The I-spy economy block quilt

My husband’s niece is pregnant, and I planned to make her baby a quilt as soon as I heard the good news. When I saw her at my stepdaughter’s wedding in June, she had a dainty little baby bump. When we came home from our UK trip, I saw a photo of her on Facebook and freaked out. ‘How did her tummy get that big so quickly? I thought I had until November to finish this! Eeek! Sew faster! Sew faster!’

I had tried to be organised by starting a baby quilt before she announced the gender. I sewed this pink quilt top, knowing I had a 50 per cent chance of being right about it being a girl. Wrong!

But I had another plan in the wings: an economy block quilt with fussy-cut pictures in the centres.

I-spy economy block quilt

These are some of my favourite fussy cuts. Susan, do you recognise our fox fabric purchase?

Does anyone know where the name ‘economy block’ comes from? I suspect that in my case it is because over the years I have spent the equivalent of the GDP of a small developing nation’s economy on fabric.

I-spy economy block quilt

The fabrics include some I bought locally, some bought online and others gathered on trips to Melbourne and Vancouver.

I-spy economy block quilt

A few fabrics from the Japanese Colour Club were included, including the squirrels and bicycles. My Westwood Acres Inside Voices subscription also came in handy.

I-spy economy block quilt

The finished quilt is about 36 by 54 inches. I had to stand on the bed and stretch to take this photo. It is mostly in focus.

Like my recent pink baby quilt, this quilt started with the backing fabric. I bought 1½ metres on sale as I thought it would be a good baby quilt back, and I made enough blocks to fit the backing I had. It is probably too long for a crib, but it will fold.

When choosing the colours for the top, I pulled out everything blue, green and neutral. I forgot to open the drawer where I had my Union Jack quilt fabrics set aside, so navy blue missed the cut. In its place, I added a little grey. I am glad I could not find the navy; I think it works without.

I-spy economy block quilt

The backing fabric I bought is made in Korea and was an absolute bargain. It has small prints of what are probably very stylised cats and dogs, or mystery beasties.

I upended my scrap box and stash, and cut squares until I had enough. I started by fussy cutting 54 squares of fabric for the centres. Each one is at least 3½ inches squares, sometimes a whisker larger to allow a margin for error.

I then selected 54 other fabrics, very roughly sorted into dark and light colours, and cut three 5-inch squares from each fabric. One 5-inch square was cut in quarters on the diagonal to become the first frame around the centre. The remaining two 5-inch squares were cut once on the diagonal to make four triangles.

I foundation paper pieced the blocks using this template. I could have made economy blocks without paper, I know, but I like how easily the blocks come together this way – without any pins or marking centres – and I do not mind the few minutes spent ripping out paper.

In fact, the only time I needed accuracy was when trimming the blocks and joining them to make sure the points and corners all lined up neatly. Matching the slightly bulky points was the only tricky bit. In a move that is rare for me, I ironed those seams open to help spread the bulk.

I do not waste ink or photocopy paper when foundation piecing. To make 54 blocks, I printed six copies of the template and stapled each one on top of 8–10 sheets of a cheap notepad. I transferred the design through all the layers by machine sewing along the lines with no thread and an old blunt needle to punch the markings.

I-spy economy block quilt

I am happy with the overall colours and the pictures, which I hope will catch the baby’s interest as he grows.

I-spy economy block quilt

Ta da! When I add a label, it can be sent off to its new home in Canada.

Please note that I free-motion quilted it all by myself! Like a proper grown-up quilter! I had plans to add fun things like the outlines of stars and aeroplanes randomly in the quilting, but my husband agreed that none of that fancy-pants stuff would be noticeable among the riot of colour and pattern, so I went with simple circular loops.

It is now ready to post off to Canada, and the baby is not due for another two or three weeks. I need not have freaked out after all.

63 thoughts on “The I-spy economy block quilt

  1. What an absolute delight! You bet I recognise that fox fabric! I have still to cut into mine! And I found a fat quarter in the yellow colourway at Big W a couple of weeks ago! You have a wonderful stash Carla-enough to keep a small country going for a while! My sister wants to make a blue and green quilt- she would love this!

  2. What an absolutely gorgeous baby quilt! She’s going to be sooooo happy with it! I’ve always thought that economy blocks were so called because they’re economical: you can use them in all sorts of other blocks, and they don’t take much fabric. Unless you fussy cut, of course… Great loopy quilting too, just like a ‘proper’ quilter. I reckon having it ready 2 weeks before due date is perfect; so far I’ve found the mail to North America take about 2 weeks on average.

