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How to Draft a Quilt Block

Drafting allows a quilter to copy a block in a quilt, develop an original design, or change the size of an existing block. All you need is a pencil and graph paper (or a computer design program, if you prefer) and a basic understanding of the grid method to draft your own blocks.


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Next page: Understanding the Grid Method


Drafting Supply Checklist

  • 1⁄8"-grid graph paper (8 squares to the inch allows the greatest flexibility.)
  • Plain paper
  • Ruler
  • Pencil (mechanical pencils help maintain uniform line width)
  • Colored pencils


Reproducing a Block Design

If you’re trying to re-create a block from an antique or heirloom quilt, identifying the block and grid can sometimes be difficult, especially with complex quilt tops. It is common for block designers to start with a base grid, such as the Nine-Patch, and further divide the patches into grids (see more detailed information about the Grid Method on the next page). For instance, the Double Nine-Patch block is based on the 3×3 Nine-Patch grid, but some of the squares have been divided into even smaller Nine-Patch units.

    To determine the units necessary to reproduce a favorite quilt block, follow these steps:


1. Isolate the block on the quilt.

2. Visualize a grid superimposed over the block. Look for a repeating pattern across the block and count the number of times the pattern repeats.

3. Measure the block to determine the finished size. 

4. Using graph paper, a ruler, and a pencil, draw out the block. Remember that the pieces you are drawing are finished size. Once the drafted block is complete, you need to add a 1⁄4" seam allowance to all the edges of each individual piece before cutting.


Original block design: Use the grid system to organize an original block design and to make it easier to figure out cutting and piecing. To practice, draw several miniature grids on graph paper and photocopy them. Draw lines throughout the grid to experiment with new block designs. Think about some of the basic units (triangle-squares, four-patch units, Flying Geese units) and draw them in the grid squares. Keep doodle pads of grids available so you can design when inspiration strikes. 

TIP: What size should my finished block be? The finished size of a block is likely determined by the pattern being used. When designing an original quilt or modifying an existing pattern, you can adjust the blocks to a specific finished size. Do keep in mind the grid for the block you’ve chosen when deciding on a finished size. For example, it is easier to cut the pieces for a 9" Nine-Patch block than it is to cut pieces for a 10" Nine-Patch block.


Computer programs: A variety of computer programs are available for designing blocks and quilt tops. On a computer you can explore multiple block options quickly and without drafting—a timesaver if you’re doing a great deal of original design work. The programs allow flexibility in creating thousands of designs, adding color, and seeing how blocks will work together. 

Advanced block design: Blocks designed with tight curves and unusual shapes may not work on the grid system. These designs can be executed with different techniques, such as appliqué or foundation piecing. Some blocks require multiple methods.

Test fabric choices: Finalize block design and fabric selections by mocking up a block. Cut the fabric pieces to the finished size (leave off the seam allowances for this test only; these pieces will not be used in the finished project) and sketch the grid and block design on paper. Glue the fabric pieces in position on the paper to create a mock block. Place the mock block several feet away to view the design and color combination. If desired, make additional blocks to test alternate fabric choices. To further test the color and layout, make color photocopies of the mock block. Use the copies to begin planning the quilt top, watching for secondary patterns to emerge and checking color placement in adjacent blocks.

TROUBLESHOOTING TIP: Are photocopies of block patterns accurate for piecing? Photocopiers can distort images. Beforeusing any photocopies as templates for piecing, make a test copy of the block at 100%. Measure the original and photocopy to ensure they’re exactly the same size. To ensure consistent reproduction quality, use the same copier when making additional photocopies. See the page 3 for the specific enlargement and reduction percentages.