When it comes to designing a quilt it can sometimes help to go with a theme – especially for a sampler or a block of the month – such as ‘seaside’, ‘houses’, ‘trees’. You then have the entertaining task of finding blocks that fit the theme, that ‘go’ together, that perhaps make use of different techniques. How much easier would it be if someone had already done that for you and presented you with a bundle of themed blocks and several ideas for making quilts from them? It so happens that I have a few books of that sort on my shelves! Although this time it is only a few.

The first one I pulled off the shelves is Branching Out – Tree Quilts by Carolann Palmer and published by That Patchwork Place in 1986.

Like most books from this publisher it is beautifully produced with good quality, shiny paper and lots of diagrams and colour photos of the finished quilts and other items. It includes plenty of general instructions on quilt making and planning as well as over twenty tree patterns. You would be surprised what blocks can be made to look like a tree with a little imagination, colouring and the odd extra piece or two. As well quilt ideas it also has instructions for ten small projects typical of the time – napkins, hostess apron (!), – and more useful everyday (even today) things such as a needlecase and pincushion and also a thread wastebasket.

Next up is Samplings from the Sea by Rosemary Makhan and published by That Patchwork Place in 1993.

This book just has the one quilt with instructions for fourteen blocks and where and how to place them as well as more general instructions on fabric selection, cutting pieces, making templates and different types of seam – set-in and curved. It has plenty of black and white diagrams but the only photo of the quilt is on the covers.

I have two books on baskets. I dimly remember teaching a sampler quilt class with lots of basket blocks back in the very early 1990s but I’m not sure I used this next book very much as I also have lots of basket blocks found in various magazines and stored in a large file. It is another publication from That Patchwork Place and is called Basket Garden written by Mary Hickey and published in 1989.

Again a beautifully produced book it has general instructions on fabrics, cutting, piecing and six different applique methods followed by instructions to make an ‘heirloom basket sampler’ which is a simpler version of the quilt on the cover. Detailed instructions and applique templates are given for twelve basket blocks used in this quilt and then five different basket quilt patterns are outlined with fabric yardages and reference to the blocks used.

My final book is simply called Baskets for Quilters by Betty Boyink and self-published in 1982.

It has a few general instructions for making ‘soft-sculpture’ baskets – i.e. 3D baskets along with templates for them. There are patterns with templates (no rotary cutting here) for twenty one pieced basket blocks and fourteen applique basket blocks. These sections also include brief instructions for piecing and applique but are mainly ideas on fabric choice and how to redraw the blocks to a different size. The final page has some ideas for incorporating basket blocks in clothing – such as aprons or jackets. Patterns are also given for two quilted baskets to use in plain squares between blocks. It is as much an ‘ideas’ book as a pattern book, but is very much of its time; the only colour is the cover.

Magazines often have themed quilts running over several issues and some (many) years ago they were quite popular so lurking in various files and folders are magazine pages covering house blocks and quilts, Christmas blocks and quilts and similar ideas. Christmas quilts are a theme for another day though, nearer the time perhaps!