Blue Collar Workers


  • 16 3in calico squares
  • 16 4 1⁄2in squares cut from various utility fabrics
  • 50cm of lightweight denim for the background and backing
  • 50cm of heavy sew-in Vilene (usually 90cm wide)
  • 4m of bought 1⁄2in bias binding
  • 16 4in squares from utility fabrics for the prairie points
  • 15cm of fabric for binding
  • 5 buttons (optional)

Finished Size

18 x 18in (46 x 46cm)

Skill Level


You can download a pdf copy of the original magazine pages for this project here, Blue Collar Workers

Humble checks and stripes and utility fabrics have always fascinated me. I studied woven textile design at college and once based a whole term’s work on the anonymous blue and white patterns and functional fabrics that we see in our everyday lives - for example envelope patterns, mens’ shirting stripes, waffle weave and linen tea towels with jacquard borders. Once you start looking, they are everywhere! At the same time an exhibition of textiles by the contemporary Indian designer, Asha Sarabhai, at the V&A Museum intrigued me with its manipulation of simple fabrics.

Blue Collar Workers is one of the results of these varied influences. Apart from the lightweight denim it is made entirely from small scraps including shirts from a flatmate, chambray summer trousers and recycled napkins. I also used up odds and ends of bias binding, hence the varying blues. This is a very quick and portable technique, ideal for those lost moments such as commuting by train or waiting for the school run or swimming class. The Options box at the end of the article gives other ideas for adapting the size and look of the project to suit your needs and fabrics.

TIP! It is easiest to use this technique with crisp, pure cotton fabrics which can hold a crease well. Velvets are too thick, fine silks are too flimsy and linens too ‘bouncy’.


City stripes on a washing line in Lisbon
City stripes on a washing line in Lisbon
Figure1 :Folding
the squares
Figure1 :Folding the squares
  1. Press all fabrics first. Take a 3in calico square and mark the mid point on each side with a pencil. Place a 4 1⁄2in ‘utility’ square on top, RS uppermost, and pin at the four corners (Figure 1). Don’t worry that the centre bulges up as the squares are different sizes!
  2. Make a tuck in the utility fabric to take up the excess fabric, by folding the fabric at the pencil mark. Secure the tuck with a pin and repeat on the other three sides. Make sure that you pleat all the folds in the same direction. You will find that the centre with a little easing will pop into a 3D square ‘on point’ (Figure 1)
  3. Either hand tack close to the edge to secure the tucks or machine stitch using a large stitch. Press. Make sixteen patches like this.

Prairie Points

Figure 2: Making prairie points
Figure 2: Making prairie points

Using the 4in utility squares, fold sixteen prairie points as shown in Figure 2. Press all the points and put on one side.

Assembling the wall hanging

Figure 3: Draw a grid
on the background
Figure 3: Draw a grid on the background
  1. Cut the denim into two squares 18 x 18in. Draw a grid using a white or yellow pencil on the RS of one of the squares 3in from the edge as shown in Figure 3.
  2. Heavy weight sew-in Vilene is a good padding for wall quilts as it is firmer than wadding and makes the quilt hang very flat. The Vilene should be wide enough that you can fold it over and use it as a double thickness. Make up a sandwich of the backing denim, Vilene and marked-out denim.
  3. Arrange the sixteen folded, utility squares in a pleasing order on the denim within the grid. The squares should butt up next to one another. Pin in place.
  4. Cut six lengths of the bias binding, each 12 1⁄2in long. Place three binding strips vertically on the squares (Figure 4). Make sure that all the raw edges are covered. Pin and sew carefully in a straight stitch about 1⁄16in in from the edge on both sides of the binding.
  5. Repeat with the three horizontal strips.
  6. Decide on the order of the prairie points and pin in position around the edge of the hanging (the bottom raw edge of the points should butt up against the folded squares).
  7. Cut the remaining bias binding into four lengths of 19in. Lay on the two vertical strips again making sure that all the raw edges are covered. Pin and sew carefully in a straight stitch about 1⁄16in in from the edge on both sides. Repeat with the remaining horizontal strips. Trim any excess binding.
Figure 4: Draw a grid
on the background
Figure 4: Sew down either side of the binding strips

To complete

  1. This quilt is finished with a double binding. Cut four binding strips 21⁄2in x 19in. Fold in half and press. Pin to the quilt matching the raw edges and sew to the top side of the quilt. Turn the folded edge to the back and slip stitch. Repeat on the opposite edge and the remaining two sides, trimming any excess binding and neatly tucking in the ends.
  2. Sew on buttons as desired and add a hanging sleeve.


This folding technique can produce many variations - some of the alternatives I have come up with are because I made mistakes with my folding! As the technique is so quick, it is a good idea to make sample squares of the variations which you can store in a plastic pocket or envelope as a reference. Mark each square with a label stating the size of square used and method of folding for quick recall.

  • Instead of folding all the tucks in one direction, fold two towards each other.
  • Alter the proportions between the top and bottom squares. In this project it is 3:41⁄2in - change the top squares to 4in, 5in or 6in. What happens?
  • Instead of making a single fold, make a double pleat on each side, so that you get a cross of fabric
  • Instead of tucking the fabric to the left of the centre mark, tuck to the right. You will now be able to fold the tucks ‘inside’ to form a recessive centre.
  • Try the technique with rectangles, equilateral triangles and hexagons.
  • If fabrics are springy, secure in the centre with a button or bead.

First published in Popular Patchwork July/August 2001