The second block in our Block of the Month series goes by the whimsical name of Shoo Fly. Whether or not you think the name of this block originated from the blooms of the clover broom plant, which the pattern is said to resemble, this simple nine-patch, composed of blocks and half-square triangles, is an excellent block for beginning quilters to master.
The block originated in the early-to-mid 1800’s, and became especially popular later in the century. Like most quilt blocks, it’s been around a while, and you’ve no doubt seen Shoo Fly in its original form as well as variations, and even under another name. Sometimes it’s called Hole in the Barn Door. (This makes sense to us. If you’ve got holes in your door, you will definitely be shooing flies.)
There is a very romantic and persistent myth that the Shoo Fly block pattern was used in quilts to signal help and safe passage to slaves fleeing the South via the Underground Railroad. It’s a great story, but sadly not true.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has a quilt called the “Shoo-fly” Pieced Quilt, made sometime between 1850-1875. This quilt, with its ruffled, three-sided edge, is made to fit around the posts at the foot of a bed.
Here’s a link to a free pattern, and Marsha’s step-by-step tutorial to creating your own 12″ finished block: Click here for the Shoo Fly Pattern..
For more history and images of beautiful quilts featuring the Shoo Fly block, please visit the following websites:
The “Shoo-fly” Pieced Quilt This link takes you to the The National Museum of American History’s Shoo-fly quilt, but you can also see many wonderful quilts from their collection on this site.
Quilting in America’s Shoo-Fly article A brief post about the origins of the block, with a picture of the clover broom blossom.
Myths About the Underground Railroad An article by historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. about the myths and realities of the Underground Railroad. He discusses the quilt myth, among others.