From our Free Quilt Block Patterns Library
Skill Level: Beginner
The Illinois quilt block is made of half squares triangles and pairs of Flying Geese...all basic units...which makes it a great practice block for the beginning quilter.
For perfectly-pieced Geese, we'll use a paper piecing technique. You'll find the free pattern downloads within the cutting chart.
Choose a size and two fabrics. We're ready for the Illinois quilt block!
These abbreviations are used in this tutorial:
SA are 1/4" and pressed toward the darker fabric unless noted otherwise.
When you are instructed to press, first press the pieced unit flat to set the seam. Then open the patch, pressing from the front.
Starching your quilt fabric makes everything eaiser. Learn about it here.
To open and print the Flying Geese units (FGU) you need the Adobe Reader installed on your computer. You can get Adobe Reader here (a new window will open so you can download it without leaving this page) if you need it.
Open the downloaded file at the intersection of 'Print FGUs' and your finished block's size. You'll find these downloads in the Cutting Chart in Step 2 below in the row highlighted in yellow.
Select the "Print" option. Under 'Page Sizing and Handling' in the Adobe print menu, set 'Custom Scale' to 100%. You must do this for the pattern to print correctly.
Click here to see what it looks like on the Print Menu page.
After printing one page, measure to confirm that it printed correctly, then continue with any remaining copies.
We'll use two different techniques—traditional piecing for the HSTs and paperpiecing for the Flying Geese Units(FGU).
#5 and #6 are cut exactly to size. However, I prefer to sew larger and trim to perfection, so before I cut those patches, I add a 1/4" to each dimension.
The remainder of the patches are oversized to make paperpiecing a breeze.
Make fabric choices with good contrast so that you don't lose any of the points in your Illinois block. (See my note after the finished block!)
Cutting Chart for a~ Paper Piecing ~
|Patch||Fabric||Qty||Finished Block Size||Sub|
|Unfinished Block Size||5”||6-1/2”||8”||12-1/2”||--|
|Print FGUs||1-1/2"||2"||2-1/2"||4", print 2||--|
Using the Quick Pieced method of making HST, draw a diagonal line on the back of the #5 squares.
Layer each with right sides together (RST) with a #6.
Sew a 1/4" away from both sides of the diagonal mark. Repeat for the other pair.
Cut apart on the line.
If you've cut oversized patches as I did, trim these units to size.
|Trim HST to…|
For the 7-1/2" finished Illinois quilt block in this example the HSTs were trimmed to 3" x 3".
After trimming, these are our HSTs.
If you need more detailed instructions, click here to go to Technique #1: Creating Quick Pieced Half Square Triangles.
Hate paper piecing? Click here for alternative methods for constructing Flying Geese units.
Flying Geese Units (FGU)
For paper piecing, set your stitch length to 15-18. If you have one, install an open to applique foot. It gives you an unobstructed view of where your needle pierces the fabric.
Cut out the patterns. Don't bother cutting exactly on the outside dashed lines. They are trimmed in the last step.
Using a little dab of Elmer's Glue Stick (goes on purple, dries clear) position #1 on the unprinted side of the pattern.
With RST, align a #2 with the #1. You can choose either side first. My recommendation is to be consistent so that you can develop a piecing rhythm— especially if you're making more than one block.
Stitch on the line between #1 and #2, both starting before and ending after the solid line. As the units are sewn together, that stitching secures these seamlines.
To establish the next placement line, place this patch on your cutting mat, paper-side up.
Line-up the edge of your ruler with the solid line between #1-2 and #3. Crease the paper along your ruler's edge. Fold back the paper on this line.
Now position the 1/4" mark on the folded edge and cut the excess fabric away with your rotary cutter. You've now established the next placement line.
With RST, align the long edge of a #3 with the cut edge. Sew on the line, starting and stopping outside the dashed lines.
Continue on in this manner for the remaining #4 patches.
Trim to the same dimensions as the HST.
For more detailed instructions for these FGUs, visit our Arrowhead Quilt Block, Step 3. (Hit your back arrow to return here.)
Return your sewing machine to a normal, piecing stitch length. Install your quarter inch foot.
Lay out the units into the Illinois design. Pay particular attention to the FGUs pointing out from the center. The dark side of the HST is in each corner.
Sew the units into rows. Press with the SA away from the FGUs.
Stitch the rows together. Use pins to ensure a good match at the seam allowances. The inner Geese form the illusion of a square-in-a-square block.
If your Illinois quilt blocks are going to be set with sashing strips, I prefer to press these final seams away from the Flying Geese. If they'll be set edge-to-edge, then I'll press these SAs to the center.
This is our finished Illinois quilt block.
...this is a seriously funky block! Lot's of motion, but to my traditional eye...much, much, much too busy.
To tone it down, I could choose a smaller scale in the black and white print. Then the contrast in the size of both prints would tell your eyes what to look at. Right now, your eye is constantly moving. Dizzy!
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!