Retro Plaid Free Quilt Pattern

Retro Plaid Free Quilt Pattern

Before naming this quilt Retro Plaid, I first called it Tiny Tartan (something you should know about me – I LOVE alliteration. It makes my heart skip a beat! If Suzanne Summers wasn’t already taken, I would seriously consider a legal change.).

As this Tiny Tartan quilt pattern ruminated and simmered in my brain, a baby quilt concept began to form. Maybe it was that I had just finished reading about Scottish clansmen in Outlander or maybe I was trying to expand my pattern-naming vocabulary, but I really latched onto this one. Just before going public with the idea, however, I had a mini panic attack...what if this pattern technically wasn’t tartan...but just plain ‘ol plaid?? Oh dear. The truth was coming out. I was acting too fancy for my midwest britches and I didn’t 100% know what made a tartan a “tartan” and what made a plaid a “plaid.”


This was too big of a deal for me to get it wrong. Future quilts were depending on it!

Off to the intro-net!

“Dear Google, what is the difference between Tartan and Plaid?” And oye! You would not believe the amount of contradictory information out there related to this question. At one point I was on a Scottish website about to buy a purple kilt before I realized, “Scrappy doesn’t even like purple!” aaaack!

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Eventually I found an interview with Ralph Lauren (the Tartan Tycoon, the Plaid Potentate himself!) about this controversial question. He made lots of points on the subject, however I really couldn’t tell you if they were good points or not because at some point he mentioned geometry and I was like, “Hell NO! I’m out.”

Basically, before the geometry part he said that all plaids and tartans are comprised of stripes that meet at a 90-degree angle. With tartans, the pattern on the stripes running vertically is exactly duplicated on the horizontal axis the matching pattern on both sides will create a grid.

He then said this kernel of mystery, “All tartans are plaid, but not all plaids are tartan.”

Whaaaat?? So thanks for noth’n, Ralph. I still wasn’t 100% sure about my quilt, so I tabled the sketch and moved on.


THEN I saw these fabrics….ooooohhhhh aaahhhhhhh…. and I was like, forget that tartan baby! We are going to make this HUGE and RETRO!


I never did conclude the difference between plaid and tartan, so if you know, please tell me. In the meantime, I better stick to Mr. Lauren’s words and call everything plaid...because not all plaids are tartan.

The math on this quilt took me a bit of time to initially figure out, but that's not totally surprising after hearing my response to geometry. At one point I even tried to use the Pythagorean Theorem! haha oh funny times. Yes, so that obviously failed.

But once the numbers were reached, it all fell into place much quicker than I anticipated. I made this cute little video (with the help of my long-limbed husband) to show how quick and simple the process of sewing this quilt is.​

It's not sped up at all! It really only takes 5 seconds to make! 😉

Essentially, this design is four triangles built up by sewing strips of fabric to each straight edge. In the end the four units created are sewn together with white sashing as seen in the video above. Eazy Peezy!

Since the quilt top did sew together so much faster than I thought, I had some extra time on my hands – so I spent it wisely by photographing myself jumping from higher and higher locations in my house while holding this quilt. Just figuring out the timer on my camera took about 20 minutes, so I'd say that was an hour VERY well spent.

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Before sending you off to create your own Retro Plaid quilt, I will leave you with one important tip. Actually...I take that back, here's two important tips that will save you from frustration during the sewing process:

  1. To create the four base triangles you start with a square and slice it in half from corner to corner diagonally – creating a bias edge. A bias edge is super stretchy and easy to warp out of shape because fabric is made from threads criss-crossing each other vertically and horizontally. By slicing those threads on a 45-degree angle, it cuts through the fabric grain and causes those threads to be less secure. The point to saying all of that is that the triangles that will act as the base to the four units creating the Retro Plaid pattern have bias edges and need to be handled with care so as not to stretch and warp them – thus warping the entire quilt. New quilters, don’t be scared! As long as you are not tugging and pulling the bias edges you will be fine. Also, always pin fabric together so it doesn’t stretch while being pulled through the sewing machine.
  2. Do not trim the final sashing (the final two pieces that connect the four units – see video) until the ENTIRE quit is sewn together. I mention this in the pattern, but it’s important enough that I want to mention it again. If you square up the edges of the sashing before the two halves of the quilt are sewn together, you will trim too much and one whole side of the quilt will be smaller than the other.

​Here is the link to the FREE Retro Plaid PDF download. If you are on Instagram, use the hashtag #RetroPlaidQuilt so we can all see your beautiful creation! Enjoy!


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39 thoughts on “Retro Plaid Free Quilt Pattern

  1. Sue says:

    I think the difference between plaid and tartan is about the English – American naming thing, like diapers and nappies; and trash and rubbish; and sidewalk and footpath. In other words: there is none. We don’t have any plaid here in Australia, it’s all tartan. (Love your blog & IG feed btw, have just discovered it thanks to Debbie’s newsletter)

  2. Colette says:

    Enjoyed reading about tartans and plaids, I had no idea! Thank you for the pattern, definitely in my queue now. I love your blog!

  3. Tess says:

    I have a question, what is sashing? Does it have to do with sewing the seams together? And how much of a seam allowance do you use

    • Suzy says:

      Great question! Sashing is border fabric used to connected quilt blocks. In this case, it is the strips of white fabric that connect the 4 triangle blocks. Seam allowance for quilting is usually a 1/4″, that includes the sashing. I hope this answered your question. Happy sewing! xo

  4. Kathy Raab says:

    Love the pattern. Would it be possible to increase the size to a queen 60X80 without distorting the pattern? Your thoughts.

  5. Victoria says:

    It’s all tartan. Plaid is the “blanket” that hangs from the shoulder of a Highlander – I guess nobody has ever asked you to come under his plaidie with him. LOL

  6. Kerri says:

    Suzy, I’ve been looking at this pattern for awhile but have a question about the fabrics. It appears more fabric colors are used in the quilt top picture (I count 7) but only 5 are listed in the directions. Can you help me with this? I want to make sure I get it right bc I love it just the way it is. Thanks.

    • Suzy says:

      You’re totally right. This quilt can be made using the fabrics listed in the pattern, or if you would like to make it exactly like the picture, add Firefly Dots Dusk (the dark navy squares), Firefly Dots Pond (center square) and Wink Mint (4 – 5 1/2” x 20 1/2” strips).

  7. Ann says:

    Tartans are a Scottish and Irish material that the colours and lines denote the different families/clans. Plads are a material that have squares and lines that can be any colour combination and look similar to tartan but you don’t have to wear the ugly one because that’s your surnames/clans tartan 🙂 hope that helps

  8. Gayla says:

    The way I understand tartan and plaid is similar to squares and rectangles. All squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are square (geometry for you). Tartans have the exact same pattern each direction. Plaids can have different colors/lines/widths/ running on each way.
    And I love alliteration, too. I prefer pretty, pleasing plaid patterns – planning this project promptly. Lol

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  10. Chris says:

    I love this pattern and your blog. So happy I found both!

    Whenever I have to cut a square on the bias, like in this pattern, before cutting it I iron some feather-weight stabilizer on the back – then I don’t have to worry about it stretching out of shape as I work with it.

    Keep the modern quilts coming!

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