUR Colour 4-patch Quilt Blocks

By using four colours in a 4-patch quilt block you have the opportunity to create something either varied but restrained (by repeating the same combination over and over), or go all out and make something truly scrappy by making each block in a project totally unique!

This is how a four colour 4-patch quilt block might look when using four different colours/prints that are within the same colour family.

4 colour 4-patch quilt block – Single Block

The following two layouts show how the above 4 colour 4-patch quilt block can look when laid out in a 4×4 grid.

The first layout has all of the blocks laid out in the same orientation and the second layout is achieved by simply rotating all of the blocks on rows two and four by 180 degrees. Again, such a small change can create quite an impact.

4 colour 4-patch quilt block – 4×4 Layout
(all blocks in same orientation)

4 colour 4-patch quilt block – 4×4 Layout
(alternate rows rotated 180 degrees)

For the ultimate scrappy quilt, use completely different prints and colours for each and every square! If you are making a project in this vein then remember to pair and locate fabrics next to each other that have contrasting tonal values for the most impactful result!

Making Basic 4-Patch Quilt Blocks Go Further!

As you can see from the above examples the 4-patch quilt block can be used to great effect on it’s own, either by playing with the colours used or the orientation of the blocks. Sometimes however, these end results can be a little ‘busy’ and there can be a lot for the eye to take in.

This may 100% be what you are looking to achieve in your project, if however you are looking for something that allows the prints to stand out a little more then you might like to consider adding sashing strips to your design.

The introduction of sashing strips to your project will allow you to frame or separate your 4-patch blocks. This is particularly useful when working with a larger number of colours or prints. You can select a colour or print for the sashing that brings everything together or alternatively provides a contrast to the colours and prints already used.

If you are working with a particularly busy palette then the introduction of sashing strips will give the effect of your 4-patch blocks being ‘framed’ and will allow them to be seen more clearly. It will also give the eye somewhere to rest as the end result is likely to be less busy.

Another benefit of adding sashing strips will mean that the end project will be larger in size.

In the illustrations below I have taken one each of the 2 colour, 3 colour and 4 colour layouts and added sashing strips and cornerstones (the smaller squares between the sashing strips). You can see how the project can become larger in size and how the individual blocks are able to stand out more.

TWO colour 4-patch quilt block – 4×4 Layout with Sashing & Cornerstones

THREE colour 4-patch quilt block – 4×4 Layout with Sashing & Cornerstones

FOUR colour 4-patch quilt block – 4×4 Layout with Sashing & Cornerstones

How to Make 4-patch Quilt Blocks

Learning how to make a great 4-patch quilt block is the ideal place to begin when you are starting out on your patchwork and quilting journey. Once you have mastered a great 4-patch then you will be well on your way to making all sorts of designs!

There are several ways of making a 4-patch quilt block. It is worth exploring each method to help you decide on the method that is best for you and which is the most appropriate for the project that you are working on! I personally don’t use the same method for every project that requires a 4-patch.

There are three methods highlighted below, each with it’s own advantages.

Look out for forthcoming detailed blog posts and video tutorials for each of these methods of Making 4-patch Quilt Blocks!

If you need some guidance on sewing an accurate 1/4″ seam allowance, check out my useful video

Method 1 - Make a 4-patch Quilt Block ONE at a Time

Making individual 4-patch quilt block may not be the most time efficient method, but it is ideal if you are working on a smaller project that maybe only requires one block. You might be looking to make a 4 colour 4-patch or you may just like the satisfaction of making one block at a time.

To make a single four patch block you need 4 squares of equal size. Lay them out in your preferred arrangement then sew the top two squares together in a row, and the bottom two squares together in a row. These rows are then joined together to create the 4-patch block.

Here are some pros and cons of using the One at a Time method:

  • ideal for smaller projects when only one 4-patch is required
  • perfect for 4 colour 4-patch blocks
  • great when working with scraps
  • a slightly more time consuming method when making multiple blocks
  • more squares to cut out initially if making multiple blocks

Method 2 - Make 4-patch Quilt Blocks TWO at a Time

As the title suggest, when using this method you will be making two 4-patch blocks at a time. You will end up with two identical 4-patch blocks each featuring two colours only. It’s a slightly faster way of making two quilt blocks than if you were to make two blocks using the one at a time method.

To make two 4-patch quilt blocks at a time you start with two larger squares. They are layered and sewn together down the outer edges. The square is then cut in half, equidistant between the two lines of stitching. These halves are then pressed with the seams to one side. They are then stacked on top of each other again (with seams nesting) and sewn along the outer edges (perpendicular to the first line of stitching). The fabrics are then cut in half once more to reveal two identical 4-patch blocks.

  • makes 2 identical blocks
  • slightly quicker than making one at a time
  • great when working with scraps or larger pieces of fabrics (depending on the block size you are making)
  • not ideal if needing blocks that are all different
  • quilt math is more challenging calculating the size of starting square needed for your project

Method 3 - Make 4-patch quilt blocks MANY at a time using the Strip Piecing Method

If you are looking to make lots of identical blocks then this is the method for you! Making many at a time will avoid you having to cut lots of individual squares only to sew them all back together again. You can use this method regardless of whether you are making 2, 3 or 4 colour 4-patch blocks.

To make multiple 4-patch quilt blocks using this method you first make strip sets. These are then sub cut into smaller sections that are then pressed open and sewn together in pairs to create identical 4-patch blocks.

Look out for the forthcoming blog post and video tutorial on ‘How to Make 4-patch Quilt Blocks MANY at a Time’

  • great for making identical blocks
  • ideal for making lots at a time
  • great method to use when making multiple smaller sized blocks as there’s less cutting at the initial stage
  • fewer seams to sew
  • ideal when cutting from yardage
  • not ideal for working with scraps
  • not ideal when just making one quilt block
  • need to be careful with pressing the strips

I hope you have enjoyed the Ultimate Guide to 4-patch Quilt blocks and have discovered something new, be it about colour combinations or perhaps you have been inspired to try out a new construction technique!

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