Nearly any quilt block can become an album block, simply by being used in a signature quilt. But some types of quilt blocks are more commonly used for this purpose than others, earning their place in quilting history as perhaps the most sentimental of all blocks. Signature quilts have historically been made to celebrate personal, family, church, and other social milestones. Wedding quilts and baby quilts often get the signature treatment in our own quilting era. Who wouldn’t love a quilt signed by all their loved ones in memory of a special occasion?
Names, dates, short poems – people participating in a signature quilt often have a lot to say, and it’s all recorded for posterity either in ink or embroidery. The best album quilt blocks have an easily-seen area for signing or writing. Not all album quilt signers are quilters, so it needs to be obvious to non-quilters where to write. With a plain square of fabric, it can be tough to keep the participants’ contributions inside the seam allowances and with enough outer fabric to frame the writing nicely. But a well-planned quilt block creates a patchwork frame for the writing, highlighting it and controlling it at the same time.
The classic Album Block shown above has been used for this purpose for many generations. While the on-point piecing required to construct the block isn’t for complete beginners, it does create a sweet Granny-squares look that is both nostalgic and effective.
One lovely example of an Album Block quilt is Grandmother’s Album (above), designed by Debra Finan for the January/February 2017 issue of Love of Quilting magazine. In Debra’s version, a signature would be added to the center square of each block. The use of just a few fabrics keeps this quilt simple and easy to incorporate in any home.
However, vintage album quilts are often much more scrappy. Perhaps multiple quilters pieced the blocks; perhaps a single maker was looking for variety or raiding her scrap basket. No matter the reason, a scrappy signature quilt has not one but two great elements going for it – the sentiment of the signatures and the fun assortment of fabrics.
A contemporary version of a scrappy album quilt is Checkboxes (left) by Marianne Fons, which uses Album Cross blocks. Marianne’s quilt was not specifically meant for signatures, but this style of block lends itself well to that purpose. Just keep the “cross” fabrics on the light side of the value scale, so signatures show up well. Up to four people can sign each block, making this a great design for situations in which you’re expecting a lot of signatures, like gift quilts for teachers or pastors.
Marianne used Album Cross blocks in two sizes for her fun design. At 58″ x 69″, it’s a nice lap quilt, and there’s also a bonus download available to resize the pattern to crib, twin, and queen sizes.
Although the Album Cross block is relatively easy to make, it’s even easier with the help of an acrylic template for trimming. Watch a short demo or download printed instructions for trimming this block – it’s fun and almost addictive.
If you’re considering making a signature quilt, we have a wonderful free download available with a 12-week timeline for organizing the stages of your project. In this case, you’ll gather signatures on individual fabric patches, and then incorporate them into blocks.
There are pros and cons for all methods of organizing signature quilts (signing patches, signing blocks, or signing a finished quilt), and our timeline download is a great tool for projects where you are gathering signatures by mail, as opposed to in person. Keep in mind that nearly any quilt block can become an album block, as long as there is a good space for those signatures. We know of examples using simple Sawtooth Stars, Nine-Patches with larger center squares, Churn Dash blocks, and more!
There are so many inspiring examples out there of album quilt blocks and quilts, both vintage and contemporary. Bonnie Hunter’s Old Kentucky Album quilt from the January/February 2010 issue of Quiltmaker magazine is a modern interpretation of a very vintage look. With an enormous variety of scrap fabrics, the sashing provides a resting place for the eye, and organizes the design. Sawtooth Star variation blocks in the border corners add sparkle for a great finishing touch.
The tattered Album quilt block below is from a quilt found in the Texas hill country, in use as a packing blanket! The “Grandma” signature is embroidered in cotton floss. A common practice with album quilts is to have participants sign blocks in ink, and then have the more skilled needleworkers in the group go over the signatures in stem stitch embroidery for much-improved durability. As this old block demonstrates, this strategy works! Even though the fabric itself is giving way to age, the embroidered signature is still going strong.
Start planning now for a spectacular Album Quilt in 2017, maybe for a family reunion or to honor someone who’s retiring or graduating. Album Quilts can also benefit local charities – you can let people sign and have a chance to win the quilt in return for a donation. These are one-of-a-kind quilts, with more than a little instant history attached to them. What better way to commemorate the special people and events in our lives than with a cozy Album Quilt?
The Fons & Porter Team