The Propeller Quilt Block

From our Free Quilt Block Patterns Library

by Julie Baird

This post contains affiliate links for which I receive compensation.

The Propeller quilt block is a great place to start to expand your piecing skills.

With just half square triangles and strip-pieced pairs, you'll be ready for take off in no time.

Here we'll use the quick pieced method for making those half square triangles.

Should you choose to make a whole quilt from this block, links are provided to other half square triangle techniques.

These other options will help you streamline the construction when you have more than one block to make.

The Propeller is spinning, we're ready for take off. Let's begin.

General Instructions

Several common abbreviations are used in this tutorial:

  • RST - right sides together
  • SA - seam allowance
  • HST - half square triangle

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

I've used the Quick Quarter Ruler to mark the stitching lines on my HST. You can learn more about that tool here.

I've marked with my favorite, Bohin Mechanical Chalk Pencil. Learn more about that marking tool here.

Step 1: Cutting a Propeller quilt block

Propeller quilt block designPropeller design

Two fabrics are all you'll need for your Propeller block.

Here I've used two batiks.

One of the benefits of using a batik is that they take a press so well.

However, they can bleed.

I advise that you do a check for bleeding fabric before you begin if you're making a whole quilt from this block.

Good contrast between the colors and values is always a good thing when there's points in the design.

You always want your pointy piecing to show.

Click here to download a copy of the cutting chart and the block design to use at your cutting table.

Generations Quilt Patterns logo

Cutting Chart for a
Propeller Quilt Block

~Traditional Piecing ~

PatchFabricQtyFinished Block Size
5" 7½" 10"
1** Light 2 2⅞" x 2⅞" 3⅞" x 3⅞" 4⅞" x 4⅞"
2** Dark 2 2⅞" x 2⅞" 3⅞" x 3⅞" 4⅞" x 4⅞"
3 Light 1 1½" x 7" 2" x 9" 2½" x 11"
4 Dark 1 1½" x 7" 2" x 9" 2½" x 11"
5 Light 1 1½" x 1½" 2" x 2" 2½" x 2½"
Unfinished Block Size 5½" 8" 10½"
Grid Size 1" 1½" 2"
**I prefer to cut my patches extra large for HST, stitch, and then trim them to size. If you prefer to do the same, add a bit extra to the measurements for Patches #1 and #2 above (I added 3/8" to each dimension for the sample block).

There is a chart further down in these instructions where you need it for trimming them to size.

If you have a perfectly reliable 1/4" seam allowance use the dimensions in the cutting charts for this patches.

My go-to thread for all my piecing is...

These are the cut patches for our Propeller sample.

Patches are cut for the Propeller blockWhile I marked the light #1 squares with a pencil and my quick quarter, I could have just as easily marked the darker #2 with my Bohin mechanical chalk pencil. You can compare their marks in the next photo.

Step 2: Assemble the Propeller units

Half square trianglesMake 4

Use a Quick Quarter ruler to mark two diagonal lines on the back of either the #1 or #2 square—whichever one it's easier to see the lines on. These lines are 1/4" away from the center diagonal.

Here, I've marked the #2 with my white chalk Bohin marker.

Sewing HSTThe marks were made with my Bohin Mechanical Chalk pencil—my favorite marking tool. An open toe applique foot is installed.

Stitch on the drawn lines. An open toe applique foot is perfect for this sewing because there's nothing blocking your view of the needle.

Helpful Hint

If you don't have this ruler, you can simply mark one diagonal line and then stitch a quarter inch from both sides of the line on both pairs of patches.

After stitching, press both pairs flat to set the seams.

Cut each pair in half between the stitching (below, left). You have four HSTs.

If you cut oversized patches like I did, you'll need to trim them down to size. (If you cut them exactly as instructed in the Cutting Chart, use this measurement to confirm they are the correct size. Trim away any dog ears.)

Find your 'Trim HST to...' size from the chart below.

Hst Dimensions
Block Size
Trim HST to…
5" 2½"
7½" 3½"
10" 4½"

This is what your units look like during the process.

Preparing HSTsCut between the stitching (left), untrimmed (middle), and trimmed (right)

For more on this method for making HST, click here.

For other methods to efficiently make lots of HST, click here.

Side patch pairs

Side Pairs

Make 4

With your favorite quarter inch foot installed (mine has a guide on the right side), with RST, stitch the #3 and #4 strips together along the long edge.

Press, first as sewn, and then with the SA to the dark.

Use the chart below to check that your strip set is the correct width.

StripSet Widths
Block Size
Width after stitching SubCut Width
5" 2½" 1½"
7½" 3½" 2"
10" 4½" 2½"

Make any adjustments.

Straighten one short side of the stripset by aligning a line on your ruler (white arrow) with the seam line. Trim off a complete slice as shown below.

Straighten the edge

Again from the chart above, find the 'SubCut Width' that corresponds to your finished block's size. 

Subcut your stripset into four equal patches.

Side patch pairsYour strips were cut a bit longer than needed so there's approximately 1" of waste. A bargain for perfection, wouldn't you say?

Step 3: Assemble your Propeller  quilt block

Lay out your patches as shown below.

Be careful to get the HST swirling around the center in the same direction. Here the dark corners all point their way around clockwise.

Arrange the patches

With RST, sew units in each row together.

SA are pressed toward the two patch center unit in every row to create seams that will nest when matched.

Stitch the rows together

Stitch the rows together, pinning if it helps you to match the seams.

Finished Propeller blockOur completed Propeller quilt block

These last two seams are pressed out from the center.

That way if you choose to make a quilt of nothing but Propeller quilt blocks, and they are set edge-to-edge, all the seams will nest.

Here the block is from the backside.

Back of blockOur Propeller sample block from the backside

Quilt Blocks related to the Propeller design

Using these same patches—HSTs and strip-pieced pairs, you can make several other blocks.

You be the designer!

Churn Dash: 3x3 grid

Click here for instructions

Monkey Wrench, 5x5 grid

Click here for instructions

This looks almost identical to the Churn Dash above, doesn't it.

The difference is the two-patch is just one grid-unit wide. It's two for the Churn Dash.

Other variations include:

Alaska Homestead blockAlaska Homestead
5x5 gird
Greek Cross blockGreek Cross
3x3 grid
Greek Square blockGreek Square
3x3 grid

For even more blocks to make...

These are my go-to resources for quilt block ideas. 

Can you see the library sticker on the spine of Jinny Beyer's book? Yep. I check this copy out of our local library every few months for research.

Maggie Malone's 5500 Quilt Block Designs is my all-time favorite quilt block resource!

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

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!

Link to Free Quilt Block Patterns Library

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