Hourglass Quilt Block Pattern Tutorial

From our Free Quilt Block Pattern Library

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Skill Level: Beginner

The Hourglass quilt block is a block full of triangle shapes—but you don't have to cut a single triangle or deal with a bias edge to make this block!

Sometimes you'll see it referred to as a 'Cotton Reel'.

Simply put, its really just a big ol' quarter square triangle. (Click here for other methods to make quarter square triangles.)

When used as an alternate block it forms a nice secondary pattern with almost any other block you put it with.

Hourglass quilt block tutorial

A terrific block to have in your quilting repertoire!

On this page you'll find instructions to make this block in 5 different sizes, along with illustrations and instructions for other blocks that use the same name.

Let's get to piecing!

General Instructions

Abbreviations used on this page include:

  • SA - seam allowance
  • RST - right sides together

SA are 1/4" and are pressed toward the darker fabric unless otherwise noted.

When instructed to press, first press the pieced unit flat to set the seam. Then open the patch, pressing from the front.

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Step 1: Cut patches for an Hourglass block

Hourglass quilt block design drawingHourglass design

Sample Size: 3" finished / 3-1/2" unfinished

Grid: 2x2

AKA: Cotton Reel

Design Type: Basic quilt block

My preference is to make the Hourglass quilt block with oversized patches, stitch it and then trim it to size at the end. Perfect blocks make assemblying the top so much easier.

The dimensions in the chart below are for squares.

For the 3" finished block in this example, for Fabric A, 4-1/4" refers to cutting a 4-1/4" x 4-1/4" square.

Because I like to use oversized squares, I add 3/8" to each measurement, meaning I cut it 4-5/8" x 4-5/8".

Every two squares creates 2 blocks.

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Cutting Chart for an
Hourglass Quilt Block

~ Traditional Piecing ~

Patch Qty Finished Block Size
2”3”4"5”6”
A13-1/4” 4-1/4” 5-1/4” 6-1/4”7-1/4”
B13-1/4” 4-1/4”5-1/4” 6-1/4” 7-1/4”
Grid Size1”1-1/2”2”2-1/2”3”
Unfinished block size2-1/2"3-1/2"4-1/2"5-1/2"6-1/2"

Click here to see the cut patches. I've already drawn a diagonal line corner to corner on the lighter patch in preparation for the first round of sewing.

Step 2: Stitch the Hourglass quilt block

Layer the A and the B square with right sides together (RST).

Use pins to hold them together (especially as they get larger or if you've cut the patches the 'exact' size).

Stitch a 1/4" away from the drawn line on both sides.

Stitch 1/4Stitch 1/4" away from both sides of the diagonal line

The orange arrow above points to my anchor cloth. (I use this folded piece of scrap fabric to save thread and to ensure that my sewing machine doesn't 'eat the points' as the fabric is fed through.)

Cut the stitched unit apart on the drawn line with either a scissor or rotary cutter.

Cut the sewn patches in half

Press the units. First in the closed position (Fig. 1). And then open (Fig. 2).

If you start with the dark fabric on top, then when you open them, they are automatically pressed to the dark side.

Pressing flat

Draw a diagonal line, perpendicular with the sewn seam on just one of the sewn units.

Mark the sewn HST

With RST, layer the two sewn squares.

The SAs nest to make matching the seam much easier. Use pins if needed.

In the photo below, notice how the SA is pointing towards the needle. That helps to keep the seams aligned during stitching. Stitch 1/4" away from both side of the line.

Sew 1/4

Cut the unit apart on the drawn line.

Cut the sewn patches in half again

Press. First closed to set the SA, and then open.

Below one seam is pressed to one side, the other is pressed so that the SAs 'twirl'. This is to reduce bulk.

Twirl the SA on the HourglassTwirling the SA on the Hourglass

To trim these units to size, find the Midpoint or Center measurement of the unfinished block.

This is simply the unfinished dimension divided by 2 or...

3-1/2" divided by 2 = 1-3/4"

Or use the chart below:

Hourglass Dimensions

Finished
Block Size
Center/Midpoint
Measurement
Trim block to
2" 1-1/4" 2-1/2"
3" 1-3/4" 3-1/2"
4" 2-1/4" 4-1/2"
5" 2-3/4" 5-1/2"
6" 3-1/4" 6-1/2"

Match the 45 degree mark on the ruler with the diagonal seamline.

Match the Center/Midpoint of 1-3/4" with the intersection of the center seams (black arrow above). Double check your ruler positioning and then trim two sides with your rotary cutter.

Flip the block so that the two untrimmed sides are exposed. Find the midpoint, align the ruler and trim so that the block is the finished size PLUS 1/2" or 3-1/2".

This is your finished pair of Hourglass quilt blocks.

A pair of finished Hourglass quilt blocksA pair of finished Hourglass quilt blocks

Same name, different block

'Hourglass' is a unbelievably common name for quilt blocks. The ones shown below are know as Hourglass quilt blocks, too.

Use your cursor to click on the colored illustrations to go to instructions on how to make that particular version of the Hourglass or additional names for the block.

Hourglass quilt block variation 1 Hourglass quilt block variation 2 Hourglass quilt block variation 3 Hourglass quilt block, Cat's Cradle variation 4 Hourglass quilt block variation 5 Hourglass quilt block, Economy variation 6 Hourglass quilt block, Old Maid's Puzzle, variation 7 Hourglass quilt block, Big Dipper, variation 8 Hourglass quilt block variation 9 Hourglass quilt block variation 10 Hourglass quilt block, Buckeye Beauty, variation 11 Hourglass quilt block variation 12

Share your work to inspire other Quilters!

If you use our tutorials to make your blocks and quilts, there are some easy ways to share your creations so other quilters (including me!) can enjoy the fruits of your labor:

  • On Instagram please tag your blocks and quilts with the hashtag #GenerationsQuiltPatterns.
  • Visit our Show n'Tell page on the website. Click here to share photos and tell your own story, just start typing at 'The name of your quilt is...'. If you'd prefer to submit more photos than the form allows, simply email them to me at julie@generations-quilt-patterns.com.

I love seeing your work!

Our readers do, too!

For even more blocks to make...

Click here to learn about my favorite quilt book resources that inspire my patchwork designs.

For you, are quilt block designs like potato chips...

...you can't have just one?!!

Check the amazing resources I rely on for all the quilt block designs you see on this website. 

To see if they're worthy of a spot in YOUR quilting library, CLICK HERE.


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