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Summer Sampler Series: Mosaic Block


Welcome to our third block in the Summer Sampler Series quilt-along! I’m so thrilled to be sharing another fun traditional-to-modern block with all of you. Feel free to join in any time—a complete list of the posts is here.

Today we’re making a Mosaic block, block #2475 in the Encyclopedia Of Pieced Quilt Patterns. (It is officially known as “Mosaic #6,” “Mosaic #4,” or a “Zig Zag Tile” block.) This block is from the book’s “Square In a Square” pattern category, meaning it has a center square which is then built up into a larger square with the addition of triangles, strips, or other shapes.

Mod Mosaic 15 blocks on design wall
Incredible Mod Mosaic blocks by capitolaquilter, via Flickr

“Mosaic” might be one of the most popular names for traditional quilt blocks, with no less than 46 mentions in the index of the Encyclopedia alone. However, the term “mosaic” applies to huge variety of block designs, from the square-in-square style shown here to hexagons and stars. So while there is no common denominator among mosaic designs, the usefulness of the term extends right down to modern day quilting. Just witness the popularity of Elizabeth Hartman’s “Mod Mosaic” design—a modern spin on a traditional concept.

Photo courtesy of the Illinois Quilt History website

This particular mosaic block is attributed to, among others, Nancy Cabot. Nancy was the Needlework Editor for the Chicago Tribune and wrote a syndicated daily quilting column in the 1930s. As a quilt blogger and a former newspaper reporter, I found Nancy to be very interesting—not only was she an early career women, she was a forerunner of the modern quilt blogger. Her columns were written in a casual, conversational format called “kitchen table style,” which I’m guessing would sound familiar to most blog readers. Over the years, she designed at least 200 quilt blocks, and no doubt inspired thousands of quilters. And in another nice parallel to modern times, Nancy Cabot wasn’t even her real name (it was actually Loretta Leitner). I guess she wanted a little anonymity, something else that probably strikes a chord with modern bloggers. I bet if Nancy were still around today, she’d dig blogland as much as I do. : )

Now here’s how to pay tribute to Nancy Cabot by making your own Mosaic block. There are at least three ways that I can think of to piece this block, but I’ll take you through the method that I think is easiest and wastes the least amount of fabric. As is often the case with traditional blocks, switching up your colors and contrast can dramatically change the look of the block. For example, you could swap the background and colored pieces, or you could give this block more of a circular movement by making the inner ring one color and the outer ring another color.

1. Start with 16 – 4″ squares. You’ll need 8 background squares (I’m using white) and 8 colored squares (my prints).

2. Using a pencil, mark the diagonal on the back of your colored squares.

3. Pair up each colored square with a background square, right sides facing. Sew 1/4″ away from the marked diagonal, on each side of the line.

4. Cut on the marked lines. You should now have a total of 16 half-square triangle units (HSTs).

5. Press the HSTs open. I always press bias seam allowances open.

6. Trim your HSTs down to 3.5″ square, using the 45-degree angle on your ruler or cutting mat.

7. Pair up your HSTs, and sew each pair together so that you have 8 sewn pairs. Make sure all of your HSTs angle in the same direction, as shown above. I accidentally reversed the blue HSTs when I originally sewed this block, and had to tear them out and re-do. The block won’t come together correctly if you mix it up!

8. Now pair up your newly-sewn double-HST units. Lay them right-sides facing. Sew your pairs together so that you have four 4-patch units that look like the one above.

9. Now arrange your completed 4-patches as shown above and sew, to complete your Mosaic block. Your block should finish at 12.5″ square.

Here are my previous two blocks—you can find the tutorials at Swim, Bike, Quilt and Fresh Lemons Quilts. And don’t forget to add photos of your own blocks to the Flickr group. I’ve been blown away by all the gorgeous blocks showing up there—you guys rock, as always!

Join us on Monday on Kate’s blog, Swim, Bike, Quilt, for our next block in the Summer Sampler Series.

18 replies
  1. Rebecca Fiedler
    Rebecca Fiedler says:

    The historical information about this block is absolutely fascinating. I ordered Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns from the library 4 days ago because I was interested in just this kind of info. (I wanted to take a look at the book it before ordering it). Thanks for such an informative post – as well as the beautiful block.

  2. sariah
    sariah says:

    I was trying to figure out why I liked your Greek Cross block so well, and then I realized you fussy cut all of the cross pieces. It is beautiful! Love your happy colors too.

  3. Kelli
    Kelli says:

    Lee, your quilt is going be beautiful!!! I love all of the bright colors set off by the white and your piecing is beautiful.
    On a side note, I majored in ag communications with the idea I'd write for an ag(riculture)-based magazine but considered writing for our local paper…instead I got a teaching certificate and taught kindergarten…

  4. Needle little Balance
    Needle little Balance says:

    I´ve made this block (and the other two), too. I don´t have a flickr account yet but blogged about it. I like this tutorial, thank you for the quilt along! It is so much fun. Can´t wait for Monday!

  5. Carol T
    Carol T says:

    Great post. I love your block. I am waiting until the end of this quilt along before I start. I want to make a bed size quilt so I have to figure out how many blocks of all of them that I want.

  6. Elise
    Elise says:

    Thanks for the awesome tutorial! I am new to quilting and your tips on pressing the bias seam open & trimming using the 45-degree line on the ruler were such HUGE helps in making my block look more polished. Thanks! 🙂

  7. Helen
    Helen says:

    Just made the mosaic block and it came together really well, thank you. Best of all I had a "light bulb" moment, I have never known the best way to square up half square squares and your pictures made it so easy, THANK YOU!


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