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Associating Quilts With the American West

Updated on May 16, 2019
Ronna Pennington profile image

Ronna Pennington is a professional craft writer and a life-long DIY-er whose motto is "If I can hot glue it, I can do it."

A Simple Pinwheel

This simple pinwheel quilt block design is made of four half-square triangle sets grouped to depict motion. Print out this block for a 9-inch block pattern (seam allowance included)
This simple pinwheel quilt block design is made of four half-square triangle sets grouped to depict motion. Print out this block for a 9-inch block pattern (seam allowance included) | Source

Frugal with Fabrics

Even though we know quilts existed long before American pioneer days, we tend still to associate quilting with pioneers. The truth is, quilting was important to them. As families headed westward to homestead, every little bit of fabric was needed. The frugal pioneer women could afford to waste nothing, which is probably the main reason we associate quilting with that era (then, later, the Great Depression).

Depression era quilting became more widespread because newspapers throughout the United States began publishing quilt block patterns. These mass produced patterns gave women the "luxury" of making new blocks to add to their quilt repertoire. Still very utilitarian in purpose, and very frugally made from fabric feed sacks, the quilt patterns gave women something socially to talk about other than the hard times everyone was having.

"Wheel" Blocks Capture Movement

One thing that is interesting, however, is that many quilt block patterns tell a story about the pioneers. One such design is the pinwheel. Wheels denote movement. The pioneers were definitely moving! Wagon wheels carried them across the nation. Wheel barrows made their work a little lighter.

Pinwheels also symbolized the necessities that made life go 'round. For example, wheels were used in food production. In gristmills, they ground wheat and corn into meal. In sawmills, they helped haul logs. Windmills helped pump water. You can see how important the wheel was to American pioneers. Given its importance, it is no wonder that the wheel motif worked its way into quilt block designs. In a way, we are not so different from that distant past. We still depend on wheels today -- on our cars and trucks, as mechanisms in our blenders, in DVD form to watch movies (or quilting videos) and more!

As anyone who has been quilting for a while might imagine, the wheel-related quilt block names vary. For instance, some pinwheel patterns may also be known as a pinwheel star. There are several variations of the pinwheel star design. Some have the saw tooth edging added around the block.

Easiest to Recreate

The simplest pinwheel quilt block is a four patch block made of half-square triangles. When using a dominant fabric and a more neutral one, the wheel design is obvious. If you are looking for a traditional design to make but need something really easy, this is a great pattern! Beginners should be careful though. There are other four patch pinwheel designs out there that are more complicated. These use squares and half-square triangles. Another challenging pinwheel design is the Flying Kite Pinwheel.

Even with the simplest pinwheel block, you can make a striking quilt. Experiment with colors and prints. Change the size of the quilt blocks for a different look. The pinwheel pattern provides an interesting look at how the lines of half-square triangles can work together to depict a circular motion!

Note that your color and fabric choices will also impact the perceived motion of the quilt. In the top image, two fabrics have been used for one quilt block. One is a bold pattern and the other is neutral. When the blocks are consistently arranged, this allows the bold fabric to take the forefront and to mimic motion. The second fabric gives the same illusion, but it falls to the background because of its neutrality.

Advanced Pinwheel Tutorial

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How to Quilt Your Pinwheel Blocks

Obviously, the way you choose to quilt your finished pieced top is up to you. If you're a beginner, I recommend "in the ditch" quilting. That's where you use the seams of the design as the quilting pattern. The plus is that the beautiful pieced block design gets replicated on the back. The down side is that quilting through the pieced seams is not the sturdiest option. Instead of quilting directly on the seams, opt instead for stitching that is one-quarter inch away from the seam. Be sure to keep either a quarter-inch to the left or to the right of the seam throughout the project for a neat, consistent look on the back.


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