How to Sew a Floating Squares Quilt

Woman using sewing machine to make quilt
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  • 01 of 11

    Quilt Size and Design

    Floating Squares
    Janet Wickell

    This easy quilt pattern is a variation of a traditional design that's sometimes called Squares Upon Squares.

    The quilt is made with (48) 8" square patchwork blocks and finishes at about 48" x 64". Buy extra yardage for a larger version of the quilt (or pull in more scraps).

    We recommend you use the same background fabric throughout (shown in black) to help tie the design together.

    Let's Talk About Quilting Fabrics

    • 1 1/2 yards of a very dark fabric (or a very light fabric), and
    • 1 1/4 yards each of four different brightly colored fabrics for a color controlled quilt. The design works best scrappy (see the options below).

    When you take a look at the quilts made by forum members notice that the quilters didn't necessarily use my fabric suggestions. Choose fabrics you like and remember that contrast is what's most important.

    If using four fabrics, choose:

    • cool quilting fabrics, one somewhat lighter than the other (example: a blue and a green, one lighter than the other; both should contrast with your dark)
    • warm quilting fabrics, one somewhat lighter than the other (example: a red and a gold, one lighter than the other; both should contrast with your dark)

    For a scrap quilt:

    • Your color choices will be the same, but you'll have multiple warm colors and multiple cool colors to equal the total yardage (a bit more is best for scrap quilts).
    • Begin sorting your fabrics by the color warmth and color value (contrast), creating a different pile for each of the fabrics listed above: cools, a light stack and a darker stack; warms, a light stack, and a darker stack.

    Instructions are for a scrap quilt, but you'll see how easy it is to convert to a more controlled layout.

    Choose tone on tone, mottled, multicolor and other small to medium prints. The print scale can differ among fabrics, but large prints on a solid background won't work very well.

    Where you start with 'light' is up to you. Just make sure that your darkest cool or warm contrasts with the very dark fabric(s).

    Beginning quilters who aren't accustomed to sorting by value, or choosing fabrics based on warmth. Experiment a bit with the concepts before choosing fabrics for your quilt.

    Other Supplies

    Backing and Batting


    • About 250 running inches of double-fold binding to sew to the quilt with a quarter inch seam allowance. 

    Borders are optional and not included in yardage requirements.

    Continue to 2 of 11 below.
  • 02 of 11

    Cutting Instructions

    Quilt supplies on table
    Janet Wickell

    Black or Very Dark:

    • Cut (96) 2-1/2" x 4-1/2" rectangles (can be cut from six 4-1/2" wide strips of fabric cut from selvage to selvage). Square up one end of each strip and then cut the segments (likely 15 to 16 per strip). Set aside for now.
    • Cut (6) 2-1/2" wide strips from selvage to selvage (you might need to cut a few extra later).

    The pattern still contains elements of the original mystery. Read through all of the instructions a few times to understand the assembly process.

    Use a calibrated quarter inch seam allowance throughout.

    1. Gather the fabrics you have reserved for the light portions of your warm quilt blocks.
    2. Cut a 5-1/2" long segment from one of your 2-1/2" wide black strips (you can go with 5 1/4" if you're good at squaring up, but that extra tiny bit adds more insurance).
    3. Cut a 2-1/2" x 5-1/2" strip from one of your light warms and sew it lengthwise to your dark strip (right image). Press the seam allowance towards the dark strip.
    4. Repeat to make 24 different sets from 5-1/2" long strips of black/light warm fabrics.
    5. Do not cut segments from strip sets yet.
    6. Cut a 2 1/2" x 2 1/2" square of the light warm.

    If you prefer, sew longer strips together and cut more matching squares. For instance, to use the same light warm in two blocks cut a 2-1/2" x 10-1/2" strip of the light warm and a black strip to match. Sew together as explained. Cut two 2-1/2" x 2-1/2" matching light warm squares.

    To use the fabric three times, cut 2-1/2" x 15-1/2" strips of each for the strip set and three matching squares. Always use strips that will yield pairs of 2-1/2" segments later (page 3).

    1. Repeat to sew a black strip to the light cools (left image). Follow the same instructions used for the black/light warms. Don't forget the extra squares.

    Speed up strip set assembly by pairing all of your strips prior to sewing, and then chain piece. Cut apart and press.

    How Many Strip Sets Do You Really Need?

    The total number of strip sets and their total length depends on available yardages.

