As is true with so many quilt motifs, tree quilt blocks draw their inspiration from nature. And as is true in nature, there are seemingly infinite varieties of trees to see and stitch. Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns (American Quilter’s Society, 1993) has over 60 “species” alone! From completely representational to wildly abstract versions, there are tree quilt block patterns for every taste, and more being designed all the time. Let’s explore a bit of the forest!
The Dresden Tree quilt block designed by Jenny Doan (right) is a fast fun way to make a tree the star of a holiday wall quilt. Jenny’s construction method is unique and easy, and the patchwork “frame” sets the tree block off perfectly. This wall quilt finishes 32″ x 36″; a digital quilt pattern is available.
Not all tree quilts look exactly like a tree, of course. Some rely on patchwork to reveal the core of a tree’s shape and form. The classic Tree Everlasting design dates back to at least 1830, and beautiful examples can be found in many museums and collections. The piecing is quite simple, though there are tricks to fine-tuning the construction (keeping the half-square triangle “branches” even can be a challenge!). Although not strictly a block and more a strip quilt, this design can be put together block by block if desired with the addition of a few extra seams.
The Tree Everlasting quilt shown at left was featured in the May/June 2013 issue of Quilty magazine. At over 200 years old, it’s still as beautiful and powerful as the day the last stitch was sewn. Most Tree Everlasting quilts are two-color quilts, adding to the graphic nature of the design. If you’d like to make your own version of this instant heirloom quilt, a Tree Everlasting digital quilt pattern is available.
Perhaps the queen of all tree quilt blocks, the Tree of Life (below) is certainly a piecing challenge. The block itself is the center of this image; the corner triangles have been added to set it on point, as is generally done.
There are many Tree of Life quilts dating back to the 1920s and 30s. Some are even more intricately-pieced than this example, which has “only” 28 little half-square-triangle units per block. As you can imagine, accurate piecing is essential to mastering this quilt block. Even small inaccuracies, when multiplied by 28 times or more, can create a wonky mess! You might want to use foundation paper piecing for some of the construction, to control the small bits of fabric.
This image was created in Electric Quilt 7 (EQ) software, which will generate the pattern in a huge range of sizes, either for rotary cutting or foundation piecing. If you’re an EQ user, this is a block that will make you very glad of the investment!
If keeping it simple is more your patchwork style, the basic triangles in the Strawberry Season quilt by Jenny Doan are in your wheelhouse. A tall triangle reduces the tree form to its most elemental lines, allowing the fabrics in the quilt to take center stage. Made in bright green and red prints, these trees take on a subtle Christmas vibe that allows them to be displayed all winter, or maybe even all year, long. A digital quilt pattern is available.
Tree quilt blocks are fun to combine with other design elements, too. The Santa’s Elf quilt below is a charming example, pairing a simple but striking tree block with a scene from a fabric panel print and a row of cute fabric gifts. At 64″ square, this project makes a large wall quilt or medium size lap quilt. Quilts kits are available and on sale now if you’d like to try this tree block and its happy neighbors.
Here are just a few more of the classic to trendy tree quilt blocks out there; we wish we could show you all of them! From the Forbidden Fruit vintage block to modern patchwork versions and beyond, there are many more tree quilt blocks to explore. We hope you’ll be inspired to make a tree quilt or to include tree blocks in a future project.