    • I hope she is happy with it. After the top was made, my stepdaughter shared that her cousin was putting a lot of green in the nursery, so I think I am on the right track.

      Yes, that is probably the true meaning of economy block. 🙂

  3. Absolutely love the colour choices in this quilt. Very refreshing! And thank you for the tute – I’ve always wanted to do one of these and now I know how. I am positive your husband’s niece is going to adore it. Who wouldn’t? ❤️ Xx

  4. Such a lovely babyquilt! And such a nice loopy quilting. Economy blocks are still on my to do list. I ever thought they were called economy blocks because you can use many different fabrics and use up a lot of left overs in different sizes. At least you use only squares that means you won’t produce to much new scraps.

    • I think you have the story correct, Annett. I started by pulling a few bits out of my scrap box – the first place I look before beginning any project. Three 5-inch squares can be cut from a biggish scrap.

  5. What a great quilt! I like your paper piecing method for the block too and your great explanation! The colors are soft and soothing, perfect for a little guy, and the quilt is “big enough” to keep him covered when he naps as a toddler too! It is not so big that he won’t be able to drag it off the bed and put it over chairs to make a fort or a hide-out when he is 4 or 5! Perfect. I love your work. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Yes, I suspect your reasoning behind the name is correct 😂 awesome quilt for a little man 👍 and thanks for doing the maths on the fabric pieces – less waste for when I get around to making one 😉

    • I cut all three large squares the same size to make it easier as I pulled fabrics from my stash. The squares for the outside could be a fraction smaller, but I was not going to sweat such a tiny amount of offcuts for the convenience of cutting everything the same.

    • Thanks, Jodie. Thye both used similar methods: pull all the fabric out of the cupboard and keep cutting until you have enough. 🙂 In each, I only repeated each fabric once or twice for a planned scrappy look.

    • I have used that method since I first learned to foundation piece. Cheap, flimsy notebook paper tears away more easily than proper photocopy paper, and perforating it before you sew makes it even easier to tear away at the end.

  7. To echo everyone else who has commented, this is the loveliest little quilt! The sweetness of the centers with the placid “flow” of the colors…it is really something!!

  8. Bravo! I love it. The colour combo works so well. Cute little fussy cuts too. I’m sure it will be loved for many years. Good way to mark the papers. I made a quilt like this maybe last year. Where is that now I wonder?

  9. So adorable! I really love the different elephant prints that I saw. Your method of taking your print out and stapling it to notebook paper is genius! Of course, my machine is too fancy and won’t let me actually sew without thread (it will continually stop) so I’d have to dig out my old singer machine for that. But still very clever.

    • My new machine predates that fancy technology, but I guess these quirks are why we keep our old machines in reserve. I need my old one to sew sleeves and the mouths of drawstring bags, of all things. As long as we have one good reason to keep them, we are safe from starring roles in Hoarders. Right?

  10. Great idea to punch the holes in on the blank ones by sewing over the print – I am going to squirrel that one away for future use. One of the things I liked about Thomas Knauers Ampersand quilt is his daughter picks two fussy cut motifs from the quilt and he makes up a bed time story using the two pictures – this would work perfectly with your economy blocks too!

    • The bedtime story is a great idea, Ruth. I will have to note that on the card before I post it later this week. In my head I have a story about an elephant that likes cycling and is writing his first novel (about raccoons) on a typewriter. Hmm. Maybe I should leave the bedtime stories to the parents. I think they will be much better at it than I am.

  11. I love this quilt and the fabrics and colours you have chosen. A beautiful baby quilt for now, that the parents will love too, and will stand the test of time. I really enjoyed your post, some very funny remarks today. X

  12. This ia a lovely finish Carla and I’m glad that the navy didn’t make it into the quilt too … keep sthe overall tone of the quilt nice and soft and will allow bubs to explore the I Spy part of the quilt. Great quilting too! Can you show me that pattern? I’d love to be brave and give it a try too 🙂

    • Erm … what pattern? It is really just big loopy bubbles or circles. I tried to make them as round as possible but varied the size so any inconsistencies looked deliberate. I will be mailing the quilt tomorrow, but I did a similar thing on one of the humidicribs so can show you that when we next catch up.

  13. Reading some of your old posts and this cracked me up!!
    I suspect that in my case it is because over the years I have spent the equivalent of the GDP of a small developing nation’s economy on fabric.

    • Fortunately, I do not keep receipts, so there is no proof. Oh, bother. I have my bank statements and the bank records my transaction history. A lot of fabric shops appear on those statements. There IS proof! Argh!

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