Technically a cotton reel is a spool of cotton thread, but the Cotton Reels Quilt Block is not to be confused with the Spool Quilt Block. The Cotton Reels Quilt Block is an entirely different motif.

The Cotton Reels Quilt Block is made up entirely of alternating squares and half square triangles. As the blocks alternate, the color motifs are kept consistent along the diagonal, so that the top HST is always the same color, but the bottom HST in each diagonal line is a different color. As you can see in the grouping image below, this creates a beautiful ribbon/pennant effect when the blocks are assembled straight set.

I am not sure why this design is named Cotton Reels, but I have a theory. Before there were transformers and Star Wars action figures, a common toy in the home was the Cotton Reel tank. This contraption was made with a spool of cotton thread, a matchstick, a rubber band and a pencil. You can find out how to make it yourself at this link. Or watch the video below to see them in action.

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Notice how when the tanks are "racing" they are staggered. I think that's what someone had in mind when they named this block. I think the consistent upper HST's represents the pencils on the tanks (which many moons ago would have most certainly all have been yellow) and the lower HST's represents the different colors of thread on three different cotton reel tanks that are racing. Or perhaps different colored spools. Again, it's just a theory, but I think it makes sense.

(Using the Quick Corner Method)

Draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of each of your smaller squares. (Figure 1)

With right sides together, align one marked smaller square with one edge of the large base square and another in the opposite corner of the base square as shown in Figure 2. Stitch one thread width to the outside of the diagonal lines.

Cut 1/4″ outside the stitching lines as shown in Figure 3. Flip the triangles open and press the seam allowance toward the triangle. (The exploded image at the top of this page shows arrows indicating which direction you should press.

Repeat steps 2 and 3 for the other corners of your base square to complete the unit.

If you don't see your finished size block in the chart below, here is the formula for how to determine the size pieces you need.

**For the large square:**

Add 1/2" to the finished size.

(If you want a 2.5" finished size, then you need to cut a large square that is 2.5" + .5" = 3")

**For the small squares:**

Divide the finished size of your block in half.

(If your finished size is 2.5", then half would be 1.25".)

Add 1/2" to that to determine the size of your small squares.

(In our example, we would add 1.25" + .5" to result in 1.75" squares.)

for Making Square in a Square Units

(Makes 1 Unit)

Finished Size of SNS Unit | Large Square Base (Cut 1 square the size indicated below) | Corner Triangle Units (Cut 4 squares the size indicated below) |
---|---|---|

2" | 2.5" | 1.5" |

3" | 3.5" | 2" |

4" | 4.5" | 2.5" |

5" | 5.5" | 3" |

6" | 6.5" | 3.5" |

7" | 7.5" | 4" |

8" | 8.5" | 4.5" |

9" | 9.5" | 5" |

10" | 10.5" | 5.5" |

11" | 11.5" | 6" |

12" | 12.5" | 6.5" |

The Quarter Square Triangle Unit (a.k.a. "The Hourglass Unit" and a.k.a. "Yankee Puzzle") is basically a 4-patch, except it's grid is on the diagonal. Again there are several methods that make quick work out of these units. Two popular methods are the "Quick Hourglass Method" which makes 2 Hourglass units at a time and the QST Ruler method. Traditionally, the unit is made with two light pieces and two dark pieces, but interesting effects can be achieved by playing with the color value when several of these units are put together.

Some examples of blocks that use this unit in their design are:

Here are few examples of blocks that use Quarter Square Triangle Units:

Making Quick Hourglass Units is similar to the Quick HST technique, except you start off with larger squares and you basically do the Quick HST technique TWICE.

The first time around you make two HST's from your two fabrics. The second time, you use the HST's you just made.

Draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of one of the triangle square units you just made, going from the light corner to the dark corner.

Next, align the two triangle squares with right sides and opposite fabrics facing.

Sew 1/4" along each side of the marked line.

Cut between your rows of stiches and press seam allowance to one side.

This will result in 2 Hourglass (QST) Units.

Finished Size of QST Unit | Cut 2 Squares from contrasting fabric that are size indicated below |
---|---|

1" | 2 1/4" |

1.5" | 2 3/4" |

2" | 3 1/4" |

2.5" | 3 3/4" |

3" | 4 1/4" |

3.5" | 4 3/4" |

4" | 5 1/4" |

4.5" | 5 3/4" |

5" | 6 1/4" |

5.5" | 6 3/4" |

6" | 7 1/4" |

To use this method, you will need a QST (Hourglass) ruler, such as the one made by Creative Grids or Fons & Porter. The advantage of this method, is the quick precise cutting method, and how easily these units can be chain pieced, allowing you to cut and sew the units rather quickly.

