Tonal Tulips


Based on 115cm wide fabric, this quantity of the fabrics allows plenty to use for the quilt top and include in the back and have some left over

  • 5 Fat quarters of fabrics for the tulip petals
  • 0.75m of the lighter green background fabric
  • 0.5m of the darker green leaf/stem fabric
  • 79 x 79cm (31 x 31in) of wadding

Finished Size

30 x 30in (76 x 76cm)

Skill Level


Lesley Coles first discovered a similar tulip block in a 1930s book. She then saw another in a book called Patchwork Patterns for Quilts by Margot Echols, published in the 1970s. The quilt had over forty blocks and was a complicated combination of squares and triangles, pieced from templates. By changing the design Lesley has converted the flower block into one which can be rotary cut and quick pieced. Corner triangles are used to square up the blocks. When four blocks are sewn together, these triangles look like leaves at the centre of the blocks.

Sewing the flower head
Figure 1: Sewing the flower head

Prepare the patches

For each flower block cut the following pieces

  • Top petal colour, one square 2 x 2in and one square 2 3⁄8 x 2 3⁄8in, cut in half diagonally.
  • Second petal colour, three squares 2 x 2in and a strip 1 1⁄4 x 8 1⁄2in.
  • Background green, two strips 1 5⁄8 x 7 1⁄2in, two strips 1 3⁄4 x 10 3⁄4in, one square 2 3⁄8 x 2 3⁄8in, cut in half diagonally and one square 3 5⁄8 x 3 5⁄8in (only two squares are needed in total for the quilt as these are halved).
  • Stem/leaf green, a strip 1 1⁄4 x 3 1⁄4in and another 2 1⁄2 x 8 1⁄2in, a square 6 x 6in.
Figure 2: Trimming the corners of the flower block
Figure 2: Trimming the corners of the flower block

Making the tulip block

  1. Refer to Figure 1 and sew the three rows of background and petal fabrics together. Press the seams to one side. Sew these three strips together, matching the seams of the squares and triangles together. Flip the seams as necessary to reduce the bulk of fabric. Press after each seam is sewn.
  2. Sew the strip of the second petal fabric to each side at the bottom of the flower in Log Cabin fashion. Press the seams outwards.
  3. Place the 45° on the rotary ruler along the seam lines you have just sewn. Cut the excess fabric away from these strips, allowing a 1⁄4in seam allowance on the sides and beyond the bottom points. The block will measure 4 3⁄4in square with a corner missing from each side at the bottom of the flower (Figure 2).
Figure 3: Assembling the stem
Figure 3: Assembling the stem

Sewing the stems

  1. Lay the 7 1⁄2in background green strips with the WS uppermost. Draw a diagonal line across the top corner of the strips, one in each direction (Figure 3), these are sewing lines. Draw a second line 1⁄4in away, in the top triangle space, this is the cutting line, but do not cut yet! With RS together, stitch one 3 1⁄4in stem strip at the top. Cut off the excess corner triangle and press the seam out.
  2. Stitch the main stem between the two sewn sections. The main stem is longer, to allow for the shape to be cut after sewing. Match the seam lines from the top of the strip. Start stitching 1⁄4in from the top end of the seam and sew to the end
Figure 4: Insetting the flower head block
Figure 4: Inset the flower
  1. Stitch this block to the flower head, insetting the block. Line up the stem with the base of the flower (Figure 4).
  2. Stitch the long strip of background fabric either side of the flower block.

TIP! Blocks with wide angles are easy to inset if you pin through the corners (at right angles to the line of stitching) and sew one side of the block at a time. When pinning place the stem section (the concave angle) uppermost. Remember to start and finish the stitching 1⁄4in from the end. Sew to the first corner and stop, leaving the needle in the fabric. Raise the presser foot, pivot the block and sew the next section and so on.

Figure 5: Trimming the completed flower blocks
Figure 5: Trimming the completed flower blocks
  1. Cut the 6in square of the stem/leaf fabric diagonally, to make two triangles. Make a fold along the bias edge to find the centre. Line up the triangle centre fold, to the centre of the pieced block you have just sewn. Carefully stitch in place, RS together and press seams towards the dark triangle.
  2. Cut the background 3 5⁄8in square in half diagonally to make two triangles. Match the centre of one of the triangles to the centre of the flower block along the top. The triangle edges will overlap slightly. Stitch in place, handling carefully so you do not stretch the bias edge. Press the seam, with the straight of grain, pushing the seam allowance towards the outside triangle. (The other triangle is used for the next block.)
  3. Place the 45° on the rotary ruler along the seam lines you have sewn. Cut the excess fabric from the outside edge of the square. The block should now measure 10 1⁄2in square (Figure 5).

Sewing the quilt top

Lesley trimmed all her flower blocks to 10in square to fit with the borders and Seminole strips. You may decide to make more blocks for a larger quilt or add 1in (cut 1 1⁄2in) sashing to the tulip block to make it fit with other 12in blocks. The important point is to make sure all the square trimmed blocks are the same size.

