Friday, November 1, 2013

Hidden Wells Quilt Tutorial

Hidden Wells Quilt:

Choose 5 to 7 strips of fabric of varying widths.  This is your chance to show your wild and crazy side!  Horizontal stripes work well in this pattern, as do bright colors that don’t usually play well with other fabrics.  The most effective combinations alternate dark and light colors so that they stand alone in the design and aren’t completely lost in the mix, although sometimes you might choose to have fabrics that blend more and stand out less, as in the teal example below. If your fabrics are too different, they will not blend in the finished block and the pattern will be more pronounced and not as subtle.  I usually try to choose one focus fabric and then choose other fabrics that pick up the colors in my focus fabric.  I prefer using prints rather than solids so that they blend well together, but there are always exceptions.

The finished strips should NOT measure MORE than 10” across, when finished (10-1/2” with seam allowance).  Since your fabric strip set will usually be around 42” long, you can then get 4 blocks cut from each strip set.  That will give you 2 completed blocks.  You can make the strip sets wider, but will not be able to get 4 blocks from the strip and will need to sew more strip sets. 

Since I normally cut 1-1/2” and 2-1/2” strips and put them in bins whenever I buy new fabric, these are the sizes I used, for the most part.  I discovered that cutting the center strip 2” wide, with a 1-1/2”, 2-1/2”, and 1-1/2” on either side works well, as shown in the blue paisley sample below.  If I am cutting strips rather than using strips that I’ve already cut, I have used two 2” strips instead of a 1-1/2” and a 2-1/2” strips, with an additional 1-1/2” strip on one or both sides of the center strip.   The center strip is the fabric that will form the “X” in the design when the blocks are put together, and the end strip on each side of your strip set will frame each block.  Here are a few of my color choices.  Study them to see how the fabrics appear in the finished blocks.
Blue Paisley Set:
2” center strip (dark blue with white/brown print). The paisley fabric has blue, brown, and cream colors, so I have chosen fabrics that will blend with those colors.
And the blocks looked like this:
The light blue print frames the block in the Blue Paisley set, above left, as does the white print on the alternate block. The dark blue center strip will form the ”X” in the secondary pattern.

Bright Floral Set:
2-1/2” center strip
(gold/brown floral fabric)         
Hawaiian floral is 2” wide, as is the green print on the right side.  In this example, the Hawaiian floral is the focus fabric, and I chose other fabrics that picked up the colors in that fabric.

And the blocks look like this.  Note how the two end fabrics in the strip set above form the frames around each block.

The gold/brown center strip forms the “X” between the blocks in the secondary pattern.
Teal fabric set; Center strip is 2-1/2” wide. 

And they made these blocks:
I found that a 1-1/2” strip in the center all but disappears in the framed block and makes a thinner “X”, see purple set below.  A 2-1/2” strip in the center makes a wider “X”, as in the Teal sample, but is more visible in the framed square.
Purple Set on the right:
Notice the secondary patterns that emerge when 4 blocks are sewn together.  Be careful laying out your blocks so that you achieve these secondary patterns, both horizontal and vertical. Check and double check before you begin sewing the blocks together.  In this case, the center strip was only 1-1/2”, and is barely visible in the center of each framed block.  It is the fuscia print that forms the thinner “X” in the secondary block.

Red and Black Set:
The colors of the strip set are not as true as the colors shown in the block photo below.  The center strip here is 2” wide, the fan print and the turquoise and red print are 2-1/2” wide.  The other three fabrics are
1-1/2” wide.

After the strips are sewn together, press all seams in the same direction on the back side.  Press again from the right side. 

Gold/Teal strip set:
The center strip here is 2-1/2” wide, and you can see in the photo below that the X formed  by the gold in the secondary pattern is wider.  The striped fabric adds interest to the pattern.

Measure your strip set after it is pressed.  Trim off the selvedge edge, and cut the strip set into squares the width of your strip.  For instance, if it measures 10” side to side, then you will cut it into 10” lengths.  It takes 4 cut strip sets to make one complete section of 2 blocks.  It’s important that your squares measure the same both ways, so that they truly are square.

You will be making 2 separate layouts.  Choose one edge fabric as the one to “watch”, your focus fabric; in this case, it is the teal swirl with black and white.  Lay 2 of your strip squares with the same fabric at the top, with the strips going horizontally.  Then lay two more blocks with the stripes going vertically, with the focus fabric on opposite sides.  See photo at left for the way to lay them out.  Note that the teal swirl strip is at the top of both the horizontal blocks and on the left of one block and right of the other block on the bottom row.  Now place the vertical strip blocks on top of the horizontal strip blocks, with right sides together, one with the focus fabric on the left, the other with the focus fabric on the right. It doesn’t matter if you have your focus fabric at the top or bottom, as long as it is the same on both blocks.  You are making two separate blocks by alternating the focus fabric vertically on the horizontal blocks.  This is necessary to make the complete pattern formed by the two blocks.  Pin at the corners, matching up all four sides.

Sew a ¼” seam all around the block, sewing the two squares together.  Place your sewn block on the cutting mat… if you have a rotating mat, it will work best for this step.  

Cut the block diagonally both ways, making 4 triangles.  See photo below.  I haven’t had good luck cutting more than one block at a time.  You will have 4 smaller squares when you open up these triangles, and when you finish both strip blocks, you will have eight triangle units, or eight squares, enough for 2 complete quilt blocks, but be aware that they will be two different blocks.  The two blocks will form the complete pattern when they are joined.  I press these squares, setting the seam on the wrong side and then flipping up the other triangle and pressing from the front.  You are working with bias edges, so be very careful handling them, so you don’t stretch them out of shape.  Try to press by pushing your iron with the straight grain of the fabric to avoid stretching them.  I haven’t found it necessary to square up these blocks if I’m careful with the handling.  Some quilters starch the fabrics to keep them from stretching, but I have not had to do that.

