Rocky Road to California Quilt Block

From our Free Quilt Block Patterns Library

by Julie Baird

This post contains affiliate links for which I receive compensation.

Skill Level: Beginner

Grid: 6x6

A Rocky Road to California quilt block is a variation on the 9-patch version of a Jacob's Ladder. (At the bottom of this page you'll find links to several variations.)

The Rocky Road to California quilt block tutorial

Instead of five 4-patches, this block is a bit quicker to make with only three.  Solid squares are substituted for two of them.

Quick pieced half square triangles and two cut squares complete the block.

Simple nine patch construction is all it takes to complete this beginning-quilter friendly design.

I promise, it won't be a Rocky Road to California.

Let's get started!

General Instructions

I prefer to use two different presser feet to make this block. One is a standard quarter inch foot and the other is a 1/4" foot with a guide on the right hand side—perfect for strip piecing, especially when those strips have been starched.

Seam allowances (SA) are all 1/4".

Step 1: Cut patches for the Rocky Road to California

Rocky Road to California patchwork designRocky Road to California design

The measurements for the #1 and #2 squares are exact in the chart below.

However, I prefer to cut oversized patches for HSTs, stitch them and then trim them down to the perfect size.

So for the 6" finished sample block I added a 1/4" and cut my #1/#2 patches at 3-1/8"x3-1/8". They are marked with ** to help you quickly identify them.

Generations Quilt Patterns logo

Cutting Chart for a
Rocky Road to California Quilt Block

~ Traditional Piecing ~

Patch Fabric Qty Finished Block Size
2** Background22-7/8”sq3-7/8”sq4-7/8”sw
3A11-1/2” x 10”2” x 13”2-1/2” x 16”
4Background11-1/2” x 10”2” x 13”2-1/2” x 16”
5A22-1/2”sq 3-1/2”sq4-1/2”sq
Unfinished Block Size6-1/2”9-1/2”12-1/2”
Grid Size1"1 1/2"2"

If you choose a directional print and wish to have the design flow in the same direction, you'll find helpful hints written into the directions in Step 2.

These are some of the supplies I use to prepare and cut my fabric.

Step 2: Assembling the Rocky Road to California units

Half Square Triangles (HST)

Make 4

Rocky Road to California quilt block - HST units

We'll use the Quick Pieced method for making our HSTs.

With a pencil, draw a diagonal line on the back of your two #2 background squares.

For directional prints, note that both are drawn in the same direction (for our sample, from upper left to lower right) with the design of the fabric running up and down for each square.

Mark the backside of the #2's

With right sides together (RST) layer a marked #2 with a #1 square.

Stitch a 1/4" from both sides of the line for both pairs of squares.

Stitch the #1/#2 pair a quarter inch from the marked line on both sides.

Cut the pairs in two along the drawn lines. Press with the SA towards the darker fabric.

The HSTs before trimming

All that's left is to trim these HSTs. If you cut the original squares at the exact size, trim off the dog ears with a scissor and double check that each equals the measurement that corresponds to the finished size in the chart below.

If you cut generously, you'll now need to trim these HST to the size listed in the chart.

Block Size
Trim HST to...
6” 2-1/2”
9” 3-1/2”
12” 4-1/2”

Click here if you'd like more information about making half square triangles using this Quick Pieced method.


Rocky Road to California quilt block - Four Patch units

Make 3

If you choose a directional background fabric and you want the design to flow in the same direction, click here for those subcutting and piecing directions.

For this unit, I've switched to my favorite quarter inch foot with a guide.

With RST, sew strip #3 to #4 along the long edge. SA are pressed to the darker fabric.

Stitch #3 and #4 together along the long edgeThe guide on the right hand side of the foot making stitching strips together a breeze! The arrow points to my 'spider'.

At your cutting mat, lay the strip set pretty-side up.

Straighten one of the short edges by laying a line on your ruler directly on top of the seam line. Trim off a sliver to create a perfectly straight edge.

Straighten a short edge with your rotary cutter and ruler.The arrow points to the line on the ruler aligned with the seam line. It looks a bit jagged due to the design in the striped fabric.

Refer to the chart below and subcut the stripset into six units.

Block Size
Strip Set width after stitching Subcut
6” 2-1/2” 1-1/2”
9” 3-1/2” 2”
12” 4-1/2” 2-1/2”

After cutting the patches look like this. There's a bit of scrap leftover on purpose (just in case you needed to re-straighten the edge).

The patches subcut from the #3/#4 stripset

With RST, stitch the four pairs of patches together, alternating light and dark fabrics. I pressed this SA open to distribute bulk. (It won't be needed to nest with any other seam to help with alignment).

After stitching and pressing, these are the 3 units.

The finished four patch units

An alternative to pressing the SA closed and to the side or open is to pick out the stitches in the center and 'twirl' the SA. Here they are all pressed in a clockwise direction.

Twirl the SAs on the four patch units.

IF you use a directional print like I did...

...and you want the design of the fabric flowing in the same direction, subcut each #3 and #4 strip into 6 squares each the dimensions listed in the chart below. There will be a bit leftover from each fabric.

Block Size
Subcut width
6” 1-1/2”
9” 2”
12” 2-1/2”

With RST, stitch each #3 to a #4. SAs are pressed to the dark. Sew pairs together so that you have 3 units with the fabric design flowing like the images below.

Four patch #1Make 2
Four patch #2Make 1

Step 3: Assemble your Rocky Road to California block

Arrange the cut patches and stitched units as shown below. Pay particular attention to the orientation of the dark squares in the four-patches—the center is different than the corners.

Arrange the Rocky Road units into rows

With RST stitch the units in each row together, pressing with the SA toward the HST units.

Stitch the units in each row together

Sew the rows together, pinning as necessary if it helps to keep the edges even.

The finished Rocky Road to California quilt block

After your Rocky Road to California quilt block is finished, give it one last, good press. I recommend our favorite pressing technique. It's super simple and the results can tame even the lumpiest of quilt blocks!

Other Jacob's Ladder variations...

The Rocky Road to California quilt block is one of many Jacob's Ladder quilt block variations. There are instructions on this site for several more—both 9-patch and four-patch variations—in various sizes.

Simply click any of the images below to go directly to those block instructions.

Buckeye Beauty quilt block tutorial Hovering Hawks quilt block tutorial
Jacob's Ladder quilt block tutorial Wagon Tracks quilt block tutorial

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!

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