From our Free Quilt Block Patterns Library
Skill Level: Confident Beginner
The 54-40 or Fight quilt block is made from two basic units: four patches (in two color combinations) and a triangle in a square unit.
This three fabric block is based on a 3x3 grid.
On this page you'll find complete directions to make a 9" version of this block, along with links to free downloads for the paper pieced units.
For inspiration, several variations of this design are illustrated.
Because all quilters sometimes make blocks that don't quite work—I share an 'oops!'—a quick lesson in color value to help you avoid a common mistake and make more spectacular blocks!
And finally, see this block paired as an alternate block in our short video 'Quilt Layouts 101'.
You'll need three fabrics to construct this 9" 54-40 or Fight quilt block—a background fabric, a two others of either medium or dark value.
It's important that there is enough contrast between the star points and the background fabric. If there isn't, the star points will get lost in the design.
Our background fabric is yellow, Fabric A is the print, Fabric B is orange.
The Triangle in a Square (TiaS) units are paper pieced for accuracy. Click on each of the links below. This takes you to the PDF page where you can print.
In order to print blocks at the correct size, under 'Page Sizing and Handling' in the Adobe print menu, set 'Custom Scale' to 100%. Click here to see what it looks like on the Print Menu page.
The strips include a bit of extra length so that you have room to square up the ends if needed.
For the corner four patches, cut:
For the center four patch, cut:**
**If you have come to this page from our video "Quilt Layouts: Part I", replace this center four patch with a solid 3-1/2" square from a fourth fabric of light/medium value.
For the TiaS, cut from the:
Layer these rectangles, two pairs of right sides together.
Warning: If you lay all the rectangles either all right side up or all right side down, you will end up with either 8 left or 8 right triangle points—not fun!!
Lay Template B on top aligning all the edges. With your rotary cutter and ruler cut through the template and all four layers along the diagonal line.
Separate these triangles into two piles, four of the left triangle patch and four of the right triangle patch.
Corner four patches
Stitch the two 2"x17" strips together into a strip set. After stitching, it measures 3-1/2"x17".
Press the unit flat to set the seam. Then press the unit open with the seam allowances towards the dark. Press in this manner every time you are instructed to 'press' for flatter, more accurate quilt blocks.
Make eight 2" wide subcuts.
Sew them into four four patches that measure 3-1/2" x 3-1/2". Press and set aside.
Center Four Patch
Stitch the 2" x 4-1/2" rectangles together into a strip set that measure 3-1/2" x 4-1/2". Press.
Subcut into two 2" wide units.
Sew them into a four patch unit that measures 3-1/2" x 3-1/2". Press and set aside.
Take the patterns you printed in Step 1 and rough cut just outside the dotted lines of the block patterns. There's no reason to be exact as we'll trim them later.
Do cut the templates out on the lines as it will assist in placing them on your fabric and minimizing waste.
For a lesson on making this unit, visit our Triangle in a Square tutorial.
Trim to Size
Once all the units are completely stitched, I line them all up at the same time on the cutting mat.
Align the 1/4" line of the ruler with the outside sewing line (the solid line) and trim each block individually. Having the blocks all lined up saves time. You don't need to move the ruler so much for each cut.
Use a small mat for this trimming, and you can turn the mat instead of each individual block—saving even MORE time.
Repeat for each side of every TiaS unit and you'll end up with these perfect little units that measure 3-1/2" x 3-1/2".
Layout your units to create the 54-40 or Fight design—paying special attention to the orientation of the four patches. (Substitute that 3-1/2" for the center four patch if needed.)
Sew each row together. Press with the seam allowances in the direction of the arrows, towards the four patch units.
Pin the top row to the middle row. Stitch. Press flat to set the seams, then again with the SA towards the center row. Repeat for the bottom row.
Congratulations! You have made 54-40 or Fight quilt block that measures 9-1/2" square from edge to edge.
Quilters love to play with their blocks. There are several blocks based on the 54-40 or Fight quilt block that merely change the number of fabrics used or the position of those fabrics.
This two-color version is most commonly known as Grandma's Star. Other names include Nine Patch Star Quilt and Railroad Quilt.
The four patch units form chains on the diagonal that run in one direction.
Another two color variation. This time the four patches form chains that cross the block. It is called Garden Patch or Texas or An Old Fashioned Pinwheel.
This 'Bird of Paradise' version requires three fabrics. The crossing chains formed by the four patches are almost disguised by the color placement.
The 54-40 or Fight quilt block requires three fabrics.
In a successful block there is enough difference in the values of the fabrics so that both the four patches and the star points show.
To the right is the first sample I made for this block. All beautiful hand dyed fabrics, that when laid out next to each other looked perfect.
But as you can see, once it was assembled the star points pretty much disappeared into the 4-patches.
This does happen every now and again. Something looks great as individual fabrics, but then just doesn't work when the patches are stitched together. No quilter is immune.
The lessons learned:
In our short video, "Quilt Layouts 101", you can watch how we've paired this block with a Mrs. Brown's Choice quilt block to come up with a dazzling quilt design.
Pour yourself a glass of liquid refreshment (mine's a latte!) and enjoy!
These are my go-to resources for quilt block ideas.
Can you tell?
It's in color.
It's got a ton of blocks.
What's not to love?
Next on my 'must-have' list is Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.
Unlike the Maggie Malone book, the blocks in this volume are hand-drawn and in black and white—no color—personally, I prefer colored drawings to work with.
This book is no longer in print.
If you can come by a copy expect it to be wickedly expensive. Once in awhile you can find it here on Amazon.com.
UPDATE: Electric Quilt, in cooperation with Barbara Brackman has announced they plan to republish the Encyclopedia sometime in 2020.
However, all is not lost if you can't find a hard copy.
BlockBase is the computerized version of the Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.
It contains designs for over 4300 blocks—pretty much every block published from the 1830's through the 1970's.
It can be used with Electric Quilt and is a Windows based program.
In fact, there are instructions included so that you can pull up the digital patterns within Electric Quilt (PC version for now) without having to open up BB program.
UPDATE: Electric Quilt has announced that they will be rereleasing the standalone BlockBase software for BOTH PC and MAC in 2020.
This is terrific news.
Finally there's The Quilter's Album of Patchwork Patterns by Jinny Beyer.
Lots of detail and in color, it is a beautiful volume. That said, I check it out of my local library on a regular basis instead of purchasing it—can you see the library sticker on it's spine. Yep, it's from the Plainfield Public Library.
Simply because I own the previous three references and find this the least user-friendly of the group.
And it does make a fabulous coffee table book!