Technically a cotton reel is a spool of cotton thread, but the Cotton Reels Quilt Block is not to be confused with the Spool Quilt Block. The Cotton Reels Quilt Block is an entirely different motif.
The Cotton Reels Quilt Block is made up entirely of alternating squares and half square triangles. As the blocks alternate, the color motifs are kept consistent along the diagonal, so that the top HST is always the same color, but the bottom HST in each diagonal line is a different color. As you can see in the grouping image below, this creates a beautiful ribbon/pennant effect when the blocks are assembled straight set.
I am not sure why this design is named Cotton Reels, but I have a theory. Before there were transformers and Star Wars action figures, a common toy in the home was the Cotton Reel tank. This contraption was made with a spool of cotton thread, a matchstick, a rubber band and a pencil. You can find out how to make it yourself at this link. Or watch the video below to see them in action.
Notice how when the tanks are "racing" they are staggered. I think that's what someone had in mind when they named this block. I think the consistent upper HST's represents the pencils on the tanks (which many moons ago would have most certainly all have been yellow) and the lower HST's represents the different colors of thread on three different cotton reel tanks that are racing. Or perhaps different colored spools. Again, it's just a theory, but I think it makes sense.
The 4-patch unit is thought to be one of the simplest constructions in quilting. It is based on a 2x2 grid as shown in the example block above. Most units are formed by attaching two squares together, then attaching another set of two squares.
A more efficient way to make four-patch blocks is with strip piecing. Sew strip sets with two long strips of fabric together, then sub cut those strips into the correct size to form your two-square units.
If you are careful to press your seams in opposite directions, you get a nice little nesting effect where the seams meet up. As you assemble the pieces together to sew them you can actually feel where the seams nest.
It is also possible to construct a 4 patch unit based on a diagonal grid, like below:
In this case, you sew together the two triangular units on each side of a diagonal line through the grid, then sew the two sides together. The seams in the middle still nest like they do in a regular 4-patch.
Any block where you are able to visually cut it in half horizontally and vertically into a 2x2 grid is still basically a 4-patch. Sometimes, you might have to examine the block before you see it. Below are a few examples:
To make any 4-patch construction lay flatter, try collapsing the center seam. Instructions are found at the bottom of the 4-Patch Unit page.
If you look closely at the Y Block Unit, you will notice that it is a hybrid of an Hourglass unit and a Half Square Triangle unit. Although the unit is called a Y block, it does not need a Y-seam in order to construct it. (It's called a Y block because the seams make a Y - Do you see the 'Y' in the white space of the exploded block image below?)
(Makes 4 Y Block Units)
Step 1. QST Side of Block
Draw 2 diagonal lines on the wrong side of one square. Place your marked square on top of the other square, right sides together and sew ¼˝ seam on each side of one of the lines. Next, cut on the unsewn line, then cut on the the other line between your two seams. Open and press to the darker side. You should have four triangular units.
Step 2. Cut your 2 HST fabric blocks in Half along the diagonal. You should have 4 pieces. Align the long edge of a HST piece with the long edge of a QST unit, right sides together. Sew along the long edge using a 1/4" seam. Press open.
In case you need a size not found in the chart, use these formulas to calculate how big to cut your squares.
To determine the cut size of squares to make the QST side of the Y block:
size of finished square + 1 1/4˝
(Example: Finished square = 3.5˝, cut squares = 4.75˝)
To determine the cut size of squares to make the HST side of the Y blocks:
size of finished block + 7/8
(Example: Finished square = 3.5", cut squares = 4 3/8")
(MAKES 4 UNITS)
|CUT 1 SQUARE EACH FROM 2 CONTRASTING FABRICS. CUT SQUARES THE SIZE INDICATED BELOW||CUT 2 SQUARES FROM SAME FABRIC, THEN SUBCUT ALONG THE DIAGONAL|
|FINISHED SIZE OF Y UNIT||SIZE OF SQUARES TO CUT||SIZE OF SQUARES TO CUT|
|1"||2 1/4"||1 7/8"|
|1.5"||2 3/4"||2 3/8"|
|2"||3 1/4"||2 7/8"|
|2.5"||3 3/4"||3 3/8"|
|3"||4 1/4"||3 7/8"|
|3.5"||4 3/4"||4 3/8"|
|4"||5 1/4"||4 7/8"|
|4.5"||5 3/4"||5 3/8"|
|5"||6 1/4"||5 7/8"|
|5.5"||6 3/4"||6 3/8"|
|6"||7 1/4"||6 7/8|