Dresden Plate Quilt Blocks: A Technique Tuesday Test Session

Not only are Dresden Plate quilts sweet and fun, they’re also unique in their construction. A mix between patchwork and appliqué, with a specific geometry and a slew of specialty rulers on the market, there are a lot of approaches to making a Dresden Plate quilt. And honestly, they’re all pretty fun!

Gigi Levsen shared a round-up of Dresden Plate quilt patterns, and on it was one of the first Dresden Plate quilts I’d seen since joiningFons & Porter’s Love of Quilting TV—Shattered Dresden by Dodi Lee Poulsen, from episode 2812: “Medallion Quilt Pattern with a Modern Flair.”

That episode is one of the most thorough and informative introductions to the Dresden Plate design I’ve seen, even re-watching it years later. So while Gigi writes about the patterns, I’ll share a little about the techniques, using Dodi’s methods, and maybe try out a few things in my own studio!

Shattered Dresden Features two styles of Dresden Plates, one with short, almost stubby blades, and the other combining shorter blades with longer ones, creating a radiant effect. The construction technique, though, is the same.

Patrick and Dodi

Cutting, Sewing, and Pressing the Blades

Most Dresden Plate blades are cut from strips. You can mark the wedge with a template and cut, as Dodi does, or use a specialty ruler. (Finding one that matches the angle of your desired wedge might be the challenge! See the Specialty Rulers sidebar.)

Dodi recommends a well-starched fabric. The angle of wedge cuts is even more extreme than a 45-degree bias. Does it stretch more? Doesn’t seem to. Does it fray? Yes. Yes, it does. Starching helps with that, as well as getting nice crisp points and folds.

One your pieces are cut, you fold the wedge in half, with right sides together, finger pressing the entire length for a light crease. Sew the wider end of the wedge with a 1/4” seam. (Chain piecing is the way to go here!)

Dodi also has a tip for folding over the tip. Don’t clip the corner of the seam; leaving the bulk will make a crisper, more stable point. Generally, to turn the blade right-side-out, you’ll grasp the tip and fold it over your finger.

Then poke the tip out with a point-turning tool, like the Slim Hera Marker from Clover or the Bamboo Point Turner and Presser from Dritz. Really, there are so many possible tools. I did find my metal chopstick to be frustratingly too dull, and the stiletto I have was too sharp, and poked right through the tip. Same problem with pointed scissors, so beware!

Once it’s right-side out, you’ll want to press, but Dodi cautions you here. You want the center seam to align down the middle of the blade—that’s very important for a non-wonky Dresden Plate at the end. You can align the seam with your finger-pressed center crease, or, like Dodi, use a notecard with a 45-degree line marked in the corner, leaving it in as you dry-press the blade.

“You can use the notecard for about 50 Dresden [blades] or so before you have to make a new one,” says Dodi.

As far as other tools for pressing Dresden blade tips, Susan Cleveland produces a metal Prairie Pointer tool that could be used for pressing Prairie Points (hence the name), but I haven’t tested it for Dresden Plates. It may only work with 18-degree wedges. Guess I’ll need to go shopping to further my research…

Another great tip from Dodi is that you can trim the interior side of the point to about ¼”. You can certainly leave it as is, but the benefit to trimming is that there’s less bulk for when you appliqué and also when you quilt it. Trimming will also contribute to making the quilt less stiff in those spots.

Sewing and Pressing the Quadrants

Once you have your Dresden blade, you sew them together in quadrants. With a 20-piece Dresden Plate, you’ll have quadrants of 5 blades, but—if you have alternating types of blades like Dodi’s or are using a specific color sequence, you’ll need to think carefully about how they’re laid out .

“We want to line them up at the bottom edge, and we’re going to start [sewing]—always—on the folded edge [at the top] because it will go together better.”

If you’re working with same-size Dresden Plate blades, you simple sew from end to end. With the different sizes, you sew from the shorter blade’s folded tip to the bottom edge. The turned-edge on the long blade is all a matter of strategic pressing!

One of the nice things watching Dodi work is all the off-hand advice you hear. A Dresden Plate block depends on accuracy in cutting, pressing, and especially sewing—that perfect quarter inch seam matters so much in a block like this. But a quarter inch seam doesn’t always go as expected.

“It’s pretty typical for any Dresden Plate to have a little bit too much or too little fabric [in the seams],” Dodi says, “and there’s a way to fix that.”

And so Dodi shows you how to grade a seam in a Dresden Plate to even out any bubbles or tucks.

She has a complete technique for placing to Dresden Plate “wreath” on the center of the oversized background block before securing it with a blanket stitch.

The circle medallions are first faced with fusible interfacing, and then flipped out (you can really get into those edges with a Hera marker), and fused over the opening of the Dresden Plate. More decorative stitching secures the medallion, and then the block can be trimmed down as needed to find its place in your quilt.

That’s the basic technique. Once you’ve mastered that, you can really take a Dresden Plate design all kinds of places!

