A classic block known as Arkansas Traveller or Spools, made from squares, rectangles and half square triangles.
The Arkansas Traveller or Spools quilt block is divided into four quarters, each of them depicting a spool or cotton reel shape, set at 90 degrees to its neighbours. This creates a great opportunity to use up stash fabrics in the central squares, displaying a myriad of coloured ‘threads’ bound onto your ‘spools’.

Not much is known about the Arkansas Traveler quilt pattern. The “Arkansas Traveler” was a popular folk song whose origin goes back to the mid 1880’s. Furthermore, there are several block with this same name, one is this spool design, another is a four-pointed star made from diamonds. They are also known as Spools, Secret Drawer, Travel Star, and Cowboy Star.

Sometimes the pools are depicted as ‘empty’, with the central square the same colour as the rest of the spool (yellow in this case, depicting a time when women set aside their sewing to prepare small squares of linen (or lint) as bandages for hospitals during the American Civil War. The traditional Arkansas block presents dark spools on a light background, but the opposite works with equal visual power, as does a ‘brights’ version such at the one here. A variation ‘Empty Spools’ is made with the central square in the same fabric at the rest of the spool pieces.

Arkansas Traveller can be constructed in several different ways, here I have used rectangles, squares and half square triangles.


Finished size:16in (40.5cm) square

Designed and made by Jemima Schlee





  • 25.5cm (10in) square of red fabric (or four 12.5cm (5in) squares of different tones of red/pink/orange)
  • Fat eighth of yellow fabric
  • Fat eighth of grey fabric
  • Fabric pencil and ruler



Where to buy

I have used fabrics from the Linea and Spectrum ranges from Makower UK makoweruk.com, however, this block only uses small pieces of fabric you might find something suitable in your stash.





Before starting


Wash and press all fabrics, and read through all the instructions.


All measurements include 1/4in seam allowance




Cutting instructions

1 From the red fabric, cut four 41⁄2in squares.

2 From the yellow and grey fabrics, cut eight 41/2 x 21/2in rectangles and eight 27/8in squares.

Making the Half-square triangles

1 Lay a 27⁄8in square of grey fabric down in front of you, right side up. Place a yellow 27⁄8in square on top, right side down, and align all the edges. Draw a diagonal line from the bottom right to the top left-hand corner. Sew a scant 1⁄4in either side of this line.

2 Cut along the central drawn line with sharp scissors. You now have two units of work.

3 Press the seam allowance towards the grey fabric. Trim the tail ends of seam allowance to create straight edges all the way around, leaving you two 21/2in squares.

Making the block

1 Make your first side unit. Take one grey rectangle and lay it down right side up. Place one of your half-square triangle units on the right-hand side, with the two grey edges along the right and bottom. Stitch a 1/4in seam along the right-hand edge. Press to one side and trim off tail ends. Do the same on the right-hand end of the rectangle, this time with the grey sides of the half-square triangle along the right-hand and bottom edges.

2 Repeat this with the remaining grey rectangle and the two remaining half-square triangles to make your second side unit.

3 Make your central unit by joining your two yellow rectangles to two opposite sides of a red square using 1/4in seams. Press them to one side and trim the tail ends.

4 Stitch your two side panels to either long edge of your central unit, ensuring that the yellow triangles align with the short ends of the yellow rectangles. Press the two seams to one side and prim off any tail ends.

5 Finally, sew your four spool units together. Start by stitching together two units using a 1/4in seam and pressing it to one side, make sure that the two spools are set at 90 degrees to each other. Stitch the other two together. You now have two units. Sew these two units together using a 1/4in seam, again making sure that each spool lies at 90 degrees to those either side of it. Press your seams to one side with a hot iron. Trim off tail ends of seam allowance to create straight edges all the way around, leaving you two 161/2in square.

If you enjoyed making this block, why not make a Spools/Arkansas Traveller quilt? The design above is made from twenty identical blocks. 



The fun doesn’t end here…

Each month designer Jemima Schlee will be introducing you to a different block, with easy to follow instructions. 

This is the fifth of nine 16in square blocks for you to make, with the final design appearing in our March 2018 

issue. As you make the nine blocks, we would like you to come up with your own quilt design. You can add more blocks or borders, experiment with colour ways and fabrics, and make the finished quilt as large or as small as you like. Anything that takes your fancy! The only rule is that it must include all nine of the blocks from the magazine.

There are great prizes to be won, including a fabulous 

sewing machine, courtesy of Bernina, for the winning design. Full details of how to enter will be given in the March 2018 issue, so watch this space and don’t forget to keep us posted on your progress.


The previous blocks are:

July Old Tippecanoe/Crossed Canoes

August Pinwheel Cross

September Dutchman's Puzzle


If you have missed an issue, click here to order a copy.