BLOCK Friday: Shoo Fly Quilt Block

The Shoo Fly quilt block is one of those traditional quilt block names that every quilter knows. Another name that was popular with farmers in the mid- to late-1800s was Hole in the Barn Door. Today, quilters are familiar with traditional quilt block names like Churn Dash quilt block, which look similar to the Shoo Fly block. Patchwork Blues (below) is a beautiful example of what the Shoo Fly can do for a quilt.

Patchwork Blues by Mari Martin
Patchwork Blues by Mari Martin

Legend has it, the simple Shoo Fly quilt block was used to teach young girls the basics of piecing and sewing. Because of its simple square and half-square triangle construction, the block was easy enough for a beginner to practice quilt design and construction. In fact, the Shoo Fly test block in an episode of Quilty, with Mary Fons, was made by someone who had never pieced anything before in his life!

There is speculation as to where the name originates, but one theory cites clover Shoo Fly - Quilting in Americabroom (Shoofly plant) as a source. This plant is said to drive off flies when the plant’s juices and root are mixed with milk and set on a bedside table.

Whatever its origin, this gorgeous, depression-era quilt block makes its statement in a variety of different forms. Depending on color arrangement, the primary design can appear as four arrows in the corners, pointing to a center block or a circle with a hole in the center.

Can you see the Shoo Fly quilt blocks in Emily’s Wedding Quilt?

Emily's Wedding Quilt by Liz Porter
Emily’s Wedding Quilt by Liz Porter

Here’s a variation on the Shoo Fly quilt block. It’s called Shoo Shoo Fly. See how the half-square triangles in the corners are oversized compared to the center block? Makes for a very interesting aesthetic!

Shoo Shoo Fly by Christina McCourt
Shoo Shoo Fly by Christina McCourt

And of course, With Help from Friends by Liz Porter. This ultimate scrappy quilt pattern features 180 itty bitty Shoo Fly blocks. Isn’t this great?! This quilt has all the charm of a vintage scrap quilt and it’s hard to beat a scrap quilt.

With Help from Friends by Liz Porter
With Help from Friends by Liz Porter

Do you know anything else about the Shoo Fly block? Let me know in the comments below. Enjoy!

Carrie Sisk, Online Editor, Fons & Porter


Happy Quilting!

Carrie Sisk, Fons & Porter, Online Editor

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Carrie Sisk

About Carrie Sisk

Carrie's first sewing machine was a gift from her dad—a better gift was never given. A crafter, trained pianist and experienced paintballer, when the opportunity arises, she's hiking in Yosemite or Rocky Mountain National Park.

10 thoughts on “BLOCK Friday: Shoo Fly Quilt Block

  1. I read that the Amish called this block “Shoo Fly” because the square in the center was a pie or cake, and the four ‘arrows’ that point to the center of the block are ‘flies’ that just won’t stay away from fresh baking!

  2. Hello Sheyenne, Just wanted to drop you a note to let you know how much I am enjoying this “Block Friday” series. Learning the history and background of different quilt shapes is very interesting to me. So, thanks and keep up the good work!

  3. Although I can’t think of a connection between the quilt block and the Pennsylvania Dutch coffee cake “shoo fly pie”, that is the connection I always make when I see the quilt block. My grandmother Etta Kutz made thousands of shoo fly pies in her life — and she was a quilter. I am completing the second of two “Emily’s Wedding Quilt” lap quilts for my cousins. The feature fabric has saw blades on it for our mutual grandfather, who was a saw filer, and of course we have the Shoo Fly block for our grandmother. I love incorporating the Shoo Fly block in quilts for that side of my family because we all grew up enjoying shoo fly pie at our grandparents.

  4. I first say Emily’s Wedding quilt on IPTV and decided to see how many blocks I could find that would work with it to do a charity challenge for my Quilt Sewciety . I found that there were several blocks that would work with this design. We were asked to have a churn dash block in out quilt and then given an unseen fat quarter to use for our colors. I will e-mail you a picture of the quilt that I made and include the back which I pieced from the extra fabric I had left. It was an enjoyable and fun quilt to do and at the quilt show we had, people had to really look to even find my Churn dash block.

  5. Because I love blue flowers, I keep this toxic solanum plant ( Nicandra physaloides ) in our garden. Probably the shape of its seedpot lend to the relation to the ShooFly block. And yes, this plant puts off moths and other vermin in organic gardening.

  6. My first quilt was a red and white shoo fly. I made it overlarge for the practice. I think it is also called a barn door. My family has a very old one in browns.

  7. My Granny Rankin made a Shoo Fly Quilt in red and white. She added yellow diamonds pieces and another color diamond pieces to the triangle part of each shoo fly. I have not found another quilt like it. I will try to share a photo of her original and my recreation of her block.