How to defuse a swastika

In closets across America are quilt tops and stacks of blocks abandoned because of an intractable design problem: the accidental swastika. The symbol meant good luck right up to the late 1930s.

Because the swastika was the symbol of the infamous Nazi Party, it has been lost to the language of design. We doubt it will be used in polite company again during our lifetimes.

There you are, staring at a stack of gaucheries. Now what?

Salvaging a Quilt Top

If you have a block like the Spirit of St. Louis (based on a grid of 6 squares by 6): You can divide it into four quarters and skip to the options below.

If your blocks are the notorious 5x5 version: disassembly is a bit more complicated. Read on.

Turning a 5x5 swastika into usable miniblocks

The first step:

If your block has long outer arms, the length of three squares, use the instructions on the left. If it has two-square outer arms, use the instructions on the right.

Long outer-arm pieces

First, notice that the block has a cross in the middle (the blue and white square).

Now, remove the pieces around the cross, keeping similar colors together.
The result is four rectangles, a cross block, and four small squares.

Finally, add a strip of contrasting fabric to either side of the rectangles to make a three-bar miniblock. We used red and blue.

You're ready to go!

Short outer-arm pieces

First, notice that the block has a cross in the middle (in blue)

Remove the three-piece corners of the block. The process involves separating the rectangles that make up the cross too.
The result is four quarter squares, five rectangles, and one small square.

You're ready to go!

Here are some options:

Insert plain squares

Easy peasy.

Build a different block

Three-stripe squares can go into blocks that already use them, such The House Jack Built.

You can work the same magic with a two-bar or five-bar block, such as Five Stripes: or London Stairs: . Rail Fence would work too.

Alter a block's design

The block called Flora's Favorite: has handy rectangles that you can replace with another color. The piece we replaced for the mockup is one square by three squares long, like the pieces from a long-armed 5x5 block.

Here's another option: .

Insert a show-off block

Turn three-stripe squares into a Beggar's Block and add a five-point star: or a cross taken from a disassembled 5x5 swastika: and Bingo.

Add squares to the original block

Here's one possibility: You'd probably want to alternate it with other blocks.

You can turn your block into a Hindu symbol by adding four dots. The symbol looks something like this:
Unfortunately, this fix only works if your block's symbol faces left instead of right. Even then, most Americans have no idea which direction a Nazi swastika faced to begin with. While it's easy to appliqué a few pieces of fabric on a quilt block, do consider whether this idea will be enough change to suit you.

Put the three-bar sections on point

Try alternating the three-stripe squares with:


or crosses:

...and so forth.

Create a border

Try a zigzag:

Or a "piano key" border like this:

Or a piano key in three colors:

Or you can take turn the block pieces around and add contrasting squares:

This and this make this border

This and this makes this border

Slice and dice

You can use a technique from improvisational quilting. You start by slicing a quilt top into random, fairly large pieces with a rotary cutter. Then put the pieces on a design wall (a big board covered with flannel or batting) and doodle away with turning and re-piecing and adding fabric until you find a look you like. The result can look much like a crazy quilt. Here's one teacher of the technique . (She has no connection to this site.)


We aren't moved to normalize all swastikas by arguments that the Nazis called their symbol a hooked cross, that every time we don't use the swastika we've giving continuing power to the Nazis, that swastikas are an ancient symbol that predate the Nazis and so forth.

We don't need swastikas to make great quilts.