Classic Blocks: Bear Paw

Hello and welcome to the third installment of a Classic Block Series! This time, let’s make a Bear Paw block.

First, a little history on the Bear Paw. The bear paw is a sawtooth block variation with the half square triangles arranged to form “claws”. Back in the mid-1800s, many quilts were medallion style, meaning a large center motif or pattern with many repeating borders surrounding that center motif. One of the harder borders to piece was the sawtooth border. This evolved into a sawtooth star, then into the bear claw.

As with many quilt blocks, there are many regional names for the same block, all depending on what was common in that area. For example, the bear paw name was used in Ohio, where there were plenty of bear to be seen, but out on Long Island, NY, the same block was called Duck’s Foot in the Mud, and in Philadelphia it was known as the Hand of Friendship.

And I found several references to the bear paw being used on the Underground Railroad to signal escaping enslaved people to follow the bear paw quilts over the Appalachian Mountains. I hope this is true – I would like to think quilts and the women who made them, helped to mark the path to safety and freedom.

Let’s start sewing!

A few terms to keep in mind when making this block:

HST means Half Square Triangle
RST means Right Sides Together and
Please use 1/4″ seams unless otherwise stated
Finished vs Unfinished size: finished size literally means just that – how big the block will end up when sewed into a “finished” quilt, and unfinished size means how big the block is before it’s sewn into a quilt. Unfinished blocks still have raw edges.

First, decide how big you want your block to be, and using the cutting chart and block diagram below, cut out your pieces.

Cutting Chart for 1 Bear Paw Block

Finished Size6″9″12″15″18″
Unfinished Size6.5″9.5″12.5″15.5″18.5″
Piece A (large square) CUT 14.5″6.5″8.5″10.5″12.5″
Piece B (small square) CUT 12.5″3.5″4.5″5.5″6.5″
Piece C (HSTs) CUT 2 of EACH color3″4″5″6″7″

I made a 9.5″ unfinished block, so in the example photos you’ll see as we go, I cut my piece A at 6.5″, my piece B at 4.5″ and my piece Cs at 4″.

I used a directional print (one that has a noticeable “up” and “down”) for this tutorial so I could show you how to sew the HSTs and end up with everything facing the right way. I have a more detailed tutorial on making HSTs, so if this is new to you, feel free to pause here and check out that tutorial here.

For the directional print HSTs, start with your print facing sideways like in the photos below.

Draw a line from the top right corner to the bottom left corner (so that the line is going diagonally across the design). Sew a scant 1/4″ on either side of the line, then cut apart on the line itself. Trim to the size needed for your chosen size block – in my case, 3.5″.

Press the HSTs open, with the seam allowance towards the darker fabric. In this case, the print.

Now lay out the HSTs around the other block elements to get the orientation correct.

Now sew the block elements together: first sew two HSTs on the side of the layout together. Sew that “C” unit to the large “A” square.

Sew the remaining HSTs and the “B” square into a row. And finally sew that row onto the top of the unit assembled in the previous step. Trim the block to the unfinished size in the chart – in my case I trimmed to 9.5″. And you’re done!