When I first discovered Hidden Blocks and the magic they made, I wondered if the name described them well or would something else work better. Then I realized they really are blocks hiding inside other blocks, waiting for their chance to come out and play.
Hidden Blocks are a version of the parent block minus a line, square or triangle here and there. They are good tools to use when designing quilts because they work well with their parent blocks. Let’s use two blocks on either end of the spectrum, from simple to complex, to show how they work.
Weathervane, shown below on the far left, is a simple block that offers a limited number of Hidden Blocks. If you replace the side units with solid patches, you are left with a design in an X shape, as seen next to the parent block. Remove the units on two opposite corners and you have a diagonally oriented block. Divide the center square into a Four Patch and you can have a design that looks more like an arrow. Use just the side units (with or without a colored center) to make another block.
For an example of combining block designs in one pattern, the quilt in the next diagram is composed of two Hidden Blocks with the parent block to great advantage. The outer row of blocks forms a frame around the five blocks in the center.
On the other end of the spectrum, the original Arrow Crown block contains 89 patches, making it a great candidate for discovering Hidden Blocks; I discovered over 30. I started simplifying this block from the outside in, and then got creative with my changes, as seen below. With so many potential Hidden Blocks, no two quilts are ever going to look the same.
Sketching out designs and Hidden Blocks from simple blocks like Weathervane is easy to do on graph paper. When looking at more complicated blocks with multiple shapes and designs, it’s good to turn to a computer design program such as Electric Quilt. You can quickly crank out many designs in a few minutes and easily develop the really good ones.
Here are some tests to use as starting points when looking for Hidden Blocks
- Simply replace the outer row of pieced shapes with background fabric strips in blocks such as Indian Puzzle or Robbing Peter to Pay Paul. Alternating these Hidden Blocks with the parent will open up and highlight the individual blocks without having to resort to sashing.
- Remove only some of the side or corner pieces, as in the Weathervane example or here in 54-40 or Fight.
- Look for blocks with recognizable blocks within. The Twist and Turn block is a good example: it includes both Friendship Star and Monkey Wrench designs.
- Sometimes you can find an interesting Hidden Block by keeping the center, deleting some of the adjoining units and bringing in the corner units, as in the Game Cocks and Arrowhead blocks.
- Once you get comfortable with the above fairly straightforward changes, you can cut loose as with the Arrow Crown block.
With Hidden Blocks anyone can become their own pattern designer. All it takes is a little practice to see the Hidden Blocks waiting to be discovered in many traditional blocks. I’m not saying there are blocks hiding in all blocks out there, but discovering those that are is lots of fun.
Lerlene Nevaril has been quilting for almost four decades and is a busy quilt designer and teacher. Her first book, Hidden Block Quilts, was published by C&T Publishing in 2002.
This article appears in the July/August 2018 issue of Quiltmaker, which includes Lerlene’s newest hidden blocks pattern, Trickster, plus 5 more patterns featuring hidden blocks and secondary patterns.