The Snowball Block is an old traditional block that is often combined with the Nine Patch to create the illusion of curves (Variations 1 &2). When used together they cause the eye to travel over the surface of the quilt giving the image of a circular block, when in fact there are no pieced curves whatsoever. This illusion is created through carefully placed triangles in conjunction with a larger square.
This block has many more possibilities other than being paired with the Nine Patch. It can be used alone as a single block repeated many times with changes in the fabric placement. It can be used with plain alternate squares which gives the hand quilter plenty of work area to show off your finest quilting. It makes a fine border treatment to surround a medallion style quilt. Try your hand at making this block using the quick-piecing method below of sewing small squares to the larger square¹s corners along the diagonals.. My simple formula can be used to piece any size block that operates on a grid system based on any multiple of 3 (Illustration 1).
Size is arbitrary in constructing the Snowball block except that the finished block size must be divisible by 3. This can be a 3", 4-1/2", 6", 7-1/2", 9", etc. For illustration purposes I will use a 9" finished size block. As you can see in our illustration above, our 9" block is divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically. To determine the size of the corner squares, divide the finished size of the Snowball block by 3 and add 1/2" for seam allowances. (In this case we need squares cut to 3-1/2"). The resulting corner triangles will have two of their points touching these imaginary lines of division. When a Snowball block is constructed in this manner, the short sides of the triangles will be the same length as one patch in the Alternate Nine Patch block.
Step 1. Cut a 9-1/2" block using a light fabric. Cut four 3-1/2" squares of dark fabric. On the wrong side of the 3-1/2" squares draw a line along one diagonal. With right sides together, place the squares in each corner of the 9-1/2" light square.
Step 2. Following the diagram and being careful to place the squares as pictured, sew along the drawn diagonal lines. Trim 1/4" away from the sewn line along all four corners.
Step 3. Press sewn triangle corners out toward the darker fabric. Your Snowball block should measure 9-1/2" unfinished.
Combining the Snowball block with a Nine Patch block or a Double Nine Patch block is the most common arrangement. For a 9" finished Nine Patch block, use 3-1/2" cut squares or quick piece your blocks by cutting long 3-1/2" wide strips sewn together in three¹s and then sub-cut into 3-1/2" wide wedges. Sew three of these wedges together to yield 9-1/2" unfinished Nine Patches. The play of light and dark fabrics in Variation 2 above gives the illusion of stars. The Double Nine Patch finishing to 9" makes use of 3" plain squares (cut 3-1/2") and 3" finished Nine Patch blocks made of 1" (cut 1-1/2") patches.
Making a quilt composed of only Snowball blocks can be fun and very simple. Just reverse the colors from block to block as seen in The Melon Patch.
The Snowball Block leaves a lot of room for hand quilting or for a place to applique simple objects like a heart or a flower. Consider using this block the next time you want to piece a scrap quilt and use it as the alternate to any pieced block that has a 3 Grid.
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