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Mystery Quilts? What Fun!

Updated on January 24, 2017
JanTUB profile image

Quilter, author, tutor, columnist, Jan T Urquhart Baillie has been enthusing others with her passion for quilting for more than 30 years.


Come On a Magical Mystery Quilt Tour With Me

Have you heard of mystery quilts? They are popular in Australia and online.

The idea is that patchworkers get to make units for a quilt, over a period — usually at weekly intervals, not knowing what the outcome is to be.

Some mystery quilt sites have actual mystery clues to search for.


What Is a Mystery Quilt?

Do you have to be a detective?

That's not it!

When quilters sign up for a mystery quilt, they are sent the instructions a piece at a time. They have no idea what the end project will look like, and they don't care.

Usually the requirements list will be sent out after the quilter enrolls in the class. At that time, the first set of instructions will also be available.

What the designer (teacher) does is work out how to present the material for making the quilt top in such a way that the design is hidden until almost the very end.


Pattern Instructions For a Quilt

Standard Format vs Mystery Format

If a teacher is writing instructions for a quilt design that will be known from the start, he/she will start by setting out what blocks will be used, and how many in which colours, and so on.

The quilter will make a given number of particular blocks, assemble them into a top and add borders, as per the instructions.

He/she will be guided by the pattern picture as to how the end result should look.

The pattern could look like the one shown.

Are You Ready

for a mystery quilt adventure?

A Quilt Top From a Mystery Quilt Class

Using the shop owner's choice of fabrics

A quilt shop owner, Noreen, asked me to design a mystery quilt. The fabrics were chosen by her to show what could be done with these particular prints.

The students didn't see the quilt, but were given weekly classes for six weeks, by which time they had all the units made and were ready to assemble the quilt top.

Below you see the original, and under that Noreen's version.
Hers is striking isn't it?

The Original Design


Noreen's Version


Mysterious Instructions:

How To Run a Mystery Quilt Project

If you are thinking of running a mystery quilt challenge for your guild or patchwork club, you can use the information on this hub to get you started.

If you need more info, or help with a specific part of your challenge project, add a comment in the guestbook.

Design For Our Mystery Quilt

Psst! It's a secret!

So You Get a Pattern?

Not For a Mystery Quilt

When devising the instructions for one of these mystery quilts, the teacher/designer decides how to deconstruct the pattern into units or sub-units that seem not to be coming together into a recognisable design.

The design must be a surprise at the end, so there would not be a quilt diagram.

The designer would break the quilt pattern into units that can be sewn independently of the design. Very Mysterious!

Our Pattern

There are five Saw Tooth blocks and four Ribbon Border blocks, arranged in alternating sequence.

The quilt was coloured in Electric Quilt using the whole design as a grid, not the individual blocks.

The four corner blocks are coloured exactly the same, but they have been rotated to get the pattern to work. The centre block is coloured differently.

The four Ribbon Border blocks are identical.

One corner block - Saw Tooth
One corner block - Saw Tooth | Source

How Do You Present the Pattern?

A Bit At a Time

So it stays a secret.

Units can be pulled from the blocks, and I have shown an example using one corner block.

The centre is also made with the same units, but different colourings.

The other four blocks would be made from different units all together.

There are four of these that are the same, and one in the centre that is coloured differently.

The Block Broken Into Units

You need four times these to make the corner blocks
You need four times these to make the corner blocks
There are four side (Ribbon Border) blocks
There are four side (Ribbon Border) blocks | Source
Adding extra seam lines to the block
Adding extra seam lines to the block | Source

Alter the Construction of the Side Block

To Make It More Mysterious

By adding a horizontal, and a vertical axis line to the Ribbon Border block, (right, top) I can explode it into four units (right, bottom).

The resulting units they are to construct will help to confuse the quilters who are making the mystery quilt.

The patchworkers will be able to place some finished units side by side to see what design they make.

However, these units will be larger squares when sewn, than the units for the Saw Tooth block.

More mysterious!

Add Some Extra Seam Lines

Add some additional lines to the Ribbon Border block, allows you to break it apart like the picture. (Right, )

New units for Ribbon Border block
New units for Ribbon Border block

Here's How To Keep It Secret:

Ssh! Don't let anyone hear you!

Mix It Up

The teacher would give instructions for one or two units from one block, and a unit from one of the other blocks in the first lesson.

He/she would add some different ones in the subsequent lessons, making sure to include units from the Ribbon Border blocks as well as the Saw Tooth ones, each time more instructions were sent out to the participants.

That will keep them guessing, because they can't make them fit together!

Here's a Free Mystery Quilt

You know you need to learn a new thing every day...

It's a mystery no more - Did you learn a secret?

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    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      Very fun idea, pinned to my sewing and quilting board.

    • JanTUB profile image

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 6 years ago from Australia

      @MargoPArrowsmith: And it's such fun to do, too. Thanks for dropping in.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 7 years ago

      I do needlepoint and knitting, but I wish I could quilt! This is such a great idea!

    • JanTUB profile image

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 7 years ago from Australia

      @BuckHawkcenter: Why not start one, then! Glad you enjoyed the lens.

    • BuckHawkcenter profile image

      BuckHawkcenter 7 years ago

      Mystery quilts are so much fun! I have participated in several and so tickled with the results. Have to find a way to get back into one!

    • JanTUB profile image

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 7 years ago from Australia

      @Quilt_Business: So glad you had fun!

    • profile image

      Quilt_Business 8 years ago

      These are great fun!. Thanks for sharing.

    • JanTUB profile image

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 8 years ago from Australia

      [in reply to LaraineRose] They would have been itching to tell each other the next part, I bet. It is a fun idea isn't it?

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 8 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      Every winter, Mum and the neighbour ladies had a quilt going in our big kitchen/family room on the farm. I loved to watch it develop. I was all ears as they told each other what was going on in the town and their families. I bet the mystery quilt would have gone over big with them! What a great idea.

    • JanTUB profile image

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 8 years ago from Australia

      [in reply to MeltedRachel] It is great fun, especially for the clever clogs who try to make a design before they have it all!

    • Rachel Field profile image

      Rachel Field 8 years ago

      What a great idea! I've seen this done with knitting but never thought about doing it for quilting or anything else- ooh the possibilities are endless! Great lens 5*