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Quilting a Louisa May Alcott Block

Kaye England demonstrates a block from her book about historical women who broke the mold -- the Louisa May Alcott block.

Sometimes we follow the rules and do quilt patterns by the book, and sometimes we don't.

Rule-breaking quilts of yesterday are inspiring quilts of today. In this episode of Simply Quilts, we're going beyond the status quo for a look at quilts and women who have dared to shake things up.

Guest Kaye England, author of Voices of the Past: A History of Women's Lives in Patchwork, joins the show to share a pieced block designed to honor a maverick in her own time — Louisa May Alcott (author of the classic Little Women).

Louisa May Alcott chose to remain unmarried, which was very unusual of a woman of her era. She lived during the pre-Civil War time period, and she was the sole supporter of her family. For these reasons, she was a maverick in her own right. England, an avid historian, developed this quilt block design to honor the life of Louisa May Alcott. In this block, the outside four stars is symbolic of the "girls" in little women and the center star is symbolic of the matriarch character, "Marmie."

The block is basically a 9-patch with five small, eight-point stars set in the corners and center and four quarter-square triangles set in between. For each star units in the block, cut (five times):
4, 1-1/2" squares (light fabric) for the corners
12, 1-1/2" squares (dark fabric) for connectors
4, 4-1/2" x 2-1/2" rectangles (light fabric)
2, 2-1/2" squares (light fabric) for the center

1. Fold the connector blocks in half on the diagonal, wrong sides of the fabric together. Unfold and place the "scored" connector onto one corner of a 4-1/2" x 2-1/2" rectangle, right sides together and stitch it down along the fold line (figure A).

Cut away the middle piece of fabric (figure B).

2. Add another square to the other side of the rectangle and trim to render a Flying Geese unit (figure C). Repeat to make four of these units for one star block.

3. For the center unit, sew connector squares to each corner of the 2-1/2" square and trim away the middle in same manner as described in step 1 (figure D).

Figure E

4. Construct the star in a 9-patch configuration, stitching a 1-1/2" square to either side of a Flying Geese unit for the top and bottom row and two Flying Geese to either side of the center unit for the middle row (figure E).

5. Make four quarter-square units measuring 4". To make them, cut four, 5-1/4" squares from the dark fabric and four, 5-1/4" squares from the light fabric. Pair the squares off, stacking a dark square on top of a light square with rights sides together. Draw a line down the diagonal of the top square and stitch 1/4" away from either side of the line. Cut on the drawn center line. If you want to press at this point, press the light to the dark. A quick finger press should suffice. Stack the units on top of one another with the colors in the opposite direction (figure F).

"Lock" the seams together. Draw another line opposite of the stitched diagonal, stitch 1/4" away from it on either side, and cut on the line. Unfold to reveal the finished unit (figure G).

Tip: To use this shortcut for other quarter-square triangle blocks, add 1-1/4" to the finished outside edge (the one that's adjacent to the angle) to know what size to cut your square.

6. Assemble the block in 9-patch formation as shown (figure H). Stitch the top row to the middle row to the bottom row.

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