The 70,273 Project

A friend introduced me to The 70,273 Project, conceived and organized by North Carolina quilter and blogger, Jeanne Hewell-Chamber.  Jeanne had watched After a documentary about the 70,273 physically and mentally disabled people (men, women, teens and children) murdered by German Nazis between 1940 and 1941.  These individuals' fates were decided when Nazi doctors reviewed their medical files (vs. an actual exam/interview) and if they deemed the individual to be "unfit" or an "economic burden on society", the doctor would place a red X at the bottom of the form.  Three doctors reviewed the medical files and once two doctors made a red X, the individual's fate was sealed and typically murdered within 1-2 hours' time.

Jeanne decided to "commemorate these 70,273 voiceless, powerless people who were so callously and casually murdered by gathering 70,273 blocks of white fabric (respresenting innocence and the paper the doctors read), each bearing two red X's (representing one person) and I will stitch them together into quilts."  70,273 blocks is a massive undertaking and Jeanne's blog/website outlines ways you can get involved and help this project become a reality.  The first is to help share this project with others via word of mouth, social media and often!  The second involvement opportunity is to make one or more blocks to send to Jeanne to be incorporated into a quilt.

Several members of my small quilt group plan on making blocks to send along to Jeanne.  The two Xs can be created using any type of red fiber or technique (embellishments, stitching, applique and/or piecing).  I was asked to demonstrate how to construct the Xs using the Slice and Insert technique.  In preparation, I spent the afternoon piecing 9 blocks including 3 blocks in each of the sizes requested for use in the quilts (3.5" x 6.5", 6.5" x 9.5", 9.5"x 12.5").

Finished Blocks Improv Pieced for the 70,273 Project
I've included some pictures and notes outlining my process, for those that may wish to construct blocks of their own using Slice and Insert improvisational piecing.

To help me get a sense of the block size, I started by making paper mock ups in each of the three sizes.  I then folded each sheet in half and drew an X on each side to get a sense of the strip dimensions needed to insert.
Paper Mock Up Blocks 
For each 3.5" x 6.5" blocks:
  • 1 White background blocks cut 4.5" x 7.5" (I added 1" to the width and height needed)
  • 4 Red X strips cut 1" wide and anywhere from 2.5" to 3" long
  • 8 Floating white strips cut 1" wide and 2-3" long
For the 6.5" x 9.5" blocks:
  • 1 White background blocks cut 7.5" x 10.5"
  • 4 Red X strips cut 1.25" wide* and 5-5.5" long
  • 8 Floating white strips cut 3" long
For the 9.5" x 12.5" blocks:
  • 1 White background blocks cut 10.5" x 13.5"
  • 4Red X strips cut 1.5" wide* and 7-7.5" long
  • 8 Floating white strips cut 3" long
I began by assembling my floating strips by stitching a corresponding white strip to each end of my Red X strips.  I chose to cut two strips from each red fabric to complete one X, but you could certainly mix and match strips for your Xs.  I opted to press the white strips away from the red strips (but that is simply personal preference in order to give the Xs a bit more loft) 

*  Half of the floating red and white strips were later trimmed down to 1" to simplify the X construction and alignment.

I chose to press each background square into half to serve as a visual guide for evenly distributing the inserted Xs.  I then made a diagonal slice on either side of the fold.  I was careful to make my slices an inch or more away from the edges and corners which helped to prevent extreme angles or my Xs being cut during the final trimming stage.  One of the pieced floating units was then inserted into each cut using a 1/4" seam.  I was careful to center the red strip withing the seam allowance in order to prevent it from get cut during the trimming step.  Once I sewed on a strip, I pressed it away from the white background and trimmed it even with the edge of the background white block.  The remaining white background was then reattached using a 1/4" seam allowance.  It is important to note that not all my initial slices were parallel, but I was careful to stay on either side of the pressed line.

Once I finished inserting pairs of floating red strips, it was time to make intersecting slices to complete my X's.  Again, I would aim to center the red strip and use a 1/4" seam allowance.  It was at this point that I then realized that inserting 1" strips makes it so much easier to align the two ends of the X to give the illusion of overlapping bars.  Intersections tend to get distorted when you insert anything other than 1" wide.  So chose to trim down the second set of floating strips to 1" (* referenced in my cutting instructions).

Once all the blocks were assembled, I had plenty of wiggle room to center the Xs within the seam allowance and trim down to the three requested block sizes.  And as you can see, the blocks can then be assembled into a variety of interesting configurations!

As of this date, The 70,273 Project is in its 32nd week and has already received 4,144 blocks and 5 quilt tops have been pieced (with a few already quilted/bound).  Jeanne is committed to keeping track and give proper credit to all the contributors and has provided a Provenance Form to include with your donated blocks.  On the form, you have the option to indicate who the blocks were made in memory or honor of.
Blocks Dedicated to Special Olympic Athletes

As I worked on my blocks, I reflected on my 10+ years as a volunteer Swim Coach for Special Olympics (both in NY and here in CA) where I was blessed to work with so many amazing athletes who were diagnosed with a variety of developmental and physical disabilities that likely would have yielded a red X in 1940-1941.  Despite their disabilities, each of these athletes live life with such courage, compassion, competition and a great sense of humor.  And while I was there to help teach them new swimming techniques and skills, I am so thankful for all that they taught me about life, friendship and optimism.  I hope these blocks help to raise awareness about individuals with disabilities and their many positive contributions to our community.  Therefore, I dedicate my blocks to all the wonderful Special Olympic athletes that have touched my life.   


  1. Imagine me clapping gleefully! Thank you for including instructions and images here - it's as thought I'm attending your meeting! Thank you for these instructions, for these blocks, and for coaching these special Special Olympians. Your words and your blocks pay a fitting tribute to them.

    1. Thank you Jeanne...there were some fabulous blocks assembled today with the slice and insert technique...which will make lovely addition to your growing collection! Thank you again for raising awareness about this tragedy by creating something tangible, beautiful and incredibly powerful!


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