Black and White Tumbling Blocks

It also has gray in it, but it’s hard to find a way to avoid using the phrase “shades of gray.”  It does have quite a few gray fabrics.

I started this quilt many years ago.

I’ve been trying to clean up my half-finished projects.  If you follow me on any of my social media, you may have noticed the theme:  “I started this quilt many years ago.” Sometimes, I have leftover blocks from another project and am too thrifty to discard them, so I have a big tote full of miscellaneous blocks and bits. And sometimes, I start a project and then – oh look! A squirrel!

While I love looking at this quilt, because it practically vibrates in its three-dimensionality, it’s a little too modern for my 1905 house. It’s for sale on etsy and is only living above my fireplace until it sells or my youngest son kidnaps it and takes it home to live in his more modern apartment. I’d rather sell it; I’ve already made half a dozen quilts for him.


Tumbling Blocks quilts have diamond-shaped pieces sorted into three groups: light, medium, and dark, or by color. If you look at the picture, you can see that those groups are arranged in horizontal and diagonal rows. The lightest diamonds are connected, end to end, in a horizontal line. The medium ones are arranged in a line from the upper left corner to the lower right corner, and the dark ones go from the upper right to the lower left. This creates cubes, each with a light, a medium and a dark side, as if a light is shining from one direction (about 10:30, if you imagine a clock), illuminating and casting shadows to give the entire quilt a three-dimensional effect.

Until 25 years ago, these 30/60 degree diamonds had to traced from templates and cut individually with scissors. You needed to be good with geometry to draft the pattern! With modern rotary cutting tools, they can be cut quickly and accurately, but you will still need to mark the seam lines or at least the end points for each seam if you are machine piecing. For this scrap quilt, I cut the pieces by hand.

The sewing is more complex than squares and rectangles, because you can’t stitch from edge to edge. You have to stop each seam at its end point and inset the next piece at that point. It can be done by hand or machine. I started to sew this one by hand, because I intended it to be a portable project – something I could work on in the car or while sitting through basketball practices. I never finished it that way, though, and when I picked it up again, I decided to sew the rest by machine. It’s much faster, but it’s actually harder to get those precise points with the machine.

The Baby Blocks variation emphasizes the individual blocks, often setting them into a background instead of running the pattern to the edges of the quilt. Pastel colors, sorted by hue rather than brightness, give the quilt a childish appearance.


Six-pointed stars can be created by rearranging the diamonds. They appear to be set among hexagons, but these are actually diamonds. You can use real hexagon pieces if you are extra good with geometry.

tumbling blocks table runner

I enjoyed making the above quilts. The second two were prototypes and samples for quilt classes, but the black and white one was a personal exercise in visual texture created by contrast. Like any other work of art, it’s most effective when viewed on a vertical surface instead of displayed on a bed or draped like a lap quilt.

Have you ever made a black and white (and gray) quilt? What pattern did you use? How do you use the finished quilt? Did you enjoy making it?

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