{Classic Quilt Blocks} Jacobs Ladder - An Introduction

Classic Quilt Blocks have been sewn for centuries, are easy to recognise and are every quilter's favorite. Let's celebrate these gorgeous blocks and add them to our sewing projects!

It's a new month and time for a new block in my Classic Quilt Blocks series. This month I chose the gorgeous and versatile Jacobs Ladder block, and this is another time-honoured block that's super fun to play with.

There are many variations of this block and you may have seen it referred to as the Road to California or Stepping Stones block, Underground Railway or Wagon Tracks block. These variations reflect how the colours are used in the block, and the geographical locations they represent.

It's simple in design, but it allows you to create stunning links in your quilt layout. It can be used as an overall design or as a secondary block to add diagonals to your pattern. I'll show you more in the coming weeks but let's first look at this block in a little more detail.

Block History:

"And he dreamed and behold a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached the heavens and behold the angels of God were ascending and descending on it." - Genesis 28:11-22

The Jacobs Ladder block is an old block with rich religious roots. Some historians date it back to before the Revolutionary War, while others believe it was first used during the Civil War and was part of the underground railway code, leading thousands of slaves to freedom.

Reading the Bible was a big part of everyday pioneer life, and often quilt blocks were given biblical names to reflect the belief and conviction of the spiritual life. Jacobs Ladder is spoken about in Genesis where Jacob dreams of a ladder to heaven during his flight from his brother Esau. 

It was also a popular block in Amish history due to it's religious link and it's versatile simplicity. It allowed the quilter to be creative with colour and create some visually appealing designs.

Whatever version of history you believe, it's a block that's still relevant in today's modern quilting world, and designers will continue to use this block for centuries to come.

Block Design:

The Jacobs Ladder block is a simple nine patch and is drafted using a 3 x 3 grid:

The block is made up of simple four patches and HST's, and it's a stunning example of geometry and colour play.

To determine the size of each unit, simply divide the finished block size by three and add your seam allowances. This means each HST and four patch unit should measure this size unfinished.

To make it easy for you, next week's step by step tutorial will include a Cutting Chart with six different sizes, so you don't have to do the math.

Colour Values:

The traditional Jacobs Ladder block consisted of only two colours - one light and one dark:

This block has so much potential, and it's hard not to play and give the block a whole new look, and add some interesting diagonals:

These examples give you some idea of this block's versatility. It looks different in each diagram and if there is a definite distinction between the block elements, you can go as scrappy as you want.

I'll show you how simple changes to the colour values create different effects in Week 3 of this Classic Quilt Blocks series.

Antique Inspiration:

You only need to look at antique quilts to find inspiration to use this block. How simple and sweet are these quilts? Even in a basic setting, the quilts are stunning - I love the scrappy ones! The ones set with a plain square as a secondary block, highlight the ladder and show why this is a good link or chain block.

I'll show you more layout options over the coming weeks, and hopefully they will inspire you to sew your own Jacobs Ladder quilt.

Next week is tutorial week and we're going to sew a 6" block (finished). We'll do some strip piecing to make it quick and easy, and I've got a colouring sheet for you so you can plan some blocks of your own and be ready to sew along with me.

Simply click the link, download and print and get creative!

So, here's what to expect in the coming weeks of my Jacob's Ladder Classic Quilt Blocks series:

  • Week 2 - step by step tutorial for a 6" (finished) block and a cutting chart for six sizes for future projects.
  • Week 3 - Lots of quilty inspiration to get you planning your own Jacobs Ladder quilt.
  • Week 4 - a quick and easy freebie mini quilt pattern for you to try!

And that's it for this week's introduction post. It's going to be another fun month celebrating this gorgeous Classic Quilt Block and I hope it inspires you to start planning your own Jacobs Ladder quilt to enjoy!

Happy quilting :)
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