- Determine the finished size you need your unit to be.
- Cut strips from two contrasting fabrics the width indicated by your ruler for your desired finished size.
- Place two contrasting strips right sides together (RST), making sure the raw edges along the long sides of the strips are perfectly aligned. It is helpful to place a pin in one end of the set to minimize shifting.
- Align your ruler so that the bottom of the strip set lines up with the marked line for the width of your strip. Cut along both diagonal sides of the ruler. Place a pin in the pair of triangles you just cut.
- Turn the ruler 180 degrees and this time align the TOP of the strip with the measuring line and align the diagonal edge of the cut fabric with the diagonal edge of the ruler. Cut along the other diagonal. Pin the cut pieces
- Continue along the strip until you have cut as many triangular sets as possible.
- Without separating the cut pairs of triangles, take them to your machine and sew along one of the SHORT diagonal sides using a 1/4" seam. Take care that your layers of fabric are in the same order and that you stitch on the same side of the triangle each time you sew a pair. (This is important, else your units will resemble half square triangles instead of hourglass units!)
- Open each pair of triangles and gently press to the dark side.
- To complete the unit, combine two of these sewn units, right sides together with a 1/4" seam, taking care to "nest" the seams. Press seam to one side.

NOTE: Since this is basically a 4-Patch, you can "twirl" the center seam open in the back so that the unit will lay flatter.

Knowing how to make Half Square Triangles (HSTs) is a useful quilting skill. These foundational units are used in many blocks, and learning how to make a perfect HST unit will open many design possibilities to your quilting.

There are several methods that quilters have developed to make these classic units. Below are two of the most popular, along with cutting charts for making each type.

If you want to give yourself some wiggle room, cut your pieces slightly larger than the size given in the chart. After the unit is completed, trim down to the *unfinished** size, making sure the diagonal line of your unit follows a diagonal line on your ruler.

**Don't accidentally trim off your seam allowance!*

This method creates two HST units at a time, a real time saver!

- Choose two contrasting fabrics, typically one light and one dark.
- Cut squares that are 7/8" larger than your finished size unit. (For example, if your finished HST unit will be 2", then your squares should be 2 7/8" square.)
- On the wrong side of your light square, draw a diagonal line from corner to corner. Pin the light square to a dark square.
- Take to your machine and sew 1/4" to the left of the diagonal line. Turn unit around the other way and sew 1/4" to the left on the other side of the diagonal line.
- Cut the unit in half along the drawn diagonal line.
- Gently press the seam towards the darker fabric.

Finished Size of HST Unit | Cut 2 Squares from contrasting fabric that are size indicated below |
---|---|

1" | 1 7/8" |

1.5" | 2 3/8" |

2" | 2 7/8" |

2.5" | 3 3/8" |

3" | 3 7/8" |

3.5" | 4 3/8" |

4" | 4 7/8" |

4.5" | 5 3/8" |

5" | 5 7/8" |

5.5" | 6 3/8" |

6" | 6 7/8" |

To use this method, you will need a HST ruler, such as the one made by Creative Grids. The advantage of this method, is the quick precise cutting method, and how easily these units can be chain pieced, allowing you to cut and sew the units rather quickly. This is the way to go if you are making LOTS of HSTs.

- Determine the finished size you need your unit to be.
- Cut strips from two contrasting fabrics the width of your finished size unit. For example, for 2" HST units, you should cut your strips 2" wide.
- Place two contrasting strips right sides together (RST), making sure the raw edges along the long sides of the strips are perfectly aligned. It is helpful to place a pin in one end of the set to minimize shifting.
- If you are right handed, square off the left end of the strip set. Align your ruler so that the bottom of the strip set lines up with the marked line for the width of your strip, and so that the left edge of the ruler lines up with the squared off edge of the set. In our example of 2" HST finished units, you would align the bottom of the strip with the 2" line. (If you are left handed, you should reverse these instructions.)
- Cut your strip along the diagonal of the ruler. Place a pin in the two fabrics you just cut.
- Turn the ruler 180 degrees and this time align the TOP of the strip with the measuring line (Again, in our example this would be the 2" line.) Pin the cut pieces
- Continue along the strip until you have cut as many triangular sets as possible.
- Take the cut sets to your machine and sew along the diagonal using a 1/4" seam.
- Gently press to the dark side.

The most common use of a rail unit is for making Rail Fence Quilt Blocks. These blocks are quick and simple to make, and are a great use of leftover scraps.Below are several other examples of blocks that contain rail units of one form or another:

Join 4 Rail Units together to make this simple classic

Combine 4 Rail Units, 4 Square in a Square Units and a Center Square

Requires 4 Rails Units, 8 Flying Geese Units and a Central Square.

To construct a rail unit, first determine your finished size. Divide the finished size by the number of rectangles your unit will contain. This will be your finished size,

For example, if your finished block is 6" and you want three strips, divide 6 by 3. This results in a finished size of 2" x 6" rectangles. Now, you add .5" to each measurement to get your cut size. The result is that you cut your rectangles 2.5" x 6.5"

After you cut the rectangles, sew the pieces right sides together using a 1/4" seam. Press to the dark side.

To strip piece rail units, cut two strips the width required for your finished unit. Place the strips right sides together and sew along the long edge using a 1/4" seam. Press open, with seam going toward the dark side. Then subcut the units into the lengths required. (For example, to make 4" finished rail units, you would cut two strips that were 2.5" wide and WOF. After sewing the strips together, you would subcut the strip into 4.5" lengths.