Pinwheel Quilt Block
1. What is a pinwheel quilt block?
A popular block that many quilters create is the Pinwheel Block. It’s used a lot in sampler quilts as well as on its own. It’s a great block to teach beginner quilters different techniques.
The Pinwheel is composed of four Half Square Triangles of two different fabrics that are arranged in an every-other pattern that gives off the impression of a pinwheel. Don’t you love it when blocks are self-descriptive? It makes them easier to spot in the wild and find a good tutorial if you ever need a refresher on the subject!
You can make pinwheel blocks any size you want to, too, so they’re great for both stash busting and using up fabric scraps! You can use up your stash and any scrap fabrics that you can cut a good-sized square or two triangles of the same size out of, like an old sheet, table cloth, or cotton clothing.
Half square triangles are very easy to make without wasting fabric, too. So, a pinwheel block can really be beneficial to your attempts to be sustainable and use up the fabrics you have around the house already.
2. History of the Pinwheel Quilt Block
The Pinwheel block has been around for a long time. You can easily spot it in an antique store and a modern quilt shop alike.
Meant to depict the blades of a windmill, a scene that could be seen along the Oregon Trail in the 19th century. At that time, quilts were used for practical and utility purposes, such as room dividers, soft surfaces, and bedding to name a few. The block itself is sturdy and easy to patch if need be, so it makes for a great pattern for a quilt being used so much.
During the Great Depression in the United States, many pinwheel blocks were made out of flour and feed sacks. Those who produced flour sacks began to notice early on that people were using the fabric their flour came in to make clothes for children and to use in quilts, so they began printing fun patterns on the fabric. It offered a little bit of normalcy and even luxury and comfort to those who were hurting the most during this time and couldn’t afford to purchase fabric for new clothes or other household items. And since the pinwheel block is one of the easiest to make out of scraps and to piece at any skill level, it’s no wonder that the pinwheel block was popular throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
the dual use of quilts as both decorative and utility for warmth and privacy, to the recycling of fabric out of necessity, it’s amazing how much history this block has in sustainable quilting!
3. Use of the block today
Today we tend to pick out our quilt patterns less for utility, more for decoration. We know our quilts will be used and loved, but they won’t be used as room dividers or as insulation on the wall.
It’s a great block to play with color theory, too! Experimenting with colors and textures can really expand your quilting horizons, especially when you’re looking to repurpose different fabrics.
To really make the block’s pattern pop and draw attention, you’ll want to choose two colors that have different values- one dull and one bright, or one dark and one light. Even warm vs. cool tones can make your block stand out.
Or, if you want to use the block as merely texture in the quilt’s larger pattern and not have it be the focus of the quilt, you can use this block with two fabrics that are of similar colours and values.
Pinwheel blocks are still popular in sampler quilts and as design features by both beginners and more experienced quilters. You can learn how to make your own pinwheel blocks in the Sampler Quilt Class of Kick Ass Quilts.