nine patch quilt top 2

How to Sew the Vintage Nine-Patch Quilt Block

The Nine-Patch quilt block, is simply nine squares of fabric sewn into a 3 X 3 grid.  You can create the block with a mix of print or solid fabrics. However, the layout of light and dark fabrics shown below is the standard design for the block.

The use of nine equal squares of fabric makes it easy to calculate the size of each fabric square in the final block. Essentially, the block can be as large or as tiny as you desire. It only requires a little math.

nine patch vintage quilt block
Nine Patch Block

In this post, we will cover a bit of history, an easy technique to create the block using strips of fabric, and the best pre-cuts to use if you don’t like cutting yardage.

First a Little History

One of the oldest known quilt blocks is a Nine Patch block.  In fact, it appeared in publication as early as 1896 in The Ohio Farmer according to Barbara Brackman in The Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.  It has been a popular choice with quilters for well over 125 years due to its simplicity.

Young girls often learned to sew by making this simple block.  It was an economical choice for beginners since only scraps of fabric were needed. In fact, it is still the perfect block if you’re a beginner or if you just want to step back and hone your sewing skills a bit.  It is arguably the best block on which to practice sewing straight 1/4-inch seams either by hand or on a sewing machine. It is also great for mastering your skills at nesting seams.

Simple but Not Boring

Don’t let this little block fool you!  It might be simple and easy enough for the beginner, but it is also adorable when used in a quilt top.  The basic layout shown above yields a quilt top with a crisp, clean feel. Use a jelly roll to make a color-coordinated quilt top that is more scrappy. Likewise, combine the Nine Patch quilt block with a Snowball block and you get a stunning quilt top that resembles a lattice.

You can make this block using fabric scraps, yardage, or pre-cuts.  The Nine-Patch is a very versatile block and every new quilter should master it.

The Nine Patch Layout

While the name ‘Nine Patch’ refers to a block with nine patches of fabric, it also refers to the actual block layout. In other words, the patches need not be just squares of fabric. Quilters often combine different quilt blocks in a 3 X 3 grid and refer to it as a ‘nine-patch’.  In fact, you’ll see examples later in this post of a variety of ‘nine-patch’ blocks.

Most of the examples are equal Nine Patch blocks. However, not all Nine Patch quilt blocks have units that are equal in size.  While sewing equal fabric patches together is probably the most common technique, there are many patterns for unequal Nine-Patch blocks as well.

Master the assembly of this block and you will have the skills to make many more complicated patterns.

Three Nine-Patch Quilt Blocks in Red and White, Green and White, and Blue and White.
Basic Equal Nine-Patch Blocks (Fabric: Oxford Prints by Sweetwater for Moda)

Quilt Math for the Equal Nine Patch Block

So, let’s talk about constructing a basic equal Nine-Patch block.  You must first decide the size of the finished block you want to make.  Keep in mind that because there are 3 equal horizontal rows and 3 equal vertical rows choosing a size divisible by 3 will make the math easier.

I prefer a 6-inch finished block.  It looks neat and tidy, but the squares are not so tiny that I have trouble sewing a straight 1/4-inch seam on my sewing machine.  So, that being said, let’s do the math for a 6-inch Nine Patch.

Math for a 6-inch Nine Patch Block

I want a 6-inch block when I’m finished sewing the quilt. In other words, if I measure the blocks once the entire quilt top is constructed, each of them will measure approximately 6 inches square. So, divide 6 by 3 to determine that each patch in the Nine Patch should measure 2 inches square when finished.

But wait, don’t start cutting yet! You must include a seam allowance or you are going to be very disappointed with your finished block. Since I will sew a 1/4-inch seam on every side of every square, I need to cut my fabric squares to measure 2 inches + 1/2 inch (to account for the seams).  So, I will need 9 squares of fabric that measure 2-1/2 X 2-1/2 inches. 

