How to assemble a Dresden Plate quilt square

Written by anne baley
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How to assemble a Dresden Plate quilt square
The Dresden Plate quilt square is made of many individual pieces. (quilts image by Christopher Martin from

The quilts of the Depression era were typically bright and cheerful pastel works, perhaps trying to lighten an otherwise drab existence. One of the most popular quilt patterns from that time is the Dresden Plate. Reminiscent of a fancy dinner plate on a snowy tablecloth, Dresden Plate blocks are scrap quilts, like most Depression patterns. Whether in a random pattern or a planned design, the colourful sections that make up the plate edges are pieced together into a circular design and then appliqued onto a plain background.

Making a Dresden Plate quilt today involves many of the same skills used decades ago. While rotary cutters can save much time cutting out hundreds of patches, applique work is still done by hand, making this quilt a true labour of love.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Cotton quilt fabric
  • Acrylic wedge ruler
  • Acrylic circle template
  • Rotary cutter
  • Rotary mat
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine
  • Knitting needle
  • Iron
  • Needle
  • Thread

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  1. 1

    Cut out one square piece of quilt muslin 1/2 inch (1.27 cm) larger than your finished background size. Dresden Plate blocks can be made in any size, but 12-inch (30.5 cm) and 16-inch (41 cm) blocks are popular and large enough to work with easily.

  2. 2

    Cut out 20 wedge shapes from assorted print fabrics. You may use five different fabrics for a coordinated look, or make the wedges all different for a scrap quilt effect.

  3. 3

    Place the wedge shapes on the table in front of you, with the long edges to the right and left and the shortest side at the bottom. Fold each wedge shape in half lengthwise, with the right sides together. Place a pin in the top edge to keep the fold in place. Sew along the top edge, using a 1/4-inch (0.6-cm) seam, on all 20 wedges.

  4. 4

    Turn this seam inside out to create the point at the top of the wedges. Use a knitting needle or stiletto to push the point out sharply. Use your finger to press the seam to make the fold lie smoothly.

  5. 5

    Lay the wedges out on the table in a circle until you are satisfied with the order in which they are placed. Begin sewing them together at the top of the circle, sewing five wedges together to create a quarter-circle. Use a 1/4-inch (0.6-cm) seam to sew all of the pieces together. Make three more quarter-circles in the same manner.

  6. 6

    Sew two quarter-circles together to create a half-circle. Create another half-circle with the other pieces. Sew the two half-circles together to create a complete circle. Iron the seams to one side.

  7. 7

    Fold the background muslin in half, vertically, and press the fabric to create a sharp crease. Fold this fabric in half horizontally and iron another crease. Open the fabric up and lay it on the table. You now have a background with a crossed crease at the exact centre.

  8. 8

    Place the pieced circle on top of the background fabric, lining up the seams between wedges directly on top of the creases in the background. Pin the circle onto the background and applique around the outside edge.

  9. 9

    Cut out a circle of print fabric and centre it on the pieced circle. Pin the circle in place and applique it to the bottom edge of the wedges in the centre of the plate.

  10. 10

    Turn the appliqued piece over so that the background fabric is on top. Use small scissors to clip away the background fabric that lies behind the pieced plate. Leave a 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) of background fabric all around as a seam allowance to attach the background with the plate. Gently press the finished block, taking care not to stretch any of the fabric.

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