Traditional Quilt Blocks and Their Origins

I am fascinated by the names and origins of traditional (mostly American)  quilting patterns, or blocks as we often call them, and so I have started this page as a way of recording what I discover. There are hundreds of blocks and many of them have lost their meanings in the sands of time but I want  to fill this page with as many as I can find. If you know of any, please let me know so I can add them to this page. I will try to add thumbnail pictures as well at some point.

I have listed blocks in sections under broad themes with some examples and the plan is to list specific blocks with specific meanings below the examples, as I discover them.


Examples are Star of Bethlehem, Jacob’s Ladder, Job’s Tears, and Cross and Crown.

World Without End – taken from a phrase in the Book of Common Prayer.

Political and Military

Examples are Underground Railway, Lincoln’s Platform, Whigs Defeat.

Burgoyne Surrender or Burgoyne Surrounded

Journeys,Adventures and Landscapes

Examples are Rocky Road to California.

Delectable Mountains – originated in New England. Came out of some lines in  Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan “They went till came to the Delectable Mountains…behold the gardens and the orchards, the vineyards and fountains of water”


Examples are Carpenters Wheel, Monkey Wrench, Anvil, Sawtooth and  Churn Dash

Flowers and Plants

Tulip, American Beauty (a Rose), Rose of Sharon, Tobacco Leaf and Corn and Beans


Examples are Honey Bee,  Flying Geese, Bear’s Paw,

Bears Paw – of frontier origin.  The same pattern was known in some places as Ducks Foot in the Mud and in Pennsylvania it was known as the Hand of Friendship.

Suns, Moons and Stars

Examples are Rising Sun and Setting Sun

Le Moyne Star –  refers to the Le Moyne brothers who founded New Orleans in 1718. In New England the name grew into ‘Lemon Star’

Blazing Star – Along the New England coast and among seafarers this block was referred to as  ‘The Ship’s Wheel’ and was said to have originated in Cape Cod. Further inland, it was known as the Harvest Sun because it resembled the sun that ripened their crops.

Falling Star – Also called Flying Star, Flying Swallows, Circling Swallows. Much loved in New England and Pennsylvania.

Famous People

Examples are Barbara Fritchie Star and Martha Washington Star

Barbara Fritchie’s Star – (sometimes spelled Frietschie) she was a Unionist during the Civil War. She was absorbed into American folklore via a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier.

Lady of the Lake – named after the novel of the same name by Sir Walter Scott

Names for States

Examples are Chicago Star or Philadelphia Pavements.

Bride, Friendship and Presentation

The Album – originally intended as a gift for a bride, friends would embroider their names on it.

Beggar’s Block – a design of small  pieces said to come from the custom of ‘begging’ friends for scraps of fabric to add to a quilt.