A Divas’ guide to antique quilt-block patterns (+ fabric giveaway!)

We took this new book to Market—and the response to it was tremendous!

But why wouldn’t it be, with the Patchwork Divas at the helm?


A common love of antique quilts and reproduction fabrics brought them together. Now, 20 years after the 19th-Century Patchwork Divas’ block-exchange group was formed, they’re celebrating—by letting YOU become an honorary member.

Delectable Feathered Star by Diva Sue Troyan

In the 19th-Century Patchwork Divas’ Treasury of Quilts, the Divas share their all-time favorite quilt-block patterns with you—from timeless Ohio Star to teeming-with-triangles Pine Tree. You’ll see how members transformed their piles of patchwork blocks into jaw-dropping quilts, each more spectacular than the last.

Inside you’ll also get the Divas’ advice on how to start a successful block exchange with your quilting and sewing friends. With these incredible quilts from the Divas, your group will never run short of inspiration.

Diva Sonja Kraus’s quilt from the Ohio Star block exchange

Not only will you get 10 of the Divas’ quilt patterns from favorite exchanges over the years—you’ll also see 3 more versions of each pattern to inspire your own quiltmaking.

Clockwise from top: More Ohio Star quilts from the Divas—Stars and Hexagons by Peggy Morton; Pheasant Stars by Mary Freeman; Show Me a Star by Julia Berggren

We asked coauthors (and coDivas) Betsy Chutchian and Carol Staehle to answer questions about their new book and about the 19th-Century Patchwork Divas—and the questions came from you via Facebook and Instagram. Get inspired by their answers below.

But first…

FABRIC GIVEAWAY! Our pals at Moda Fabrics generously gave us a beautiful fat-quarter bundle of Betsy Chutchian’s new fabric line, Rachel Remembered: 1820-1850, to give away!


Find out how to win the fabric and a copy of the 19th-Century Patchwork Divas’ Treasury of Quilts book at the end of this post.

Betsy-Chutchian-and-Carol-StaehleFrom Mary: Does the fabric inspire the design, or do you design the quilt and then pick the fabric?

Betsy: Mary, in general I’m inspired by fabric. But when creating a block exchange, it’s almost always an antique quilt and its blocks that set the stage for fabric choices. Since we exchange blocks, we may or may not set our quilt like the original inspiration. This gives us a creative opportunity to design a unique quilt.

In the case of Indigo Basket, we started with fabric and a block. We didn’t have an antique inspiration, just a strong desire to exchange an Indigo- and cheddar-colored basket. The resulting quilts are so different!

Carol: Sometimes it’s the fabric, but for our exchanges, we choose the block or quilt we want to make first, and then make fabric selections.

Somerset Baskets by Diva Marilyn Mowry

From Susan: What’s your favorite group of quilts in the book?

Betsy: Susan, that is hard to answer! Each group is so special. My favorite group is the Album. I fell in love with Deb Otto’s antique top, our inspiration quilt, the day she showed it to me at Quilt Market several years ago. We spread the top on her bed at the hotel and drooled over it for hours! The blocks are so much fun to make, and the quilts our members created are stunning.

Album Redux by Diva Deb Otto

A very close second favorite group is the Pine Tree. Like the Album, the blocks are full of tiny pieces, which I love. Our members also created a wide variety of settings for gorgeous quilts.

Carol: For me, probably the Log Cabin chapter because of all of the different ways the blocks can be arranged. The Log Cabin block can be traditional or modern just by changing the fabric selection. There are no limits to the design possibilities.

Point of No Return by Diva Carol Staehle

From Lindsey: What do you think is the most important thing to do (or not to do) when starting a quilting group?

Betsy: Lindsey, in my opinion, the most important thing, besides gathering friends of like interest, is to set rules. Colors to use or not use. What time period. Due date. Thread color. Scant ¼" or regular ¼". These are just examples. Whatever rules you set, the goal is for all participants to do their best work and give to others the same kind of quality you would want to receive.

Carol: There are a couple of very important things to do when starting a group. First, invite people who like the same type of quilts that you do, so everyone will be on the same page. Second, invite people who have comparable sewing abilities. Exchanges are successful only if all members make blocks that they would like to receive, doing their best work. It’s disappointing to receive blocks that can’t be used because they aren’t the right size, or don’t follow the agreed-upon fabric palette.

