Classic Blocks: Shoo Fly

Welcome to another installment of Blue Beagle Quilt’s Classic Block Series – thanks for stopping by! This time let’s make the Shoo Fly Block – with some technique tips for using directional fabrics so that all the pieces end up facing the same way.

A little background on the Shoo Fly Block before we get started: This block first appeared around 1850, and by the late 1800s was quite popular because it is so easy to teach beginner quilters, yet makes a stunning overall quilt design. There are several theories regarding the origin of the name Shoo Fly. One is that the center square represents a hole in the home that could allow a fly to enter. Another idea is that the block was named after a mixture composed of the juice extracted from a clover bloom and added to milk, which was poured into saucers and left around the house to ward off flies. Yet another theory is that the block looks a bit like the spicy lattice top of a particular Amish molasses pie, that was reportedly so delicious it attracted flies as it baked. And like many quilt blocks popular in the late 1800s, the Shoo Fly is said to be part of the Underground Railroad quilt code signaling a safe route for escaping slaves.

Let’s start sewing!

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

HST: Half Square Triangle
RST: Right Sides Together
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 Shoo Fly Block

Finished Size6″9″12″15″18″
Unfinished Size6.5″9.5″12.5″15.5″18.5″
Piece A (center square) CUT 12.5″3.5″4.5″5.5″6.5″
Piece B CUT 42.5″3.5″4.5″5.5″6.5″
Piece C (HSTs) CUT 2 of EACH color3″4″5″6″7″

I made a 9 1/2″ unfinished block, so I cut piece A at 3.5″, piece B at 3.5″ and piece C at 4″. Construction is the same no matter what size you chose.

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 it out. Look under the Tutorials tab and click on HSTs. But, if you are not using a directional print, you don’t need to pay attention to the orientation.

Mark a diagonal line from corner to corner on the back of the lighter fabric. I’ve used a Frixion pen here, but you can even use a pencil since it won’t show.

Now comes the important part for directional fabrics! Place one square with the pattern facing upwards and another square with the pattern facing sideways. Lay the white square on top, with your line going from top right to bottom left. Sew a quarter inch away from your drawn line on both sides. You can see my marks on the orange squares below – I did this to keep myself from getting confused as I sewed. The big red arrows are pointing to the “top” of the directional print. Make 2 HSTs in each orientation.

Now, cut between the two lines of stitching.

Trim them to the unfinished size you’ve chosen in the chart, in my case 3.5″.

Now press towards the darker fabric, and lay out all the A, B and C pieces into a shoo fly block, paying attention to the orientation of your HSTs as well as the direction of the fabric within the HSTs.

Now sew the block elements together! Take the middle column and place them on top of the left column. Chain piece these together. The second photo shows this before pressing the seams open, and the third photo show this after pressing.

Do the same with the right column – place the pieces on the middle column and chain piece. The second photo show this step after pressing the seams open.

To finish up the block, flip the top row down over the center row, matching and pinning the seam intersections, and sew. Do the same with the bottom row, sewing it to the middle row. Press both seams open and square up the block to the unfinished size you chose in the chart. In my case, 9.5″.

You can also make a “negative” block with the lighter fabric the focus and the darker fabric the background. Just make sure you use the chart to cut the proper number of pieces.