Figure 1: Block
Figure 1: Block

World's Fair

This block is based on a four patch grid and was first published by Virginia Snow Patchwork Designs in the 1930s (see Figure 1). To draft the block draw a square the finished size and divide into four in both directions. Do this by folding very carefully so that you don't have extra marks on the paper to confuse you. Then, with a sharp pencil join the centre marks on all four sides to give a square on point. Repeat for the inner square using the first fold on the top of the block to the first fold on the bottom right hand side. Twist the paper round and repeat. You should now have enough marks to complete the rest of the lines. Using template plastic trace off the required templates, use as they are for hand sewing and draw onto the wrong side of the fabric and then add a rough seam allowance. For machine piecing add the seam allowance to the template before you cut out.

Figure 2: Block construction
Figure 2: Block construction

Rotary cutting measurements for a 12in block are as follows:

  • Centre square 4 3⁄4in
  • Small triangle 4 1⁄2in square cut on both diagonals to give four triangles
  • Corner square 3 1⁄2in
  • Templates are given for the two triangles that cannot be rotary cut
  • To construct the block it is easiest to work diagonally as shown in Figure 2
Figure 3: The yellow darkens as it reaches the bottom of the quilt
creating luminosity
Figure 3: The yellow darkens as it reaches
the bottom of the quilt creating luminosity

You will need to take care as the small triangles have bias edges, as do the four triangles that make up the rectangle. Sew slower than usual and do not try and hold the fabric as you sew as this can cause stretching on the seams.

When the blocks are joined edge to edge four corner squares meet. You can use this to add interest by changing the colours to create a four patch pattern. Alternatively, as shown in Figure 3, the top squares in each block are a slightly lighter tone than the bottom squares which gradually darken as they go down the quilt. This creates a feeling of light shining behind the quilt.

Figure 4: Colour change creates new effect
Figure 4: Colour change creates new effect

If you draw the basic diagram a number of times and then play around with the colours you can get different effects. Warmer colours such as red and orange tend to come towards the eye so if you use them as shown in Figure 4, you can create a three dimensional effect where the red squares seem to be on top of an origami shape but the green squares look flatter.

I have been trying to work out which World's Fair this block relates to but to no avail. The World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 was the last and the greatest of the 19th-century's World's Fairs. The Fair was immensely popular, drawing over 27 million visitors. It was widely publicised both nationally and internationally, and people travelled from all over the world to see the spectacle. In 1939 there was a World's Fair in New York, but as I don't know the exact publication date of the block I can't be sure if the designer was looking back to a Fair they had been to or looking forward to the New York Fair of 1939-40. Perhaps it was like the Millennium with people taking inspiration from events of their time but we are not likely to know now.


A reader has been in touch, suggesting that this block may have been inspired by 1933-1934 "Century of Progress" World's Fair in Chicago. Thanks to Shirley for letting us know!