The Versatile Dresden Plate Quilt Block

The Dresden Plate quilt block is one of the most popular quilt designs. But did you know how versatile it is?

Below we give you some ideas for using the Dresden Plate to make a variety of quilting projects, plus tips on how to re-size the plates. With this information, you’ll be serving up all kinds of Dresden Plate patterns, like the Let’s Talk Turkey table runner, below.

The Classic Dresden Plate    
The Dresden Plate quilt pattern became popular in the 1920s and ’30s.

Dresden plate quilt
A classic Dresden Plate quilt with a romantic, Victorian look. By Jenny Doan.

The classic version is the one with Depression-era feedsack fabrics. The blades may be pointed, rounded, or flat on the end to make a smooth circle.

The Dresden name comes from the fine porcelain china made in Dresden, Germany, which was very popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. But the quilt blocks are also called Grandmother’s Sunburst, Sunflower, and Friendship Ring, among others.

Typically, quilters make Dresden Plate blocks in one color story with solid centers. Scrappy versions are popular, too, but it’s important to choose a light or contrasting background so the plates will stand out.

The quilt shown above, Dresden Botanica, is a classic Dresden Plate quilt, filled with the romance of the Victorian era.

You Don’t Need a Full Plate    
You don’t need a complete set of 12–or more–to enjoy the Dresden Plate block. One will do as a table mat, like this easy Hard Candy design, or a pillow.

Dresden Plate Tabletop Pattern
Dresden Plate takes a modern turn in this Hard Candy table topper.

You can also reduce the plate’s portion and use it in a design, like the Let’s Talk Turkey table runner, above. In that case, the plate creates the turkey’s distinctive plumage.

dresden plate table runner
Let’s Talk Turkey Table Runner uses a partial Dresden Plate block for the feathers.

A half plate makes a beautiful sunrise (or sunset). And just a few blades are needed to make butterfly wings.

Dresden plate quilt butterfly
Classic 1930s reproduction prints and partial Dresden Plate quilt blocks make this a charming baby quilt or nursery wall hanging.

Once you know how to make the basic Dresden Plate components, the way you use them is only as limited as your imagination.

How to Make a Dresden Plate Quilt Block

In this video, Carolyn Beam, Editorial Director at Quiltmaker magazine, shows you how to make a Dresden plate block out of charm squares.

How to Size Your Blades    
The Dresden Plate block is made up of blades that form a circle. If you have a pattern, the pattern will tell you how wide and long to make the blades or wedges.

dresden plate wedge
If the sides of each blade are straighter
(fewer degrees), then it takes more of them
to complete a 360º circle or plate.

An easy way to size and cut the blades is with an acrylic wedge template. You can make one yourself out of cardboard or acetate, but the acrylic templates made today last forever and are much more versatile.

If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need to measure the degrees of your blade using a protractor. Then divide 360º by the number of degrees for each blade, and that’s how many blades you’ll need for each plate.

Example: If one blade is 18º, 360º divided by 18º equals 20. You’ll make 20 blades for a complete circle or Dresden Plate if the blades are each 18º.

At first glance, it would seem that you’d reduce or enlarge a Dresden Plate by adding or subtracting blades, but that’s not it. You make a Dresden Plate larger by extending the length of the blades from the wide end.  If you want to reduce a plate’s size, shorten the blades in the same way, from the wide end. The number of blades stays the same.

Dresden Plate a la Carte    
With a template and some fabric, you can turn Dresden Plate wedges into many creative designs.

With this Dresden Tree Quilt pattern, for example, scrap fabrics in predominantly green, red, and blue will become a holiday wall hanging to bring joy and cheer to your home.

Dresden quilt tree
Dresden Tree Quilt by Jenny Doan uses different sized blades to make a Christmas tree.

You can use precut fabric strips or 10″ squares to make the checkerboard border even easier. (The same technique used on the turkey table runner at the top.)

We’d love to see how you use the Dresden Plate block. Be sure to post a picture on social media and tag it #mykq.

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