{Classic Quilt Blocks} Shoo Fly - An Introduction

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

Welcome back to my Classic Quilt Blocks series. It's no secret I love my quilt blocks and sampler quilts and sharing them with you is my favorite thing to do. I've missed this little series and couldn't wait to bring it back again in 2021.

The block I've chosen for this month is the gorgeous Shoo Fly block. This is one of my absolute favorites and you may know this block by another name - Simplicity, Hole in the Barn Door or Eight Corned Box, just to name a few. 

At first glance, this little cutie may look plain and under whelming with it's simple square and HST design, but I think it's quite versatile and as we look at it in more detail this month, I'm sure you'll see it's potential.

Over the coming weeks I have some fun posts planned to make you fall in love with the Shoo Fly block, so let's get started and look at it's history, it's design and be inspired by some stunning antique quilts.

Block History:

The Shoo Fly block has a long and illustrious history, with several theories about how it got it's name or what it represented in pioneer life. It originated in 1850 and became popular by the late 1800's because it was an easy block to teach beginner quilters, and it was effective in quilt design.

Most blocks of this era reflect farm life and the square and HST is said to represent a hole in the home through which a fly could enter. It's also possible it was named after a concoction of the juice extracted from a clover bloom and mixed with milk, which was left out to deter flies from the home.

There's also theories it originated from an Amish pie recipe which was said to attract flies as it was baking. The pie was fragrant and had a gooey molasses base, spicy cake on top and encrusted in flaky pastry - I can almost smell this and I'm sure it attracted more than just flies!

Quilts were believed to be used as codes for the Underground Railroad and the theory is a Shoo Fly quilt identified someone who could offer assistance to runaway slaves. This person may be a former slave, a white ally or someone still enslaved themselves, and the quilt was a sign of hope for those looking for protection and shelter.

Whatever version of history you choose to believe, these theories give us so much more appreciation of the simple Shoo Fly block, and it justifies why it belongs in the Classic Quilt Blocks family. It may be simple, but it's versatile and still relevant in our modern day quilting world.

Block Design:

The Shoo Fly block is part of the nine patch family and is drafted using a 3 x 3 grid:

The block is made up of simple squares and HST's, and to determine the unfinished size of each grid unit you simply divide the finished block size by three and add seam allowances. As an example, for a 6" (finished) block the unfinished unit sizes would be 2 1/2" square.

In next week's step by step tutorial, I will give you a Cutting Chart for six sizes of the Shoo Fly block to save you doing the math, and you can add this to your Classic Quilt Blocks chart collection. 

I'll also include trimming sizes for the HST's and I'll explain how to cut, sew and trim HST's so they are perfect every single time.

Colour Values:

Traditionally the Shoo Fly block is sewn using two contrasting colours - the greater the contrast the more the block design stands out as you can see in these three examples:

You're not limited to this though and you can make some pretty scrappy blocks by experimenting with colour placement just like these examples:

Adding more colour can change the way the block design works, so be careful with colour placement and contrast - you'll notice in the far right example that the design is not as prominent and a little lost amid the colours which is not what you're looking for.

Next week is my step by step tutorial and we'll be sewing a 6" (finished) block. It's my favorite week of the series because we get to sew together. I've prepared a colouring sheet for you to print and plan some blocks in preparation for the tutorial.

Simply click on the link below to grab your copy:

Grab your pens, pencils or crayons and get creative!

Antique Quilt Inspiration:

Aren't these quilts amazing? The layouts are quite simple, but they allow the Shoo Fly block to shine, creating a quilt with warmth and personality.

There are a few different layout options here to inspire you, and in Week Three I'll be looking at different layouts and some variations of the block so you can plan a quilt that's unique to you.

I love looking at antique quilts, and I often wonder who slept under them or who they were made for and by whom. They all have a story to tell and what a sweet story these beauties must have. :)

So, here's what coming up in the rest of my Shoo Fly Classic Quilt Blocks series:

  • Week Two - a step by step tutorial for a 6" (finished) Shoo Fly block and a Cutting Chart for six sizes of the block.
  • Week Three - I've put together some layout options and block variations to inspire you to sew your own Shoo Fly quilt.
  • Week Four - a scrappy version of this gorgeous block that I'm sure you're going to love.

And that's it for my introduction to the Shoo Fly block. There's lots more to look forward to as we look at the block more closely, and I hope this series inspires you to use this Classic Quilt Block in future projects!

Happy quilting :)
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  1. Can't wait until next week. I think this is a wonderful block and I really enjoy all your tutorials. Thank you.

    1. I can't wait either Diane - tutorial week is my fav :) I'm so glad you're enjoying this series. I'm happy it's back :)


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