Swing your fabric: Square Dance quilts!

Fractured Tesselations quiltI’ve always loved patterns that look difficult or time-consuming but turn out to be so ingeniously simple that you get hooked on making them over and over again. Add to that my fondness for pinwheel patterns (they’re fairly simple and always charming), and you’ll see why I get really excited about Square Dance quilts and the popular Twister quilt. They’re the perfect combination of easy piecing and clever cutting, yielding deceptively intricate-looking pinwheel patterns.

Never followed Square Dance quilt-pattern instructions before? That might be because Martha Thompson’s Square Dance had been out of print for a few years. With the recent popularity of pinwheel quilts brought on by Marsha Bergen’s Twister and Lil’ Twister tools, we’ve been getting lots of requests to bring Square Dance back. It’s one of my favorite quilting books, so I’m happy to tell you—it’s officially available again!

I once took a guild workshop from Martha and learned to make tessellating pinwheel quilts by sewing squares together in a grid, and then cutting them apart at a different angle. Martha is a delightful teacher, and I want to share some of her quirky sense of fun. Here’s an excerpt from Square Dance, where Martha explains the concept behind making her quilts.

Martha ThompsonI know a man named Pete. To be correct, he is Pete Junior, because his father’s name is also Pete. As you can imagine, the two are often called Pete and Re-Pete. My friend doesn’t mind too much. He knows it’s better to have a corny sense of humor than none at all. When he had a son he named him—you guessed it—Pete, and he calls him Pete Again. The child says the family is replete with Petes, and anyway, the joke has petered out by now and he will definitely be the last Pete, or Pete the Last.

My friend Pete comes to mind when I’m describing the stages that I go through to make the various tessellating shapes in my Square Dance patchwork quilts. I begin by piecing a simple quilt of squares. Then I cut it apart and stitch the pieces back together again into a second quilt. Sometimes I go ever further and cut up the second quilt to make pieces for a third and last quilt. My quilts are pieced, repieced, and often pieced again or pieced at last.

Illustrated example--cutting squares from squaresI realize that the concept of a quilt that has been pieced and then repieced will boggle the minds of those who think we quilters are all nuts in the first place. They don’t understand why we buy perfectly good fabric just to cut it up and sew it back together again. Don’t even mention cutting and piecing the quilt for a second and third time. They would have you committed. Just say you’re cutting squares and sewing them together. That sounds simple, and it is all that you need to do to produce any of the quilts in this book. (Left: illustrated example of piecing, cutting, and repiecing squares.)

Martha cracks me up—and her story explains the process perfectly!

When Martingale staffers heard we were bringing back Square Dance, everybody did a happy dance and brought in their Square Dance quilts to show off. So today, I thought I’d share a little Square Dance show and tell. I’ll go first!

I followed Martha’s Square Dance quilt-pattern instructions to make a “Tessellating Blossoms” quilt like the one shown in the book. Martha’s instructions include a bonus pattern for a miniature quilt that uses up the scraps!

Tessellating Blossoms quilts
Martha’s “Tessellating Blossoms” quilts

Here are my versions. I made the big one (33″ x 33″) for my mom and kept the small one (16″ x 16″) for me, so we have matching quilts!

Bouquet for Mom and Mini Bouquet quilts
“Bouquet for Mom” and “Mini Bouquet”

Regina, Martingale’s production manager, has made several Square Dance quilts—at one time it seemed like everyone she knew was having a baby.

Regina's Square Dance baby quilts
Three of Regina’s Square Dance baby quilts

Malcom's quilt
“Malcolm’s Quilt.” Regina made this for Malcolm, the youngest son of Tina, our audience development manager.

Square Dance starts out with a small place mat to get you hooked on introduce you to the technique. Regina modified the place mat instructions, using the leftovers from Malcolm’s quilt to make a little Square Dance quilt for herself. That’s at least five Square Dance quilts she’s made. Warning: these quilts can be addictive!

Tessellating Pinwheels place mats
Left: Martha’s “Tessellating Pinwheels Place Mat.” Right: Regina’s modified version made from baby-quilt leftovers.

Leanne, one of our account managers, loves two things: Hawaii and Kaffe Fassett fabrics. She made two versions of the “Tessellating Pinwheels” pattern. One is as bright and sunny as the beach, the other as cool and dreamy as the ocean.

Tessellating Pinwheels quilt
Martha’s “Tessellating Pinwheels” quilt

Leanne's Tessellating Pinwheels quilts
Leanne’s versions of the “Tessellating Pinwheels” pattern

Square DancePerhaps you’ve made interlocking-pinwheel quilts with a Twister Tool, the Twist ‘N Stitch ruler, or a ruler you’ve marked yourself. Because Martha’s Square Dance quilt-pattern instructions start with units made from 4″ and 6″ squares, they aren’t suitable for premarked tools that use different sizes. But Martha makes it easy by providing a template for each quilt. You simply make a plastic template, place it on your quilt top, and then trace around it—right onto your quilt top with a big black marker (gasp!). Then you cut on the drawn lines with those old-fashioned things called scissors. Either way you choose to make them, our staffers agree: Square Dance quilts are quick to make—and sure to dazzle.

Hope you enjoyed our Square Dance show and tell!

Have you made a tessellating quilt? Did you use the template method or one of the rulers? Tell us your tessellating story in the comments and you could win a copy of the Square Dance eBook! We’ll choose a winner one week from today and let you know by email if you’ve won. Good luck!

Get your own copy of Square Dance right now and instantly download the eBook for free.

Comments are closed for this post.

Thanks to all who entered the drawing! The randomly chosen winner is Jenny, who writes:

“Tessellations take me back to grade 10 maths. Oh how I loved to make different repeating patterns. None in quilts yet. But pinwheels are on my list!”

Jenny, we’ll email you about your free eBook. Congratulations!

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