Ruling It Out

Since I have never managed to follow a pattern exactly (always gotta throw in some kind of wild card!), I decided to experiment with Dodi’s methods, and try creating Dresden Plate blades from a strip roll I had on hand.

The 2-1/2” strips in the roll aren’t ideal for cutting a whole series of Dresden Plate blades. Typically, you want a strip that’s more or less as wide as your blade will be tall.

Which is why I decided to experiment with the Wedge Ruler from Omnigrid. The fact that it has multiple angles, many of which corresponded with the technique blog Gigi posted in her article was the most appealing aspect. Why buy a ruler that only allows me one angle of Dresden Plate, especially if I could just print or trace the wedge template from a pattern, and use that to mark and cut?

Granted, how to use the Wedge Ruler took some careful thought. I haven’t explored angles like this since 10th grade geometry. While a lot of those other Dresden Rulers are super intuitive to quilters, this one took a few cuts to get used to.

In fact, I ended up reading the measurements incorrectly, and made 36-degree wedges. Well, I learned a few things, and I just ended up with a chunkier blossom and fewer blades!

Always the trade-off, right? You can have a tool that’s intuitive to use but limits your creative range, or one that requires some time to master but allows you more creative opportunities.

After poking through my point with a stiletto, I tried simply using the corner of my ruler to poke it out, aligning the seam with the 45-degree line on the ruler. I created it, removed the ruler, and pressed.

And I did get my wedges from the strip roll… I should’ve calculated for a blunted bottom, but hey, it’s an experiment! I’ll do that with the other blades.

I alternated brown blades with a combination of lighter pastels, and sewed it all together.

Stitch Play

Since filming that episode of Love of Quilting with Dodi Lee Poulsen, we’ve filmed a couple of other Dresden Plate projects.

In Episode 3706 “English Wreaths,” guest Debi Kuennen-Baker makes a bold, wild Dresden Plate table runner to showcase some fabulous decorative stitches. Dresden Plates are, generally speaking, appliquéd to a quilt, and appliqué is a fun place to break out the cool threads and specialty decorative stitches. On this episode, Debi used some serpentine and other decorative stitches in the background, and rather than stitch the edges of the blades down, used a radiant stitch you can find on some PFAFF machines to secure the center medallion and “spike” outward into the blades or petals. It might not serve for a utility quilt, but the dimensionality it leaves it interesting!

My machine doesn’t have that radiant stitch, but it does have a circular attachment that I’d never tried. In episode 3704 “Around We Go,” Sara Gallegos introduced the idea of ​​using a circular attachment and decorative stitches to decorate a journal cover.

In fact, I’d been thinking about how to get the medallions using the embroidery unit, like Angela did in episode 3808 “Moonlight Mermaid”, but the circular attachment might work for that, too!

So I broke out my circular attachment for the first time since accquiring my sewing machine, and began to play. First, I made the center medallion using the smallest setting on the circular attachment and some stabilizer, cutting and turning it as Dodi has in her episode.

Then I experimented with securing the medallion with decorative stitches. This time, I ignored the instructions that said to use stabilizer. So very quickly, I found myself ripping out a snarl of threads and trying again. Lesson learned; when using a circular attachment, use stabilizer as directed.

I’ve got to admit, I’m extremely happy with how the Dresden Plates turned out. What started out as testing a technique has blossomed into a work in progress, because I’ll definitely be making more of these!

I never would have tried it out had I not seen Sara’s journal cover.


And speaking of Sara Gallegos, here’s another fresh approach! Sara is a fan of Dresden Plate blocks. For episode 3602 “Web of Mystery,” Sara put together a quilt-as-you-go variation of a Dresden Plate using Halloween fabrics and glow-in-the-dark thread that was so very fun!

It’s another interesting variation on a Dresden Plate design, just going to show that this sweet classic pattern has a lot of uncharted possibilities.

Specialty Tools for Dresden Plates

  • Omnigrid—Wedge Ruler
  • Missouri Star—Mini Dresden 2.5”, Small Simple Wedge Template for 5” Charm Packs, Large Dresden Plate Template for 10” Squares
  • EZ Quilting—Easy Dresden Tool by Darlene Zimmerman, Jelly Roll Ruler – Mini Dresden
  • Me & My Sister—Double Wide Dresden Ruler 36-Degree
  • Creative Grids 45-Degree Kaleidoscope & Dresden Plate Ruler, 18-Degree Dresden Plate Ruler
  • Marti Michell—Dresden Plate Standard Template Set, Dresden Plate Miniature Template Set

These are all well-made, useful tools, and it’s worth exploring these—and any I missed!—to find one that seems ‘right’ to you.

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Digital Products

Love of Quilting TV Series 3800 eBook


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Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting Series 3700 eBook


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Included with QDTV

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Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting Series 3700 – Video Download


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Magazines & eBooks

Love of Quilting TV Series 3600 eBooklet


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Digital Products

Love of Quilting July August 2016 Digital Edition


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Digital Products

Shattered Dresden Quilt Pattern Download


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