BLOCK Friday: Bear’s Paw Quilt Block, Pt. 1 – Fons & Porter

The Bear’s Paw quilt block has a mysterious history. Was it used during times of slavery? And if so, how? We’ll get to that in a bit. For now, we know one thing for sure – Bear’s Paw is a bold and versatile quilt block featured in many beautiful quilts.


One particularly great thing about the Bear’s Paw quilt block is its scrappy nature. Because the “claw” part of the block is made up of small half-square triangles, it’s easy to use up even the most itty bitty scraps in your stash. In the above quilt, Scraps I Couldn’t Bear to Toss, designer Gina Thackara combined her quest to become the queen of half-square triangles with her year-long campaign to whittle down her scrap pile. The results are striking!

Another notable facet of this block is its versatility. Bear’s Paw is the type of quilt block that sparks your creativity because it lends itself to so many piecing options. You think, “I mean, what can I really do with a few half-square triangles, squares and sashing?” Well, let’s see:

Bear's Paw Variations
Bear’s Paw designs from Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.

We’ve got all the paws going in the same direction in the first drawing, a Four-Patch unit replacing the simple square in the second drawing and your “basic” Bear’s Paw in the third drawing. And, that’s not even close to where the variations end. Here’s a free video by the McCall’s Quilting staff showing the Bear’s Paw variation below.

Bear's Paw Variation video

Bears in Bertie’s Cabin, the quilt pictured below designed by Ricky Tims, is a fine example of how combining two different blocks can create a visually appealing design. The Log Cabin and Bear’s Paw blocks in this quilt really speak to “country living.”

Bears in Bertie's Cabin Quilt

Now for the mysterious history we discussed earlier… Many theorize this quilt block was used to guide escaped slaves to food or water. The block was a signal that they were on the right track and following the block would lead them to shelter and resources. Unfortunately, there’s no definitive proof the block was used in this way, but it’s amazing to think about.

If you’d like to hear more about the history of the Bear’s Paw quilt block and see more quilts that feature this great quilt block, check out BLOCK Friday: Bear’s Paw Quilt Block, Pt. 2.

What do you think about the Bear’s Paw quilt block? How have you used it in your quilts? Share your stories and your pictures in the comments section below.


Happy Quilting!

The Fons & Porter Editors

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