Common sizes used for Nine Patch blocks

(Finished Block Size / 3) + 1/2″ = Size to cut each patch

6″ finished block/3 = 2 plus 1/2″ = 2 1/2″ patches

9″ finished block/3 = 3 plus 1/2″ = 3 1/2″ patches

12″ finished block/3 = 4 plus 1/2″ = 4 1/2″ patches

How to Make a Nine Patch Block Using Fabric Strips

While you can certainly cut your fabric into 2 1/2″ squares and sew them together, using strips of fabric is a more efficient way to make a Nine-Patch. Fat quarters, yardage, and jelly rolls work well for this method. For instance, fat quarters and yardage can be cut into strips of any width to create different Nine Patch quilt block sizes (see measurements above for patches). On the other hand, using a jelly roll is a quick and easy method to create 6-inch Nine Patch blocks. See our Use-It-Up Jelly Roll Nine Patch post for instructions.

The example below uses two fat quarters. Twelve fat quarters (6 dark and 6 light) will make 60 Nine Patch blocks that are 6-1/2 inches square. I used 6 fat quarters of color and approximately 2 1/2 yards of light background fabric for the quilt pictured at the top of this post. The finished quilt measures 42″ X 64″.


Total Time: 40 minutes

Choose two contrasting Fat Quarters (1 light and 1 dark)

These two fat quarters will make (10) 6 1/2″ Nine Patch blocks.

Fold each fat quarter (FQ) into a 10″ X 18″ rectangle. Trim the 10″ sides of each Fat Quarter to straighten. Align your ruler with the straightened 10″ side. Measure and cut six 2-1/2″ X 20″ strips.

The 2-1/2 inch strips will be approximately 20 inches long when unfolded.

Folding diagram for fat quarters

Unfold each strip and lay them out with light and dark fabrics alternating as shown below. You should have two of each light/dark fabric combination.

fq strip layout fq strip layout

Sew the strip units together Right Sides Together (RST) along the long edges. Press seams toward the dark fabric.

Always pressing the seams toward the dark fabric will make it easier to nest the seams in Step 6.

Sub-cut each strip unit into 2-1/2 inch units that look like the ones pictured below.

Each strip unit should yield 8 sub-cut units for a total of 32 sub-cut units.

fq 25 strip units

Arrange the sub-cut units as shown, nest seams, and sew together to create Nine Patch Blocks. Press seams to one side. Square each block to 6 1/2-inches.

nine patch blocks 2

You should be able to make 10 Nine Patch Blocks by combining the sub-cut units into the patterns shown in step 6. You will have leftover sub-cut units. Save those leftovers and if you choose to make a quilt, you can add them to the top and bottom of the layout to add a little length.

Nine Patch Blocks that Contain Nine Patch Blocks

While you can make a lovely quilt with nothing but nine squares of fabric per block, there are many other quilt blocks that use a Nine Patch block in a Nine Patch layout. Once you master the simple Nine Patch Block, creating each of the vintage quilt blocks below will be easy with a little math.

Building Blocks 1
Building Blocks
Nine Patch Chain
Nine Patch Chain

Nine Patch Layouts that Contain Other Quilt Blocks

Pin Wheel Vintage Quilt Block
Pin Wheel
Double Hour Glass Vintage Block teal_yellow
Double Hour Glass
Weathervane green and brown

Unequal Nine Patch Blocks

4X Star Vintage Block blue and white
4X Star
Crows Nest Vintage Quilt Block green
Crows Nest
Country Lanes Vintage Four Patch Quilt Block green and white
Country Lanes

Best Pre-Cuts to Use for the Nine Patch Block

If you love using pre-cuts, the Nine Patch Block might be just the block to make. Obviously, it is easy to make with fat quarters as outlined above.

Fat Quarters: Cut into any size strip using the math and directions above.

Jelly rolls: Perfect for a 6-inch finished Nine Patch Block. Check out our Jelly Roll Nine Patch Quilt for a little inspiration.

Charm Squares/Layer Cakes/Mini-Charms: And, of course, you can always make a Nine Patch Block by simply sewing squares of fabric together which makes it perfect for Charm packs, Layer Cakes, Mini-Charm packs. See our Savannah Charms Quilt blog post for an example of a quilt made with charm packs.

Ready to Learn all 10 Basic Quilt Blocks?

That’s it for the Nine Patch Block. But, there are so many other vintage quilt blocks. Some are well-known while others are more obscure. The best part is that most of them are simply different combinations of 10 basic quilt blocks. Get the free download below to see the 10 basic blocks and receive a new email every 4 weeks with a basic quilt block pattern. Learn them all and you will be able to master hundreds of vintage quilt block patterns.

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