From Gayle: What has been your favorite Divas’ block exchange, and why? What’s been the most challenging exchange?

Betsy: Gayle, in nearly 20 years of exchanging, and well over 40 exchanges, it’s pretty tough to pick a favorite! Years ago we made simple 3″ brown-and-cream Nine Patch blocks. So simple, yet the possibilities for settings were endless. In more recent exchanges, my favorite is the Album. The 5″ blocks are SO cute. I love small blocks. As one of our Divas said, they’re like eating potato chips—you can’t eat just one—just like you can’t make just one Album block.

The most challenging exchange for me, from years ago, was the Blindman’s Fancy, because the pieces were so big! We weren’t very restrictive in fabric selection, which meant the wilder the better. You would think it would be easy. NOT! I have yet to set those blocks.

More recently, the most challenging block for me has been the paper-pieced Sunburst. While I had paper pieced before, this was my first circular paper-pieced design. It’s not a quick block to make, and I like that it made me slow down. We had an early 1800s time period set for the fabrics, which added to the challenge. I love searching for just the right fabrics! We appliquéd the circular blocks to a background before setting the blocks together. Check out the method I used for appliqué—super slick, and detailed in the Sunburst chapter.

Simple blocks are quick to make and offer stunning options, but it’s a wonderful experience to take on more challenging blocks that require more time and thought. Regardless, enjoy the process!

Daybreak by Diva Betsy Chutchian

Carol: My favorite exchange was Blindman’s Fancy because the blocks are so scrappy. Almost any fabric works as long as attention is paid to value and contrast.

The most challenging was the Sunburst and Sunflower exchange. It was offered as one exchange and members could choose which one they wanted to do. One block used templates and the other used paper piecing. Both used hand appliqué as well. For some members, templates were a new thing; once one block was made, the rest was easy. We found the same to be true of the paper foundations.

Fields of Color by Diva Carol Staehle

From Tina: Do you have any tips for making the cutting or sewing of the kind of blocks you make easier?

Betsy: Tina, scrappy blocks are ideal for a block exchange among friends. That way, you select fabrics to cut in order to make several like blocks at a time. Say you are exchanging with five friends; you would cut and sew six identical blocks. When you meet to exchange, you keep one and give your friends one block each. They do the same in return. Everyone goes home with six different blocks. That exchange would be for one set. Repeat the process per set, to equal the total number of blocks you need for your quilt. That’s much faster than selecting different fabrics for each block in the quilt.

To make sewing easier and quicker, chain piece like parts before moving to the next step. To speed up cutting but maintain accuracy, layer no more than 4 to 6 fabrics at a time. A consistent pressing plan makes the entire sewing process go smoothly.

Carol: One tip I would give is to make a test block first, before jumping in and cutting everything for an exchange. As with most everything we sew, there’s a learning curve. The more you make, the better and faster the sewing becomes. But don’t get caught up with speed. Accuracy is extremely important.

One more thing with exchanges—don’t wait until the last minute to start sewing. Many times the sewing takes longer than anticipated, and then you are rushed to complete the blocks. It’s possible that quality will suffer.

Did you know? A special exhibit of quilts from the 19th-Century Patchwork Divas’ Treasury of Quilts was on display at Quilt Market and Quilt Festival just a few weeks ago in Houston, Texas. Martingale was a proud sponsor of the exhibit along with Moda Fabrics. You’ll get an exclusive look at the spectacular quilts in the exhibit soon in a special video we’re producing. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram so you won’t miss it!

From the Divas’ Special Exhibit at Quilt Market

19th-Century-Patchwork-Divas-Treasury-of-QuiltsWhat’s your experience with block-exchange groups:

  • I’m in one right now!
  • I’ve been in exchange groups before.
  • I’m new to block exchanges—where do I sign up?

Tell us your answer in the comments and you could win the gorgeous bundle of Betsy’s fabric from Moda Fabrics and a copy of the 19th-Century Patchwork Divas’ Treasury of Quilts! We’ll choose one random winner a week from today and let you know by email if you win.

Can’t wait to join the Divas? Buy the book now and instantly download the eBook version for free.

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Thanks to all who entered the drawing. The winner is Jeanette, who says:

“Guild block exchanges in guilds–great fun and you get different viewpoints.”

We’ll email you about your prize, Jeanette—congratulations!







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