New to Quilting?

If you are brand new to quilting and don't know where to begin, start with the posts in September 2011 (look in the blog archive). The first four posts cover basics such as choosing equipment, choosing colors, how to sew 1/4" seams, how to use a rotary cutter, and how to press (not iron) your block during construction.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Disappearing Nine Patch Tutorial

Disappearing Nine Patch
This is the block we will be sewing on October 6 at Kaye's house.

These directions have lots and lots of baby steps because I'm writing them so that either Crystal (who hasn't sewn much since elementary school) or my 11 year old niece (who has only sewn two pillowcases) can read the directions and follow the pictures without too many questions.

Here's the pattern we are using. You should be able to click on it and bring it up full size, then print from your browser window.

Ruth's 12" Disappearing Nine Patch

If you look very closely at the photos of the block I am sewing, you'll see that I re-sized my block to 9" finished size. (Finished size means that is the size of the block after it is completely sewn into the quilt.) Crystal's quilt is using 9" blocks, so that's why the different size.  All the measurements in the directions will be for Ruth's 12" Disappearing Nine Patch (with the 9" size in parenthesis).

Choose 2 colors and 1 background color OR 3 colors. (If you need help choosing colors, look at this post, Choosing Colors.)

It's nice to get a good idea of what your block will look like before you cut it out and sew it together so print out and color in the worksheet below.
You should be able to click on the picture above and you will see it full size. Print it, color it, and cut it apart so that you have a paper quilt block to play with.

Photo 1: Here are my worksheets colored in and cut apart along the dotted lines (through the center of the block) so that I have four corner units. I made two color designs (Design A and Design B) so I could play with the paper blocks and see which pattern I liked best without having to cut and sew fabric yet.
Photo 2: The blocks are in the same order as they were in the Photo 1. In each example I rotated the top left and bottom right corner units 180˚. Look for the darkest blue square to see where it moved from Photo 1 to Photo 2.

Photo 3: These blocks are also in the same order as Photo 1, but I rotated each corner unit 90˚ (1/4 turn). The pattern is much different than in Photo 2. Again, if you follow the small, dark blue square from Photo 1 to Photo 3 you can see where it 'travelled'.
I decided on Design A on the left in Photo 1 and will cut and sew so that the final block will be Design A Layout 2 in Photo 2.
Cut four A (corner) squares 4 3/4" (3 3/4")
Cut four B (center side) squares 4 3/4"  (3 3/4")
Cut one C (center) square 4 3/4"  (3 3/4") 
Place your fabric squares in the pattern to match the worksheet (mine matches the worksheet on the left in Photo 1) If you have an old flannel board, it makes a great board to carry your block between the cutting table and the sewing machine.

Lay the center squares right-sides together with the squares on the left of the center squares.
Pin at the top and bottom of each square so that when you sew your corners will match up properly.
 Sew starting with the top two blocks. Don't clip the threads between the sub-units you are making. This is called 'chain sewing'. Chain sewing saves time and also locks the threads between sub-units so you never have loose threads getting in the way. It also helps to keep your pieces in order so you have less chance of sewing the a sub-unit into the finished block in the wrong direction or the wrong order (yeah... I've done that!)

This photo shows the bottom sub-unit ready to start sewing. You can see the thread starts on the 'hairy' at the top and isn't clipped between the blocks
(If you need to see a video about chain sewing and 1/4" seams look at this post Perfect 1/4" Seams and Chain Sewing.)
First three sub-units sewn together on the left. 
Put the row of blocks on the right, right sides together with the blocks that were originally in the center.
Pin at the top and bottom of each block, just as you did with the first set of blocks.
Chain sew the three blocks onto the first three sub-units.
Yay! Three sub-units sewn!
Press so that the seams lie in opposite directions (see next photo).
I've chosen to press the seams to the blue fabric. That means that whole seam allowance is pressed to one side.
When sewing clothing we often press a seam open. In quilting we almost always press the seam to one side. It provides strength and stability in your finished block and quilt as well as letting you 'lock' seams when sewing sub-units together. (There's a video at the end of this post showing how to press a seam so it will nest.)

Here's a closer photo of the seams being pressed towards the blue fabric.
 Lay the left sub-unit strip over the center sub-unit strip and fit the seams together. First pin where the seams are matched (nested) together, then pin at the top and bottom of the strip.
With the seams all pressed towards the blue, the seams 'nest' together. 

Lay the other side over the top of the center and match (nest) the seams together. Pin just as you did for the first strip.
Right now it is more important to nest the seams than to line up the top and bottom edges of the block.

Sew down both sides.

Finished (almost) and pressed. This is a basic Nine-Patch block. It should look just like the worksheet you started with.

Although I cut my block into four sections (just like you did with the worksheet) I don't measure from the edge.
Instead I measure the size of the center block, divide that number by 2, and then measure from the seamed edge of the center block by the answer. (The center square on my 12-inch block was 4 1/4-inches, so I cut 2 1/8-inches from the seamed edge of my center block. On the 9-inch block I cut 1 5/8-inches from the seamed edge of the center block).
Line up your ruler so that the measurement line on the ruler is the same all the way through the block. (Click on the photo to enlarge, then you can see the measurement line on the ruler lined up along the seam line in the block).
Cut along the ruler.
The photo shows the second cut ready to be made, the first one is already done.

Spread your corner units apart. Then rotate them just like you did with your worksheet.
I rotated the top left and bottom right blocks 180˚ (check out Photo 2 at the beginning of the post).

Fold the two sub-units on the right over the sub-units on the left and pin the edges that will become the center of the block.

My seam allowance is towards the presser foot, which often makes it hard to sew flat, so I use my chenille needle (or you can use an awl or bamboo skewer) to hold the seam allowance down until it gets under the presser foot.

After chain sewing each sub-unit together lay them out on your ironing board (or flannel board) in opposite directions. Press the seams flat before you open the block. Pressing the block before you open it sticks the seam to the ironing board so that when you open the block your seam naturally stays down. 

Open your sub-units and press. The seams should be going opposite directions so that you can lock them together and get a perfect center seam.
 Put the two strips right side together and sew the center seam.

Squaring up your block: Your block should measure close to 13" (10"). Your finished block needs to be 12" (9") after it is sewn into the quilt and 12 1/2" (9 1/2") before you sew it into your quilt.

It is easiest to use a 12 1/2" (9 1/2") square ruler to trim your blocks edges.
Center the ruler over your block lining up the center seams with one of the lines that goes through the ruler. (Good excuse to buy another ruler!!)
Use your rotary cutter to trim around the edges.

This photo shows how the ruler lines line up with the block seams below it.

Trimmed and ready to go into a quilt! Your block should measure 12 1/2" (9 1/2")
Here's a video explaining how to square up a block. Your blocks will be 12 1/2", not 12" as she shows in the video, but she does a great job in the tutorial.

Another video:

How to Nest Patchwork Quilt Seams


  1. Thank you for the directions. I'm a new quilter.

  2. Thank you for the very clear pattern instructions for the disappearing nine patch. I love how you showed step by step with pictures. It makes so much more sense to me, when shown that way.


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