The Economy quilt block was popular in the 1930’s and is still a beloved quilt block to make today! This step-by-step patchwork tutorial will show you how I make an Economy quilt block, and hopefully give you the confidence to successfully make your own as well!
While of course Economy Quilt Blocks can be found in tons of traditional quilts throughout time, I like to give them a modern twist in my own patterns. Once example of a modern way to use the Economy block is in the Paradigm quilt pattern, which will be released on January 14th in my pattern shop.
What is an Economy Quilt Block?
To put it simply, an economy quilt block is a square within a square, and then that unit is also within a square! You might have also called them diamond in a square units, too. They’re a lot of fun and also use some crazy measurements, so let’s dive into this Economy Quilt Block Tutorial.
If you enjoy videos and want to see this quilt block tutorial in action, check it out here:
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How to make an Economy Block
Before we get started sewing, if you’re relatively new to patchwork and piecing, I highly recommend you check out How to Sew Perfect 1/4″ Seams before starting! That post will help set you up for success on these quilt blocks.
Step 1: Starch and Press Your Fabric
I personally love spraying my fabric with Best Press and pressing with a hot iron before I start cutting. It keeps the pieces from stretching on the bias (very important here!) and makes them nice and crisp.
Step 2: Cut Fabric into squares of Your Desired Sizes
The middle square is easy, it’s just a square! It’s fun to use the middle square to showcase a fun print by fussy-cutting or even just have freedom here to easily use a directional print. The size you should cut your center square is easy to determine. Simply take the desired finished size of your block and divide by 2, then add a 1/2″ for seam allowance. For example, if you want an 8″ finished block you would cut your center square to 4.5″.
For the corners outside the middle square and the corners outside that square, you’ll need 2 squares of fabric for each fabric. Cut those 4 squares on the diagonal. The diagonal side should be at least 1/2″ longer than the side of the square you are sewing it to. See the calculation info below for quilt math help!
Step 3: Sew your first 2 corners on, press seams open
Begin by sewing two seams that are directly across from each other, with right sides together and a 1/4″ seam allowance. Press those 2 seams open. It helps if you also trim off the dog ears after this step to reduce bulk.
Step 4: Repeat on opposite sides of center square
Next, sew the remaining 2 triangles on the opposite sides. Again, this is with right sides together and a 1/4″ seam allowance. Press the seams open. Trim off the dog ears and make sure you have 1/4″ of seam allowance on all 4 sides. Square up your block if needed.
Step 5: Repeat steps 3 & 4
Using your second set of triangles, you’ll repeat the process in steps 3 and 4 to complete your Economy Quilt Block. Once the seams are sewn and pressed, trim off the excess to make it your desired block size (plus seam allowance!)
What size Starting Squares for an Economy Block
Did I warn you already that the Economy Quilt block uses some funky sizes? It’s not a simple & easy formula, but it is definitely possible to calculate your starting squares for any size finished economy block – with a little bit of math! (OR you can just purchase a quilt pattern and it will tell you exactly how to do it!!)
To make it easy for you, I’ve calculated the sizes I would use to make 5 very common quilt block sizes. You can use this guide as a reference tool. Please know you can always cut your sets of 2 squares slightly bigger and trim more of the excess off after sewing.
Scroll down to figure out how to calculate your own size starting pieces for ANY size quilt block!
Making an Economy Quilt Block using Directional Fabrics
If you want to make an Economy Quilt Block, but are using fabrics that have a specific directional design (like stripes!) then you’ll want to be a bit more careful when cutting to make sure the directions are all aligned correctly.
Fussy Cutting the center square
The center square on your Economy Quilt Block is a perfect chance to Fussy Cut your fabric. If you’re unfamiliar with fussy cutting for quilting, it simply means that you choose a specific piece of the fabric design to feature in the center of your fabric cut. The center square on an economy block goes straight up & down, on grain with the fabric.
The 2 Sets of 2 Squares
The remaining 4 squares that you cut to make your economy quilt block all get cut on the diagonal. The important thing here is that you cut them each in opposite diagonals, so that when you lay them on all 4 sides of your block, the directions can all face the way you want them to. A trick to ensure accuracy is to fold the piece of fabric in half diagonally where you think you might cut it, and place it next to the square to make sure it looks how you want it to prior to cutting.
The EASIEST WAY to make an Economy Quilt Block: Use AccuQuilt
If you generally just don’t enjoy quilt math, then I definitely recommend AccuQuilt! Dies 1, 3, and 4 from any Mix and Match GO! Qube will give you the exact shapes you need for an Economy Quilt Block!
Geometry in Quilting
When I took geometry class in high school, I definitely remember thinking about how “I’ll never use this in real life”… Well, oh boy was I dead wrong! If you’ve ever learned geometry, let’s think about triangles. Specifically, can you remember how to determine “x” in a right triangle? When x is the length of one of the sides and you are given the lengths of the other 2? That’s exactly what we do when we need to figure out the size of our squares for the Economy Quilt Block! Only, in this case we know the long diagonal (shown as “c” in the image below), but we have to find out the other 2 sides of the triangle. The sides of the triangles are the starting square measurement! (Shown as “a” and “b” below.)
Pythagorean’s Theorem for Calculating a Quilt Block
I’d like to highlight the use of Pythagorean’s Theorem here… if you’re thinking “what on earth……?” that’s ok, just stay with me! Pythagorean’s Theorem is the formula for calculating an edge of a right triangle:
The formula above helped me a ton in determining what sizes I needed to cut my pieces, so I hope it helps you too! The process I used in designing my Paradigm quilt pattern was to actually start with the finished size square and work backwards, knowing I would be cutting squares diagonally into right triangles.
As mentioned above, the middle square is easy. It’s half of your desired finished block + 1/2″ for seam allowance.
The “c” edge (the long diagonal) on the triangle will eventually be matched up with one of the edges of your square. Because of this, you’ll want to make sure to cut your corner pieces large enough for the long triangle edge to have at least a 1/4″ on each side of the square for seam allowance, or larger. Some extra wiggle room is always nice too. Use the Pythagorean’s Theorem to calculate what “a” and “b” should be (hint: a = b) and that will be the size of your 2 squares!