    • You need to cut a total of (48) 2-1/2" segments (in like pairs of two) from the light warm strip sets and the same number from the light cool strip sets.
    • Each pair of two segments requires a matching warm or cool 2-1/2" square.
    • If you're working with only a few fabrics, you can use long strips cut from selvage to selvage.
    Continue to 3 of 11 below.
  • 03 of 11

    Cut Segments From Strip Sets

    Quilt pieces on table
    Janet Wickell
    1. Square up the leading edge of your black/cool light strip sets and then cut (2) 2-1/2" segments from each 5-1/2" long set. If you are making multiples of some colors, cut (2) 2-1/2" segments per block, and if you are using longer strips, you'll obviously cut more like segments.
    2. Square up the leading edge of your black/warm light strips and then cut (2) 2-1/2" segments from each 5-1/2" long set.
    3. You should have a total of (48) 2-1/2" segments of black/cool light and the same number and size of black/warm light.
    4. You'll also have (1) 2-1/2" x 2-1/2" light warm or light cool square for every two segments (they were cut on page 2).
    Continue to 4 of 11 below.
  • 04 of 11

    Cut Dark Color Fabrics for the Floating Squares Quilt

    Quilt fabric pieces
    Janet Wickell

    Cut patches from like warm/dark fabrics. You'll need 24 sets of the following:

    • (1) 4-1/2" x 4-1/2" square
    • (1) 2-1/2" x 2-1/2" square
    • (1) 2-1/2" x 4-1/2" rectangle

    Cut the same sizes and number of patches from your cool/dark fabrics for each cool quilt block (24 total of each).

    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    Assemble Fabrics for a Warm Floating Squares Block

    Quilt fabrics
    Janet Wickell
    1. Choose a light warm and a dark warm that you'd like to combine in a quilt block.
    2. Gather two black rectangles, a 4-1/2" dark warm fabric square, two like light warm/black segments and a 2-1/2" square of each warm fabric.
    3. Sew the 2-1/2" light and dark warm squares side by side as shown top right. Press seam allowance towards the darker square.
    4. Assemble the fabric groups for all remaining warm quilt blocks.
    Continue to 6 of 11 below.
  • 06 of 11

    Start Sewing Rectangular Components Together

    Quilt fabrics
    Janet Wickell
    1. Top Row: Arrange two black/light warm units next to 2-1/2" x 4-1/2" black rectangles as shown (resulting squares will be mirror images).
    2. Bottom Row: Sew the units together. Press seam allowances towards the black rectangles.
    Continue to 7 of 11 below.
  • 07 of 11

    Continue Working on a Warm Floating Squares Block

    Quilt fabrics
    Janet Wickell
    1. Arrange the dark warm 2-1/2" x 4-1/2" rectangle and a dark warm/light warm segment as shown, left.
    2. Sew components together. Press seam allowance towards the dark warm rectangle.
    Continue to 8 of 11 below.
  • 08 of 11

    Finish Sewing a Warm Floating Squares Quilt Block

    Quilt fabrics
    Janet Wickell
    1. You should have four pieced square components and one 4-1/2" plain dark warm square. Arrange four block components in two rows as shown, left.
    2. Sew the patchwork in each row together, center photo. Press seam allowance away from the units with black fabric.
    3. Join the rows, matching edges and butting the center seam carefully. Press. The Floating Squares quilt block should measure 8-1/2" x 8-1/2".
    4. Assemble more warm blocks until you have a total of 24.
    5. Make 24 cool blocks in the same way.
    6. Arrange the quilt blocks into eight rows, each with six blocks. Your quilt blocks can be arranged like the illustrations on pages 1, 9, 10, 11 or in any other way you wish. Use a quilt design wall or another flat surface to move blocks around until you're happy with the layout.
    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    LindaHoo's Floating Squares Quilt

    LindaHoo's Floating Squares Quilt

    LindaHoo worked on her scrappy version of the quilt with her granddaughter. This is one of the layouts they previewed.

    Continue to 10 of 11 below.
  • 10 of 11

    Terri's Floating Squares Quilt

    2010 New Year's Day Mystery Quilt
    Terri Karasch

    Terri chose a completely different arrangement for her Floating Squares quilt blocks. 

    Continue to 11 of 11 below.
  • 11 of 11

    Floating Squares Quilt by QuietCabin

    Mystery Quilts

    QuietCabin's quilt is an excellent example of a controlled color design. She arranged the quilt blocks on point and added borders to the quilt to increase its size.