The Churn Dash or Monkey Wrench pattern, Part II

May 2024

Covering Quilts

Make it modern: The Churn Dash or Monkey Wrench pattern, Part II

by Sandra Starley

 

As I mentioned last month, if you have not been making butter or repairing wagons, you may not be aware of the history behind the classic Churn Dash or Monkey Wrench quilt pattern.

A brief refresher: “Churn Dash” is based on the block’s similarity to a dash or dasher; the cross-shaped paddle in the center of a

butter churn. “Monkey Wrench” is based on the block’s resemblance to a fixed carriage or wagon wrench and to adjustable wrenches (look at the top row of the block and visualize the gripping teeth of a wrench). The quilt block and these names and many others have been around since about 1855.

If you ask quilters for their favorite quilt design, of course, you will get a variety of responses, but many will answer with the Churn Dash or Monkey Wrench block. It is a great pattern for beginning quilters, but intermediate and advanced quilters enjoy it as well. There are more than 40 published names for the traditional block, another indicator of the pattern’s strong approval with quilters. The block is a variation of a nine patch; composed of a center square, half square triangle corners with four rectangle sets or squares in between. The blocks are pieced as either an even nine patch or uneven nine patch.

The pattern has never gone out of style and is still extremely popular today. If you do a search for Churn Dash, you will find a variety of antique, traditional, modern blocks, and quilts. There is so much inspiration and direction for your next project. I have enjoyed playing, creating, and experimenting with the traditional block over the years and giving it a modern twist. Like my Echoing Churn Dash (see photo) made for Quiltmaker 100 Blocks, many modern versions highlight multiple Churn Dashes in one block reminiscent of nesting dolls.

You will see Churns or Wrenches all over the quilting universe from Pinterest boards to Etsy shops, how to quilt books, quilt history books, blog hops, quilt alongs, social media accounts, and many magazines – including the cover of the newest issue of American Patchwork & Quilting (June 2024) that is arriving to newsstands now. And speaking of that cover quilt, Scrappy Churn Dash by Jen Kingwell is a unique modern version of the classic pattern. It features an uneven nine patch with neighboring blocks sharing their corner squares and a single blue fabric for the large centers and backgrounds.

 

a rocky road quilt

Echoing Churn Dash

Echoing Churn Dash, 12” block – original version of traditional block. (Image courtesy of the author)

 

Paired with scrappy Churns, it creates an interwoven look of churn chains and crosses. And indicative of the pattern’s popularity, the cover churn dash is just one of the quilts featuring the block in that issue. The second is a more traditional version in red, white, and blue by Joanna Figueroa and is part of an ongoing series of the two designers sharing their distinctive takes (modern and traditional) on classic blocks. Joanna’s version, while traditionally pieced together, has a creative color placement (reversing the color placement of the rectangles). This results in an original look of a cross in an octagon or a plus sign on a stop sign instead of the standard Churn Dash shape. You can see both in the magazine or with a Google search or on their Facebook or Instagram accounts. I hope you are inspired to dash in and join the fun with this classic block.

 

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at utahquiltappraiser.blogspot.com. Send your comments and quilt questions to SandraStarley@outlook.com

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