Monday, 24 August 2015

Union Square - Red Sky at Night Quilt

In 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, the City of Chicago held the "Century of Progress" World Fair to celebrate the city's centenary and provide an alternative story to the weary newspaper headlines of the day. It was a feast of amazing architecture, scientific discoveries and celebrities. During the fair, Seers, Roebuck & Co, and American department store, sponsored a quilt competition, promising prizes totaling over $7000. (A teacher's salary in the 30s was around $80 a month!) An incredible 25,000 quilts were entered, delivered to local outlets where they were hung, judged, and a select few were sent on to the next level of competition. In the end only 20 were displayed at the fair, and a booklet, "Seers' Century of Progress in Quiltmaking" was published, with patterns of some of the finalists.

I found a copy of the booklet here at Q is for Quilting. About half way through down the page, you'll find today's block. It's been named "An Original Design", but a variation named "Union Square" where the 'bear paw' sections were all one colour so the whole block had less contrast, was published as early as the 1890s, so it would have been familiar to readers. I settled on this block and last week's Cross and Crown, after wrestling with the Bear Paw block, a long time favourite of mine. Bear Paw has a 25 (5x5) square base, making it perfect as a 10" block, and really fiddly as 12" block. But these are fun alternatives, and they do make me wonder if they came about the same way - looking for a way to make a 10" block work in a different size, or maybe they wanted to work more colours in, or less than blocks they'd worked with before?


You will need:

Red: One 4.5" square, two 5" squares cut in half diagonally, four 2.5" squares (not pictured. I remembered them after!) and eight 3" squares cut in half diagonally for half square triangles.

White: Two 3.75" squares cut in half diagonally, and eight 3" squares cut in half diagonally for half square triangles.

1. Sew the small red triangles to the small white triangles. Press and trim to 2.5" Put aside for later.

2. Sew two of the larger white triangles to each side of the 4.5" square. Press outward.

3. Sew the other two triangles to the other sides. Press outward.

3. Trim to 6 1/8".

4. Attach large red triangles. Trim to 8.5" This is your 'economy block'.

5. Each row of 2.5" HSTs will face the 'economy block' as above. Arrange the HSTs with the small red squares in the corners around the centre block and sew together in rows. I started by sewing those little red geese together in the middle. Then I added the outer squares. This helped me sew them all in the right direction.

6. Sew one row to the top and bottom of the block. Press seams open. Then, with the 2.5" red squares sewn to the ends of the other rows, attach these also. Press.

The 1933 Seers Quilt competition is still the biggest the world has seen. And it's easy to see why. The Depression created an explosion in quiltmaking - a beautiful, practical way of keeping old clothes and table cloths, when they could no longer afford store bought blankets. And the generous prize money in that context gave an incredible incentive to those 25,000 women to get their quilts in in just five months. Oh how I would have loved to be one of those store workers sorting those entries!


  1. I just love getting all the history behind these blocks! Your series is wonderful, my friend!

  2. I looooove this one Jodi in fact I'm tempted to make it in black or charcoal and white the contrast is so yum! But it might be a bit to strong for the rest of my quilt... hmmmmm decisions decisions :)

  3. Love getting all this history--so glad I found this (finally) FYI we still have Sears stores!


I so love your comments! I read all of them and reply when I can. If you don't hear back, I'm lost under a mound of scraps or outside jumping on the trampoline with the kids. Jodi. xx