Craft Chat

Historical Sampler Quilt: Flight of Swallows Block

My favorite part of making a quilt is piecing the very first block.  The process of piecing a quilt can be tedious and repetitive at times, but after making many hours worth of duplicate blocks, it’s time to arrange them, connect them, and then actually quilt the top and the back together.

As an ongoing side project, I’ve decided to capture the fun of that first block by making a sampler quilt.  I’ve been researching historical blocks, making one or two a week from my scraps as I have time, and eventually I’ll have a sampler quilt.  I have no timeline at all, since life is a lot busier now that I’m employed.

As I go, I’ll share the blocks I’m making as well as some of the history I’ve researched.  That has been the most fun for me–doing a bit of extra reading online and in books, looking for the history of each block.  The librarian in me (whether officially employed as such or not) can’t help it!

On that note — If you’re ever looking to get the general gist of a subject, with some interesting facts included, look for a children’s book!  The sentences will be straightforward, the illustrations colorful, and it won’t be dry or boring!

Be sure to check out my sources at the bottom of each post to do some additional reading of your own!

Today’s block is the Flight of Swallows block.  This block seemed tricky at first, but it wasn’t as hard as it seemed.  Still, I was glad I was only making one block instead of an entire quilt!


To create one 12-inch block, you will need:

  • Color One: two 2-7/8″ x 17-1/4″ strips
  • Color Two: one 6-7/8″ x 13-3/4″ strip and
  • one 2-7/8″ x 17-1/4″ strip

(Warning: I made this block from scraps, and I was too lazy to press them first.  So, wrinkly fabric ensues!)

  1. Mark the Color One 2-7/8″ x 17-1/4″ strip into six 2-7/8 inch squares, and cut.
  2. Stack these squares and cut on the diagonal to make twelve half square triangles.
  3. Mark the Color Two 6-7/8″ x 13-3/4″ strip into two 6-7/8″ squares.
  4. Stack these squares and cut on the diagonal to make four half square triangles.
  5. This seems a little tricky at first, but it isn’t.  Stack the remaining Color One and Color Two strips, right sides together.  On the back of the top strip, lightly mark the six 2-7/8″ square lines.  Draw diagonals on each square.

  6. Sew a scant 1/4″ above and below the diagonal lines, pivoting at the square lines.

  7. Cut this apart on the square lines, and on the diagonals between the rows of stitching, to give you twelve half squares.

    Press seams to the darker side, and trim to 2-1/2″ squares.
  8. At this point I finally pressed the fabric, so my scraps aren’t so wrinkly now!  Arrange your half square triangles and half squares to make the four pieced triangles with scant 1/4″ seams.
  9. Sew the first row together, and then the second.

    Attach the bottom half square triangle, and press seams before attaching the rows together.
  10. Sew the pieced triangles to a Color Two large half square triangle.  Press seams toward the large triangle and trim the unit to a 6-1/2″ square.
  11. Repeat to create three more corner units.
  12. Join the four units together to create the block.



According to Marcia Hohn’s Quilter’s Cache website, this block made it’s debut under this name in the late 1930’s.  Specifically, newspaper columnist Nancy Cabot published this block in 1937 as Flight of Swallows (Field Guide to Quilts).  It can be difficult to trace one block’s history because there can be so many different variations of the name.  Flight of Swallows is also known as Birds in the Air, Flying Birds, and Flock of Geese.  Any grouping of half square triangles are known as “geese” because they mimic the formation of birds flying in a flock.

Flying geese–or swallows–have always fascinated me.  I like the movement they bring to a quilt, the image of birds overhead and how they’ve been viewed from the days of the pioneers to today.  Again, I had fun constructing this block and even more fun dipping into the internet to research its origins!



Block pattern: “Flight of Swallows”


Quilter’s Cache:

Field Guide to Quilts:


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