The Bear Paw Quilt Pattern: Let’s get Super Scrappy

bear-paw-quilt-pattern

​Looking for a FREE Bear Paw quilt pattern? Check out these simple instructions. Also, I'm a total sucker for children's books about quilts. Isn't this one cute?

Quilters have scraps. If you’ve made a few quilts, you know what I’m talking about. Because quiltmaking often requires fabric of all different shapes and sizes, quilters are usually left with a lot of random, unused fabric.

Unused, yes. But not unusable. Enter: The Bear Paw. Grrrrr. This design will swoop in and make use of all those tiny scraps you have laying around – even the little half-squares!

Already in love with this block? Just wait until you hear about it’s mysterious, awesome history. Y’all know I love a good quilt history, and the Bear Paw quilt has some great stories to tell. Stay tuned and you’ll hear everything about its history and folklore, as well as some tips for making the best Bear Paw Quilt ever. Your little half-squares don’t stand a chance.​

The Bear Paw Quilt Block: Saving Lives Since 1850​.

Yes, you heard me right. The Bear Paw Quilt isn’t just a pretty pattern. It actually helped save real people’s lives. One of the most popular theories about the origins of the Bear Paw quilt pattern is that the quilt block was used to guide escaped slaves to food and water in the days of the underground railroad.

The Bear Paw block pattern would be a sign that slaves were on the right track to life-saving resources and shelter on their long trek to freedom. Although this theory is not definitively proven, it’s really cool to think about quilt patterns used for such important missions, isn’t it? Through my quilting I am usually not directly helping people in need, however I do like to think that I’m honoring some incredibly brave men and women when I use this specific pattern.​

The Bear Paw is one of those patterns that has different names depending on what region of the country you’re in. In the mountain areas, this pattern is always recognized as the “Bear Claw,” (or Bear Paw), but a quilter from Long Island might see the same pattern and call it the “Ducks-Foot-in-the-Mud” (not quite as cool), and still another from Philadelphia might call it the “Hand of Friendship” (cute, but still, I feel more hard-core calling it a Bear Claw.)

Whether you call it the Tea Leaf Design or the Illinois Turkey Track (yeah, that’s real), the Bear Claw quilt is a really good one, especially if you want to get scrappy. Let’s dive in!

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The Bear Claw Quilt Pattern Uses ALL the Scraps​!

So, as you can see in some of the example pics later on in this post, a classic Bear Claw block is made up of four “claws,” either all facing out, or in the same direction around a single square in the center. The bear claws themselves are made from one large square, and four half-square triangles.

Those basic shapes are just a starting point – you can make the blocks smaller or larger, or turn solid squares into 4-patches or half square triangles or any scrap-o-licious thing you want! Do you see what I’m getting at here? Scraaaaps. You know you have a bunch of awkward-shaped fabric scraps left over from other quilts that you want to use up. The Bear Claw Quilt is a frugal quilter’s BFF. Each claw is going to help you put all those leftovers to use… and look really great doing it.​

If You’re Making a Bear Claw Quilt… DO NOT FORGET THIS:​

If you read anything in this entire blog post before making your own Bear Claw Quilt, read this: Keep a picture of a finished block in front of you at all times while piecing. Double check that every one of your half squares are pointed the right way… and then check them again. With so many little half-square triangles, you’re bound to flip ‘em at some point. And ripping out seams is the worst, so check and check and re-check that Bear Claw picture. You won’t regret it.​

And Now… My Bear Claw/Paw Quilt Hall of Fame!​

Here are some of my favorite variations and color schemes. Aren’t they gorgeous?​?

bear-paw-quilt-fabric-mutt

​Heidi Staples, Fabric Mutt

I have loved this quilt since January when the Big Bear Cabin made its stunning debut. There are so many things I want to say about this quilt, I need to take a minute to collect my thoughts so hopefully I am able to do it justice.

...ok forget that, I'm just gonna go for it. Heidi, you genius quilter, you. You have taken three, NAY, FOUR of my favorite things and turned them into a beautifully balanced modern design. Let me list the reasons I think this quilt design comes pretty dang close to perfect. The only thing that could make it more perfect is if I designed it myself. 😉

  1. A minimal, modern quilt created through traditional block inspiration.
  2. Combining two (the Log Cabin block and the Bear Claw block) traditional blocks into a new contemporary design.
  3. BIG! Four blocks + sashing make up the entirety of this quilt. This allows for a striking and bold composition.
  4. The ability to use multiple bright colors in a way that doesn't SMACK of RAINBOW – each color family is grouped in such a way that allows the design to maintain it's minimal composition with color adding to it rather than detracting from it.
  5. And 5, just because I can't help myself – the seamless use of pattern and solid fabrics. The balance of the two compliment each other so well, allowing the viewer to see both the color and the pattern vividly.

​In a nutshell, one of my favorite quilts of 2016.


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​Wendy, Wendy's Quilts & More

The Bear Paw block above is the perfect example of how to make a scrappy block, while still maintaining a defined color palette. Sometimes it's hard to rein in the scrap excitement once you find a design that works well for those little bits plaguing the small corners of your sewing room. However, if you use various prints, I highly recommend sticking with a limited color palette. This will help those little patterns​ play nicely with each other.


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​Toni Lovelady, @hoosiertoni

This block is doing all the things right – scrappiness, limited color palette (pink, purple, black and white)​ AND bear claws inside bear paws! majorly cool, right??


​So talk to me. How do you like to bust through those piles of scraps? Have you made a bear paw/claw/duck foot/tea leaf quilt?

Suzy Quilts

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6 thoughts on “The Bear Paw Quilt Pattern: Let’s get Super Scrappy

  1. sophie says:

    oh love this block! I never made it but this post is very inspiring! all these versions rock the block, but that last one has my heart! thank you Suzy also for the story behind it. I am hoping the way it was used to save slaves is real, because it would prove that sewing can actually save lives (and not just mine!!:))

    • Suzy says:

      I’ve read a lot of different things about the role of quilts in the underground railroad, and even though the evidence is vague I love the stories too 🙂

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