February 8, 2016

Chart 35: Block Order and Mrs. Keller, Block #69 in the Farmer's Wife 1930s Sew Along

The Order of Things

I can't imagine living in a world without alphabetical and numerical order. It would be unbelievably chaotic. But, they are not the only ways to establish order out of chaos. Sometimes short to tall or narrow to wide are appropriate ways to sort. Left to right, right to left, ladies first, PFC to General, and rainbow order of fabrics are some other sorting techniques that come to mind quickly. It would be fun to make a list of all the ways we sort or create order in our lives.

Someone remarked to me the other day, "I thought you said we were doing the blocks from the easiest to the hardest. If they get much harder, I'll never finish this quilt."  Let me tell you what I have tried to do and why. First, I would never try to put almost 100 diverse blocks into easiest to hardest order.

Without hesitation, the first 10 or 12 blocks were selected to provide a fast start. It seemed to me that the more blocks you finished quickly, the more you were likely to commit to finishing the quilt. But, some of the easier blocks show up much later to offer encouragement for the final push.

To me, the Sew Along is about encouraging progress and learning, sharing experiences and being in this together, all around the world. I love the parallel that our Sew Along is connecting quilters just as the letters written by the farmers' wives of the 1930s, and selected by Laurie for the book, were letters of encouragement and sharing for those women who were connecting through the magazine.

So, you might ask, if we didn't try to sort easy to hard, what did we do?

Most Common Shapes

Sorting by the tools and/or shapes was my first sort. We chose to make blocks that used the most common patchwork shapes first, but we did not exhaust the supply of blocks with simple shapes.

Challenge Level

Likewise, some of the blocks that Laurie chose for this quilt are quite challenging and/or time-consuming. Those are sprinkled in throughout the year. My goal was to create a comfortable rhythm of difficulty and order, regardless of the techniques that you are using.

Common Cutting or Piecing

Sorting by unique cutting or piecing issues was important because repetition is one of the best ways to really add a technique to your quiltmaking toolbox. The repetition of making several blocks in a row that include mirror image cutting, for example, will raise your awareness and increase your understanding of mirror image issues forever.

Template Friendly or Not?

Sorting the blocks that are not (or not very) From Marti Michell acrylic template friendly and finding a comfortable rate of introducing them into the Sew Along was important to keep the interest of those of us who want to cut with acrylic templates. To make that possible, we often added optional template-friendly blocks.

Random Order

This sounds like a perfect oxymoron to me! But I used it, too. Random order would mean that all the blocks in the book have an equal chance of being the next block. In all my sorting, some blocks just didn't really fit any group, like Daffodil and Priscilla, so they were included in a rather random way.

I hope you are enjoying the surprise element of what block might be next and, even more, that you have found the grouping of shapes and techniques helpful in your Sew Along patchwork journey.

My Mrs. Keller Block

Click on the image for a larger view. Click the link to download the cutting and sewing chart for Mrs. Keller:

From Marti Michell Chart #35

for cutting and sewing the Mrs. Keller block
In addition to our template conversion PDF download, you will want to read Gnome Angel's tutorials for these blocks.

The Farmer’s Wife 1930s Sampler Quilt: Inspiring Letters from Farm Women of the Great Depression and 99 Quilt Blocks That Honor Them by Laurie Aaron Hird for Fons & Porter/F+W.


  1. Thank you Marti. I always had an inkling there was a method to the block selection - I just couldn't always see it. People can always come back to one of the random (harder) blocks later on as it is amazing how much our skills develop with each and every block we complete.

  2. Thanks to everyone who wrote to let us know the link for the PDF went to the wrong file, and to Angie for running interference. The link works correctly now. We're sorry for the mix-up. To the person who wrote "this is probably the 567th time someone's written to you about it", thanks for the smile. Your comment actually rounded out only a dozen. :)