The Magic of Disappearing Blocks

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It may seem like sewing a quilt block just to cut it all up again is a little crazy, but, when the pieces are rearranged and sewn back together, they can make complex and beautiful patterns more easily than sewing a multitude of smaller pieces.  And, who doesn’t like a shortcut?  When I first heard about Disappearing Blocks, I did what everyone does when they find a new idea, I started an internet search.  Google, and Pinterest, and Instagram, Oh My!  Anybody else fall down that rabbit hole?

Holy Cow!  There is a lot of information and a lot of different techniques.  For this article, and the newsletters that will follow, I am going to focus on Disappearing 4-Patch (D4P) and its cousins Disappearing Hourglass (DH) and Disappearing Pinwheel (DP).  Because, if you think about it, Hourglass Blocks and Pinwheel Blocks are just 4-Patch Blocks made of Half Square Triangles instead of solid pieces of fabric.

Here’s the basic idea: Take a 4-Patch block and make 4 cuts. 4-Patch Block 4-Patch block with cut lines
You will have 9 sub-blocks as shown here.cut 4-Patch pieces
Arrange these as directed and sew. The same thing works with Disappearing Hourglass Blocks and Disappearing Pinwheel blocks. Disappearing 4-Patch exploded view    disappearing 4-Patch sewn

Simple enough, but when I started experimenting and trying to make my own patterns, I discovered a few things. 

  1. When making the standard D4P Block and the standard DH Block, the exact location of the 4 cuts isn’t critical.  I call these blocks charm pack friendly and the cutting instructions for these is included below. 
  2. But, for the Disappearing Pinwheel Blocks, and many of the D4P and DH Blocks, the cuts MUST divide the block exactly into thirds.  In other words, all 9 sub-blocks must be square. There is a chart with cutting instructions for these below.
  3. If you make all the sub-blocks in the D4P and Disappearing Hourglass perfectly square, they can be re-arranged into hundreds of interesting blocks. 

Number 3 may be hard to believe.  Mathematically, 9 squares can be rearranged into 362,880 possible blocks.  Of course, the vast majority of those possibilities don’t result in a useable block. However, with some experimentation (I am the Questioning Quilter after all) I was able to find dozens of interesting blocks and hundreds of quilt layouts.   Some of these may be well known and found on the internet with starts like Disappearing Pinwheel Friendship star or Disappearing Hourglass Versions 1, 2 and 3.

Here are a few disappearing hourglass block variations:

12 different disappearing hourglass blocks

I have decided to explore the lesser known or previously unknown possible arrangements, and explore the multiple quilts that can be made from these blocks 

Here are a few disappearing hourglass quilt variations:

six disappearing hourglass quilt arrangements

I eventually want to write a book on the subject, but until then the easiest way to share new blocks and new quilts with my readers is to include them in my newsletter.
Sign up for my newsletter for a new pattern every issue. 

My patterns have detailed step by step directions for blocks, but, for the newsletters, I have decided to use the “exploded block” to save room.

For example using the same 4-Patch pieces as shown above for the standard Disappearing 4Patch, here is the pattern for the Socket Wrench Block.   Disappearing 4-Patch socket wrench exploded view Disappearing 4-Patch socket wrench

To make the Socket Wrench Quilt shown below you need two versions of the Socket Wrench Block.The one above an this one. When put together, they make a fun tessellating pattern.   Disappearing 4-Patch socket wrench exploded view
Disappearing 4-Patch socket wrench
Here is the completed Socket Wrench Quit,

I think that this is a really nice design for a guy, especially one who is interested in tools.

For those who subscribe to my newsletter, you will get a new block and quilt every time I publish. I am hoping once every 4 to 6 weeks.
No matter when you subscribe, you will have access to all the archived newsletter to see previously published blocks.

This is the quilt I will be including in my first disappearing block newsletter.
Disappearing Hourglass variation Moroccan Tiles Quilt
  Disappearing 4-Patch Socket Wrench Quilt

The charts below have the cutting information for various size squares and blocks.

I find that the easiest way to cut the blocks is to measure from the center seam. Make a cut, then rotate the mat 90 degrees. Measure from the center seam and cut again. Keep rotating the mat and cutting until you have made 4 cuts.      

A few of the Disappearing Block designs do not need to be cut into perfect squares. I am calling these blocks “Charm Pack Friendly” and that will be noted on the pattern. I have two sizes, 5″ for using charm pack squares and 4 1/2″ for when charm pack squares are used to create Half Square Triangles.

Charm Pack Friendly Blocks
Initial Square or
Half Square Triangle
4Patch, Hourglass,
or Pinwheel
Before Cutting
How far to cut
from center seam
Finished Block
4 1/2″8 1/2″1 3/8″7″
5″9 1/2″1 5/8″8″

All of the disappearing block that I will be exploring will work if cut into exact thirds. This results in all of the sub-blocks being perfectly square.

Disappearing Block Sizes
Initial Square or
Half Square Triangle
4Patch, Hourglass,
or Pinwheel
Before Cutting
How far to cut
from center seam
Finished Block
2 1/2″4 1/2″3/4″3″
3 1/4″61″4 1/2′
4″7 1/2″1 1/4″6″
4 3/4″9″1 1/2″7 1/2″
5 1/2″10 1/2″1 3/4″9″
6 1/4″12″2″10 1/2″
7″13 1/2″2 1/4″12″
7 3/4″15″2 1/2″13 1/2″
8 1/2″16 1/2″2 3/4″15″
9 1/4″18″3″16 1/2″
10″19 1/2″3 1/4″18″

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