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BlockBase Software: A Treasure-Trove Of Traditional Blocks

A review of

from The Electric Quilt Company


Barbara Brackman and The Electric Quilt Company have teamed up to bring you a Windows software package of 4,000 quilt blocks from the years between 1835 and 1970. I found this package to be such an exciting resource and tool for learning about traditional and historic blocks that you’re lucky to be reading this review at all…it was all I could do to tear myself away from BlockBase to write the review.

The heart of BlockBase is the “name list.” Each block has a name list card on which Barbara lists all the names she has been able, after 20 years of research, to associate with that block. The card also tells when and by whom the block has been published under each of its names.

BlockBase includes a variety of search and print functions that let you find the block you’re looking for and print its pattern so you can make these wonderful historic blocks.

Categories Of Similar Blocks

You might think that finding one specific block in such a large group of blocks would be difficult, but it’s not. Barbara has divided the blocks into pattern categories so that similar blocks are grouped together.

So the first thing I did when I got BlockBase was to look at all the blocks in all the pattern categories. What an eye feast!

As I dug down into the categories, I began to wonder if I would ever be able to find the block I wanted if I couldn’t remember what category it was in. Then I discovered the search features.

Great Search Features

The search features kept me entertained for hours. I could look for a block by name. I could also look up a block by the unique number Barbara assigned to each block during her research. These block numbers are listed in her book, “Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns” and on each name list card.

Learn more about the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns at Amazon.com

Using the “wildcard” search, I could find all the blocks that contain a certain word in any of the block’s names. In a couple of seconds BlockBase found 615 blocks that have “star” in their name. What a great start for making a star sampler quilt!

Next, I used the “Search by Source” feature and BlockBase presented me with 735 Carrie A. Hall blocks printed in 1935. Another search discovered 174 blocks from Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine published in 1969. Now I can get a quick overview of what pieced blocks were popular at any given time between 1835 and 1970.

My favorite search allows me to search by keyword category. I can look at blocks made in any decade. I can select “Blocks Perfect for Reproduction Quilts” or “Holiday and Occasions” or any of a number of other clever groupings.

Print Features Are The Key

While I found all of the search features enlightening and entertaining, the real meat and potatoes of BlockBase is its flexibility in printing blocks.

The first print choice allows me to print the block just as I see it on the screen, in full color or black and white. Or I can print it as a line drawing so I can color it myself.

If the block can be constructed using paper piecing, I can print a paper foundation. All of the blocks can be constructed with templates, so that’s another print choice.

Some of the blocks have rotary cutting instructions you can print, including the size of the strips and the pieces and how many pieces of each color to cut.

The final choice prints instructions for how to cut the block pieces using Marti Mitchell’s template sets. The block sizes are listed, along with which pieces of which template set to use.

A Tricky Printing Challenge

Of course, my first attempt to print a block took lots of guesswork on my part. This is not the norm for the software – just for the user (me). If there is a difficult thing to do or a hard way to do it, I’ll find it!

Jack's ChainIt all started innocently enough. I was so excited to find in BlockBase a pattern for Jack’s Chain, a pattern that I have been trying to find for over four years.

I have specific requirements for this pattern. I want the sides of the hexagon in the middle to be four inches on a side, because I want to change each nine-patch to a four-inch Carol Doak paper-pieced heart.

When setting the printing size, I had to choose the size of the finished block, not the size of the center hexagon. My first attempt came out too small.

So I tried several more times. I finally guessed at a finished block size of 16 inches. That came out pretty close.

Ferris WheelBut then I decided I don’t want the outside corners. I want to intertwine the Jack’s Chain blocks, much like the intertwined circles in Ferris Wheel (which is smaller and has more complicated corners than I want).

A Clever Trick Saves The Day

Then I got the bright idea to print my own templates from the pattern category “Non-Square Blocks – Precision Templates”.

I found through trial and error that setting my block size twice as big as the side of the shape I wanted would give me the perfect size template. In order to get a hexagon with four-inch sides, I told BlockBase to print a hexagon eight inches wide by eight inches high.

I was so pleased with my discovery that I tested it on all the Precision Template shapes. The 2:1 ratio worked perfectly for all of them, giving me the perfect triangle and 60-degree diamond templates that I need.

Once I worked out my tricky modified Jack’s Chain project, printing any of the other blocks was very easy by comparison.

Other Features

BlockBase has a nifty Quick Quilt feature that I used a lot. It repeats the block you pick 16 times in a four-block-by-four-block grid on your computer screen. Showing the pattern repeated that many times helped me see any secondary patterns that might emerge.

Another very important feature is the “project.” When I found several blocks I liked, I could save them as a group (or “project”). When I wanted to refer to this group again, I just opened my project.

Best of all, you can open a BlockBase project in Electric Quilt 4 (EQ4). Once you do that, you can use all the features and fabrics available in EQ4 on the BlockBase blocks in your project.

Read our review of Electric Quilt 4

Still More Features!

Just when I thought I’d seen it all, I found still more features in BlockBase. I can make small pictures of any BlockBase block and drop them into my word processing documents. I think that will add a nice touch to my correspondence.

I can also save those same block pictures as bitmaps (colored pictures) or metafiles (line drawings) that I can share with a friend who doesn’t have BlockBase or Electric Quilt 4 software. If I wanted to use any of those blocks commercially, I could look up the publisher on the block’s note card to obtain permission.

The Help section of BlockBase is another important feature: I highly recommend you read it. Even though I’d read the manual before using the software, reading the Help section would have saved me a lot of investigative work on the Precision Templates. I found that I could use the F5 key for displaying the Quick Quilt. And I found a lot of other good information, like where to get Marti Mitchell’s templates.

BlockBase as a stand-alone package will entertain you for hours and keep you quilting for years. If you use it in conjunction with EQ4, you can have even more fun changing the colors, mixing and matching blocks, and adding borders.

I was having such a good time with BlockBase and Electric Quilt 4 that I had to force myself to quit playing with these products long enough to write this review!

Where To Buy: BlockBase

The Electric Quilt Company


Readers’ Comments:

February 19, 2001
Barb D. writes:

“Sharon, I am not sure whether to thank you or not. I looks like I will now have to go out and get BlockBase. I already spend countless hours pouring over quilt books. Now I will never get off the computer.”

February 24, 2001
Janet S. writes:

“I have mixed emotions regarding quilting software. I own an iMac and am frustrated that most of the software is written in PC
. I’d love to buy BlockBase and The Quilter’s Newsletter’s new anthology – they seem like great resources. But they’re for PCs.

“I know there are secondary
programs that can translate from PC to Mac, but that stuff intimidates me.”

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