Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Windows

By Tricia Patterson, Quiltmaker Associate Editor

Summer brings picnics and barbecues, outdoor games, travel to new and familiar places, and lounging on the front porch or backyard patio. I think it’s the perfect time for hand-quilted projects. They travel well. Hand-pieced quilts are portable and lightweight. You can spend some time with them or you can sew a few stitches to make a quilt block as a small bit of time will allow – like when you are waiting for your kids’ teams to start their games. The best thing is … you can quilt while you enjoy being outside, visiting with friends and family or on the go. I’m going to revisit some time-traveled quilt block designs for a few of my blog posts; designs that you can very easily take along with you almost anywhere you go this summer.

QuiltingTools Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window

A few words about portable quilting tools… These pictures are of my traveling quilt studio. It’s always ready to go. I found this great box at a quilt show a long time ago. It’s only about 9″ x 12″. As you can see, it’s been well used. The sand paper allows me to mark small bits of fabric without slipping. It’s great for marking 1/4″ seams as needed. Inside, I carry about everything I might need for grab-and-go hand-quilted projects.

CathedralWindow IntroCWImage Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window

The Cathedral Window is a perfect example of a portable quilt design because with each block you finish the top, middle and backing for the quilt. To make the block requires only two square patches and very few tools. You can make the block any size merely by enlarging the size of the patches. And, it’s a stash-buster, perfect for using up fabrics or scraps from your collection.

From a small amount of research, I discovered that the Cathedral Window, inspired by historic church and cathedral stain glass windows, became popular in North America in the 1930s. Each quilt block is made using a folded patchwork technique. I think it’s similar to origami whereby a fabric square (instead of paper) is folded and stitched to form a unique shape. In this case parts of the fabric are folded back to make a window revealing a contrasting colored square of fabric inside.

There are as many variations for making a Cathedral Window block, as there are methods. Here are steps for making a simple Cathedral Window that’s fast and easy. I learned this method many, many years ago from one of the first quilt books I purchased, Erica Wilson’s Quilts of America, written by Erica Wilson, released in 1979. (Please note, I may have modified Erica’s version over time. I believe I’ve covered the basics in the directions below.)


  • 1 large 9″ square of fabric and 1 smaller 5″ contrasting square of fabric (These squares make one 4″ finished block.)
  • Thread to match the color of the large square
  • Tools: Scissors, straight pins (no more than 10), seam gauge and 6″ ruler with a 1/4″ mark, needle, and thimble (optional)

CathedralWindow PrepareSquares Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window

Prepare the Squares Before You Go (however not necessary)

On the large fabric square, fold over the front of the fabric 1/2″ to the wrong side, on two opposite sides of the square, as shown in the photo. Press the fold down with an iron, pin or finger press to hold the fold in place. On the small square, repeat to fold the fabric 1/2″ on all sides of the square.

Making the Cathedral Window

CathedralWindowStep1 Use Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window

Step 1. Fold the large square in half, wrong side of fabric out, to make a rectangle. With a pencil or other marker, measure and mark a seam allowance of 1/2″ for each side of the rectangle. Next, measure and mark 2″ from the top folded edge on each side of the rectangle, with a straight pin or marking pencil. Using a short running stitch, sew from the folded edge to the 2″ mark on the 1/2″ line.

CathedralWindow Step2 CWPocket Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window

Step 2. Turn the rectangle inside out. Finger-press the sides with seams open as you tuck in the lower edges to make smooth straight sides. When you are finished you should have a rectangular pocket.


Step 3. Bring the two stitched sides of the pocket together toward the middle as shown in the photo. Flatten to create a square as shown in the photo. Measure 2″ from each side of the square’s center opening; mark each side with a straight pin. You should have a total length of 4″ between the pins. Using an overcast stitch, sew the 4″ opening close. Be careful to avoid catching the fabric from the back of the folded square.

CathedralWindow Step3a Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window    CathedralWindow Step3b Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window    CathedralWindow Step3c Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window

Step 4. Place the large folded square on a flat surface, stitched side down. Place the 5″ contrasting color square on top of the folded square, as shown in the photo, folded edges facing the large folded square. Bring together all the outer corners of the large folded square toward the center. Secure the corner edges together in the center with a tack stitch.

CathedralWindow Step4a Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window     CathedralWindowStep4b Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window

CathedralWindow Step5 Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window

Step 5. You are almost finished! Now, it’s time to make the windows. Refer to the photo. From one corner of the large folded square, fold back the edges slightly to see the contrasting color fabric. Bring back a lot of the large folded square or a small amount depending on how much of the contrasting fabric you want to see. Pin the edges in place. Using a blind stitch, secure the edges of the folded over fabric. Repeat for the remaining three sides. As you stitch each, close off the corner edge with a few tack stitches. Again, it’s your decision about how much of the corner edge you close. Stitch multiple blocks together from the back of the blocks using a blind stitch or overcast stitch.

CathedralWindow FinishedCW Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window

Cathedral Window blocks are beautiful as pillow tops and wall hangings, hot pads and bed quilts. Individual blocks make great coffee coasters. Be sure to search the Internet for other variations of the Cathedral Window block and wonderful ideas for using them.

Have a happy quilt’n summer!

CathedralWindow PurpleTealBatikCW Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window   CathedralWindow MultipleCWs Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window   CathedralWindow YellowOrangeBatikCW Quilting That Travels Part 1: Cathedral Window

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P.S. Want to learn more about making a quilt by hand? Download this new free ebook from our sister magazine Quilters Newsletter. It includes tips on selecting the right thread as well as some pretty hand quilting designs.

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