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Disappearing Nine Patch: Color and Design

Sometime around the end of December, a friend and I were talking and she said something about "what's that thing you do with a nine patch?" and I remembered how much I enjoy making a good disappearing nine patch pattern. It is the pattern I used for my Thanksgiving quilt (which is one of the posts on my blog that gets the most hits, still—even 9 years after I posted it!), and you can read more detailed instructions about it HERE. Basically, though, a disappearing nine patch is a block made from a 3x3 grid of squares; you cut the big square in half on the vertical and horizontal centers, turn some or all of the smaller squares, and sew them back together.

When I decided I needed to get brave, put on my "real quilter" pants, and try out my new sewing machine (which I must blog about separately, it's so great!), that idea that had stuck in my head really wanted to express itself.

So I made two different versions.

One, a hot pad, is the first thing I sewed with my new machine. I am still definitely figuring out how to move the fabric, so the seams aren't as exact as I had hoped, but that's OK. I made this knowing it was mostly for practice, and it turned out, if a little bit wonky, just fine for using for its intent, which is sitting on my counter and having wet dishes or hot pans placed on top of it:

Dnp hot pad finished

That fabric! I love it, especially the text one I used for the center squares. I fussy cut that part so I could make sure to get the phrases I liked the best. And the colors I think are just lovely.

The second version is a baby quilt I made for my friend's new grandson. (Kendell thinks it's strange that I made a quilt for a friend's grandbaby, because I only know the parents via my friend. But it feels like a way of showing my friend I love her, and to celebrate the new person in her life. Does it really matter if I don't know the parents very well?) I made a quilt with shark fabric for their first baby, but I couldn't find sharks this time. Instead I went with these cute whales:

This one is called "Sun on Waves":

Dnp sun and waves darker

Since I’ve already written a tutorial for this square, I thought I’d just add some details about the process.

The fun thing with disappearing nine patch is that it can give you a random, scrappy look (like the baby quilt) or a more controlled, repetitive look (like the hot pad) depending on how you do it. ​It looks complicated but it's really simple: you make a nine patch square, cut it into fourths, and then rotate the new, smaller squares you made by cutting the larger one. The look you get depends on two things: how you organize the fabric in the larger square and how you rotate the smaller squares.

Fabric Organization

Think of the nine patch as a grid, three rows, three columns. What you put in each of these has an impact on how the finished piece will look. The fabric in squares 1, 3, 7, and 9 will become the large squares; 2, 4, 6, and 8 will become the rectangles, and the center square, 5, will become the smaller squares.

Dnp before cutting

(Forgive the ruler...I should've taken a photo of the block without the ruler but I didn't.)

In both of my examples, I used the same fabric for 1, 3, 7, and 9. These are my focal fabrics. I wanted them to be as visible and as...uncut, I guess, as possible. This is a good position for a fabric with a larger print, like those whales. Any smaller (I started with 8.5" squares) and they would've all just been cut apart and unrecongizable as whales.

The fabric in the center square is also important. Since it becomes the smallest piece, it is also visually noticeable. Especially when you assemble the quilt, this is the fabric that will give a sense of movement. I tend to put my very favorite small print here. 

I think of the fabrics in the even squares as supporting pieces. They set the tone of the finished piece but they don't grab as much visual attention. 

I've never made a disappearing nine patch that was scrappier than "Sun on Waves." I like the repetition that the pattern gives, but I confess, I'm itching to make another one that's even scrappier. What if each of 1, 3, 7, 9 squares were different? Or opposite corners were matching? (So 1 and 9 were the same, and 3 and 7. Or even 1 and 7, 3 and 9.) Or if the whole thing were done with, say, shades of purple but everything scrappy? (If I try it, I’ll share!)

For this one, though, I stuck with repeating the whale fabric in the corners, and then all the other squares are scrappy. I didn't repeat any of the other fabrics, so I used 16 8.5" whale squares and 20 8.5" scrappy squares. Since it was so many different fabrics, I unified with tones and by repeating colors—light blue, a little aqua, yellow, green, and a couple with more than one color but still the same tones. I thought about using a dark aqua for the center squares but in the end decided I wanted those to be scrappy, too.​ When I sewed together the nine patches, I made sure each one had at least one yellow and at least one green. I mixed in some aqua pieces, too. I think the balancing of color gives it a unified feeling—it’s not obnoxiously scrappy—while still appearing random.

(In case it’s not obvious: I really, really love a good scrappy quilt!)

Square Rotation

Once you cut the large 9 patch squares into smaller squares, it’s time to rotate. There are a bunch of different ways you can rotate the squares, and each one will give a different look to the quilt. You can rotate all of the squares one turn, or half of the squares two turns, or whatever else you come up with. If you haven’t done it before, play around with the rotation to see what you like!

Dnp hot pad cut and turned

For the hot pad, I rotated the top left and bottom right squares. I knew I wanted to do that, so when I sewed the nine patches together, I sewed those corners (#1 and #9) in upside down, so that when I rotated, they all ran the same direction. (If the main fabric doesn’t have a directional pattern, this wouldn’t matter.)

For the quilt, I rotated all of the squares clockwise one rotation. This makes the rectangles line up in a sort of spiral that I love. Since I wanted it to be scrappier and not have a repeating pattern, I also shifted the squares in each pile. I left the first one as it was, and then for all of the other piles, I shifted one, then two, then three of them underneath. I wasn’t worried about the main fabric staying the same direction because the whales are kind of swirling around anyway.

Dnp sun and waves cut and sorted

I loved making these two pieces. They came together so quickly and were fun to make!

Just for fun, here are the backs: 

Dnp hot pad with back

I almost always piece quilt backs. This one has a strip of minky, which, gah, means I had a pucker after I finished quilting it...puckers are almost inevitable, I think, with minky!

Dnp sun and waves back



You're almost inspiring me to make a quilt again! Glad the new machine is working so well for you too.

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