  1. Sew four tulip blocks together. Add a pieced border made from the flower petal fabrics. (Lesley also included one other yellow fabric). Cut the border 1 1⁄4 x 81in long, sewing the seams on the diagonal, when joining two colours together. Stitch this border onto the four sides of the quilt top.
  2. Cut the second border from the stem fabric - two borders are cut 1 1⁄2 x 21in and two 1 1⁄2 x 23in. Sew the borders to the quilt.
Figure 6: Sewing the strips for the borders
Figure 6: Sewing the strips for the borders
Figure 7: Resewing the Seminole
Figure 7: Resewing the Seminole
Figure 8: Adding the final three patch
Figure 8: Adding the final three patch
Figure 9: Trimming the seminole border
Figure 9: Trimming the seminole border

The Seminole border

  1. Cut strips 2 1⁄2in wide as follows, joining fabric to make up a length as necessary.
    • 1 x first petal fabric and 2 x background green fabric 13in long (A)
    • 1 x second petal fabric and 2 x background green fabric 28in long (B)
    • 1 x third petal fabric and 2 x background green fabric 33in long (C)
    • 1 x fourth petal fabric and 2 x background green fabric 18in long (D)
  2. Stitch these strips together in units with the green stitched either side of the petal fabric (Figure 6). Press the seams to one side.
  3. Cut these units into 2 1⁄2in strips. Make 5 x A, 11 x B, 13 x C, and 7 x D strips. To make the colour flow and change around the quilt the borders are sewn together as follows: LH border - 9 x B units. Top border - 5 x A units sewn to 2 x B units and 2 x C units. RH border - 5 x C units sewn to 4 x D units. Bottom border - 6 x C units sewn to 3 x D units.
  4. These units are resewn together by staggering the seams and matching the corners of the squares (Figure 7). Sew 8 of the units for each border together.
  5. Unpick the green fabric square from one side of the remaining three patch units and reattach as shown in Figure 8 to each border. Sew to the long Seminole strip to make up the border of nine units.
  6. Carefully press the Seminole patchwork, with the straight grain. Lay the fabric, right side up on the rotary cutting mat with the shortest side on the right (if you are right handed). Lay the bulk of the rotary ruler over the Seminole border with the 1⁄4in marks along the points of the petal fabric squares. Cut away the excess fabric, leaving a 1⁄4in seam allowance, beyond the points of the squares (Figure 9). Stay stitch along this cut edge in the seam allowance, (this will help stop any stretching when you sew on the next border).
  7. Pin border A, with its shortest side to the quilt and stitch in place with the quilt uppermost, starting and stopping 1⁄4in from each end. Fit the patchwork border exactly to the quilt edge in the pinning and sewing stages.
Figure 10: Constructing the back panels
Figure 10: Constructing the back panels
  1. Sew the remaining borders in the same way. The borders will meet at the corners forming a mitre, so stitch the border ends together, sewing from the outside edge to the inside, stopping 1⁄4in from the end where the seams meet.
  2. Lay the ruler over the Seminole patchwork border with the 1⁄4in marks along the points of the petal fabric squares. Cut away the excess fabric, leaving a 1⁄4in seam allowance beyond the points of the squares. Stay stitch the outer edge of the patchwork, in the seam allowance.
  3. Measure the quilt across the centre. Cut two borders from the green background fabric, 1 1⁄2in wide x measured length. Sew these to either side of the quilt.
  4. Measure the width of the quilt including the sewn borders. Cut two more borders from the background green fabric, 1 1⁄2in x measured width. Sew these carefully to the remaining two sides of the quilt.

Making a two sided quilt

To construct the back of the tulip quilt featured here I made up a 31in square including all the fabrics used in the quilt top plus some other green fabric. The petal fabric inserts were straight cut strips that I call stacking strips. I often use these on the back of a scrap quilt to tie the colours on the reverse to those on the front. Or if the back fabric needs a seam, I make a feature of it in this way. I developed this method to use some of my fabric stash, when I needed a patchwork quilt in a hurry!

OPTION - If you wish use one piece of fabric for the quilt back, simply cut a 31in square from a fabric.

  • Cut the green fabrics in a wedge shape, across the longest length of fabric. Cut a variety of widths between 1 1⁄2 and 5in. As you may be using scraps, the lengths vary, so make it easier by sewing some lengths together and press the seam before cutting the wedge.
  • Pick up two wedge lengths, mixing the widths. Sew RS together with the widest wedge end on one piece against the shortest wedge end on the other (Figure 10). Do not worry if they are slightly different lengths at this stage. Press.
  • Take two more wedge lengths and repeat the process until all the strips are sewn, each time mixing the widths. Press the seams to one side.
  • Cut one end level and at right angles to the sewn strip.
  • Measure the width of the strips. Using a rotary cutter, cut the strip into pieces that are approximately as long as the width measurement, (these were about 9in).
  • Lay these resulting blocks on the table, rotating every other block and plan where you want to insert the stacking strips. Sew the wedge blocks together to form long strips, making up the width you need. Press and put these on one side.
  • To make up the stacking strips, cut straight strips of fabric and sew together. These can be all the same width or various widths cut across the width of fabric. Cut and resew these strips as you wish. Press all seams as you sew them. Sew the stacking strip pieces and wedge blocks together randomly to make up the quilt backing. Trim the edge of the patchwork and press.


  1. Make up a sandwich of backing, wadding and the quilt front, tack together and quilt. Lesley outlined the flower petals, blocks and Seminole patchwork and shadow quilted the borders.
  2. Add a narrow binding, sign and date the quilt

OPTION - Lesley has sewn her square blocks edge to edge so that her tulips look as if they are in a breeze and leaning to one side! If you want your tulips to be vertical, set each block on point and separate with squares and triangles around the edge. Setting the blocks on point also means that the quilt will also grow significantly in size. However, you will have to allow more fabric for the setting, borders and backing.

First published in Popular Patchwork - June 2001