Be careful in putting them together.  Study the photos of the block sets above to see that the joining sides you will sew will form a secondary pattern, at the top and side of these blocks, when they are joined properly.  It is very simple when you know the resulting pattern you’re looking for.  Again, study the photos here to see and understand the secondary pattern that emerges.
Decide how big you want your quilt to be.  Measure your block… if it measures 12” and you set the squares 4 across by 5 down, you will need 20 blocks to make your quilt, and your quilt will be about 48” by 60”, without borders.  If you can get 2 completed blocks from every strip set, that means you will need 10 strip sets to make 20 blocks.  If you make your top 4 blocks wide by 4 blocks long, you will need 16 blocks, or 8 strip sets.  You can add borders to make it bigger or longer, if you choose. 
And here are two of the quilts, finished with borders, shown below.

I hope you enjoy making  your own Hidden Wells quilt.  But, I warn you, they are addictive!  It's truly an adventure to see how lovely the different fabric combinations can be.


  1. this is great maybe i will finish the one i have

  2. Absolutely fabulous idea! I really like your use of multiple examples to show the different effects of color, print, and strip width. I cannot wait to try this out. I can see how addictive it would be. It reminds me of kaleidoscope blocks/quilts, but without the fussiness. :-) I love the surprise results.

  3. This is a wonderful tutorial and very beautiful quilts. Thank you so much! This is a great tutorial. Extra photos always helps me.

  4. this I understand I have tried before to make one of these got so mixed up that I gave up it is in the 7 year box of ufo thank you ever so much for writing this tutorial
    and showing the different pictures

  5. Excellent tut. Love the pictures of color placement. Good job.

  6. I'm glad I discovered your blog today. Thanks for the tutorial. I've been wondering if there is a chart somewhere showing yardage requirements for different size Hidden Wells quilts. I have Mary Ellen Hopkins' brochure from 1989, but she doesn't have any sizes listed, and I've only made one years ago.

    On another note, I read some of your previous entries, and you sound a lot like my older sister with all your medical problems. It's awful to watch her aging. Colitis for years, then spinal fractures, then pulmonary embolism, diabetes, arthritis, kidney failure, blood infections, etc., etc. along with multiple medications. You take care of yourself. You are still too young to leave. You still need to see your grandkids grow up. Sharon -

  7. A great tutorial, maybe I can get one made now. Thanks for posting!! Have a great week-end and happy stitching!!!

  8. Thank you for your great tutorial!
    Have a nice day!

  9. sure did enjoy this tute but i have so many ufos .....not gonna let myself start anything else unless it is a baby

  10. This is great! I've done the Hidden Wells block but used it alternately with a solid fabric (chenille). I think it's time I do an entire quilt with this block - it's so versatile! Thanks for your tutorial.

  11. Katie M sent me to your site. I am now a follower. Love your tutorial. I will try this one soon. I can't wait to see how it come out. Thank you for such great instructions.

  12. Love love love the tute!! Especially the fabric, then the blocks laid out! I'm saving it - I've been toying with a Hidden Wells for years but too timid to do it sight unseen. Well, it's going to the top of my list now!! Thanks. doni @ Oregon coast and in Stashbusters, of course!!

  13. This is a wonderful tutorial. I have always wanted to know the "secret" to the fabric lay outs and widths. Your excellent examples make it perfectly visual. Beautiful quilts, great pictures. Thank you for helping all of us!

  14. This is STUPENDOUS!!! Thank you, thank you for the tut.



  15. Haven't made one of these in ages and finding your tutorial was great and it seems to be much more straightforward than my first hidden wells quilt instructions.

  16. I finally understand this pattern. Thanks for helping me finally understand this pattern which I love and can finally make! Sheila

  17. Just found the site, it is awesome! Hope you are well!

  18. Is there a way to press the fabrics so that the quarter pieces butt to each other when sewing the blocks together ?
    I have had this on my want to list for a long time and now have two almost done.
    thanks for the great pictures of the fabrics used.
    Another Stashbuster, Gladys

  19. Thanks so much for this post! Hidden Wells was the first quilt pattern I tried in 1992, but I've lost my copy and I want to use it for a quilted jacket. Your instructions are excellent, and with my first small quilt I'll be able to figure out what size block I need and how to go about making them!!

  20. I wonder if anyone has figured out which way to press the seams on each of the blocks to get them to nest together when piecing? I've tried every combination I can think of and end up just pressing them open.

    1. See this tutorial:

      She cuts her sqrs and triangles out singularly, then presses and pieces. I'm more into Alaena's method, way easier! And yes, I press mine open too. Less bulk when quilting.

  21. Thank you so much for your concise directions. I have been driving myself crazy trying to get the positioning right of the stacking squares. I had thought to try your approach but was playing with paper first and then read your block and saved myself the trouble!

  22. I am most grateful for this tutorial of Hidden Wells,a labor of love for sure. The pictures are fantastic, and an encouragement to try different colors and strip widths. I can see where a scrappy block is possible without losing the effect, by choosing at least two strips to be the same in each set. Thank you so much!

  23. Just a quick thank you to let you know this is still helping people with this block. Thank you very much for the detailed explanation with photos, it really helps.