Monday, 6 December 2010

Tutorial : The Disappearing 9-Patch

I am a great fan of simple block quilts and have long been fascinated with the humble 4-patch and 9-patch. As staples within the quilt makers tool box I think they are often undervalued in favour of more flashy blocks made from other shapes like the triangle!  But with the right choice of fabric and/or placement of light and dark you can achieve so many different looks in  the humble single square patch quilt.  So you can imagine how excited I was when I found this simple technique that turned the 9-patch into something completely different again. In fact you can achieve a multitude of different looks with this technique and depending JUST how you position the lights and darks in the  original 9-patch will change the makeup of the final block and quilt.  I've been playing with the disappearing 9-patch on and off for a year or so now and  I still haven't explored all the options. If you haven't tried this technique yet .. it is quick and fun!


The Disappearing Nine Patch

Step 1 : Select your fabrics
You will need 3 FQ for this tutorial.
Select 1 FQ each of a Light, Medium and Dark.

Step 2:

   Unfold your FQ's and iron well to remove all the creases and fold marks.
  Identify the lengthwise grain running parallel to the selvedge edge  (if present on your FQ). I recommend cutting parallel to the selvedge as this is the strongest grain with the least amount of stretch. 

      Square the ends then : 

Rotary cut as many 5” strips from you FQ as possible (usually 4)
Place your 5” strips into 3 piles sorted by value.

Notice how I layered up all my FQ’s.  I was working with 6 layers here.
To cut this many layers make sure your blade is good and sharp!

         Make 3 piles of strips

Step 3:  Sew the Strip Sets:

Strip Set 1 :  1 Dark and 2 Medium fabrics

1.    Select 1 dark fabric and 1 medium fabric strips
2.    With right sides together align the strips and sew an accurate ¼” seam.
3.    Set the seam and press the allowance to the DARK fabric.

4.    Select the second medium fabric strip
5.    With right sides together align the medium strip with the un-sewn edge of the dark strip and sew an accurate ¼” seam.

6.    Set the seam and press the allowance to the DARK fabric strip.

The finished strip set should measure 14.5” wide.

Strip Set 2: 1 Medium and 2 Light fabrics

1.    Select 1 medium fabric and 1 light fabric strips
2.    With right sides together align the strips and sew an accurate ¼” seam.
3.    Set the seam and press the allowance to the LIGHT fabric.

4.    Select the second LIGHT fabric strip
5.    With right sides together align the medium strip with the un-sewn edge of the medium strip and sew an accurate ¼” seam.

6.    Set the seam and press the allowance to the LIGHT fabric strip.

The finished strip set should measure 14.5” wide.

Step 4 : Sub-Cut the strip sets

Taking each strip set in turn:

Lay the strip set on your cutting board and roughly align the edge with one of the grid-marks
     on the mat. 

      Using your rotary ruler and cutter square up one of the strip ends.

Remember to line your ruler with the seam lines of the sewn strip set to ensure the cut edge is square to the sewn seam line.

 Continue to SUB-CUT the strip into 5” segments.
 Repeat for all strip sets.

Occasionally you may need to re-square the strips to keep them true.

Step 5: Sew the 9 patch.

1.    Select 1 strip of set 1 (medium-dark-medium) and 2 strips of set 2 (light-medium-light) and lay out as follows:

2.    Starting with the middle section (dark at the centre).

3.    Align and match the seams  (they should be pressed in opposite directions!)
4.     Pin in place taking an 1/8” bite either side of the match seams)
5.    Align the remaining strip edges. Pin the ends together.

6.    Starting at one end sew a ¼” seam allowance along the whole strip (14.5”) taking care to keep the edges aligned and seams matching.

           7.    Set the seam and press the seam allowance to the side with the dark square in it.

 8.    Select a second strip set 2 (light-medium-light) and repeat as above on the other side of    strip set 1 (medium-dark-medium)

9.    Set the seam and press the allowance to the strip with the dark fabric square.


You have now made a 9-pach block measuring 14.5” unfinished.

Now…. To make it disappear….

Step  1 : Make the 9-patch disappear!

1. Taking one 9-patch block at a time.

2. Identify the middle unit in the 9-patch block. This should be a DARK square and has been sewn on all 4 sides. It should measure 4.5” square.

3. Identify the 2 ¼” mark on your rotary ruler. This is your cutting measurement for the next 2 steps.  It is HALF of the middle block measurement (4.5” ).

Step 2 : Cut the 9-patch into quarters

1.Using your ruler align the 2 ¼” mark with left hand seam-line of the middle block  ….if you are right-handed … or the right hand seam if you are left-handed.

2. Look up and down the ruler.  This 2 ¼” mark should be in line with the seam of the block above the middle unit and in line with the seam below the middle unit. If it isn’t use your fingers to gently ease the 9-patch into place so all 3 seams are in line with the 2 ¼” mark on the ruler.   

3. Your ruler should now be positioned so it is in the centre of the middle column of blocks. If you are happy with the position, take the first vertical cut to cut the 9-patch block in half.

4. Now, taking each half  in turn sub-cut this in half down the middle row.
Take care to align your ruler exactly in the middle of the centre column.

Step 3 : Make the 9-patch disappear!

1. Select 4 blocks and lay them out as per the original 9-patch.
2. Starting with top right hand block turn it one quarter turn. Repeat for all four blocks. 

3.The 9-patch has disappeared!

4. Play with the positioning of the 4 blocks and see how many combinations you can find.


 5. Now bring in your other blocks. You should be able to make 3 from the 3 FQs

You can lay out your 12 blocks in a  3 x 4, or a 2 x 6 arrangement.
Play with the layouts and see what designs you can come up with.
Use your camera to take photographs of each layout!

6. Once you are happy with your chosen layout … sew them together. 
With 12 blocks you have enough to make a table runner or table topper.

The 2 x 6 arrangement will make a 13” x 39” finished table runner
The 3 x 4 arrangement will make a 19.5” x 26” table topper

Other Design Options:

1.    You could also choose to make more and increase the layout options.
2.    Consider taking 3 different fabric to make additional blocks.
3.     Mix and match fabrics so all of the 9 patches are different.
4.    Reverse the positioning of the light and dark.
5.    Use only 2 fabrics





  1. I love this block. It's my favourite of allSo simple yet so many variations. You've done a really clear tutorial. Well done. Hope you are nice and warm. It's a chilly -12 outside here.

  2. Hi Tracy, We were just talking about this block in quilt guild last night as a 2011 project. Thanks for writing this post!

  3. awesome tutorial tracey! very thorough and i like all the different options you showed at the end.


Thank you for your comments. I appreciate each and every one of them.