Quilt history revisited: The Churn Dash or Monkey Wrench pattern

April 2024

Covering Quilts

Quilt history revisited: The Churn Dash or Monkey Wrench pattern

by Sandra Starley

 

Have you been churning butter or fixing wagons recently? If not, you might appreciate a bit of background information on the origins of the two most common names for this versatile nine-patch pattern. The name “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 block and these names have been around since about 1855 with the first publication in 1884 as “Double Wrench” in Farm and Fireside magazine.

Many quilt historians have discussed the origins of the two names. In 1915, Marie Webster noted that “inanimate objects, particularly those about the house, inspired many names for patterns” and mentioned both block names. Similarly in 1929, Ruth Finley observed, “A source of quilt name inspiration quite as rich as political feeling was found in the trades and occupations of the times. … “The Double Monkey Wrench,” “The Churn Dash” … all these are names, previously noted, that came from women’s familiarity with old-time callings.” And in 1931, Ruby McKim wrote that “The wrench design is an authentic, old-time quilt pattern, and a very typical one, too.”

These utilitarian names were likely familiar to early quilt makers well acquainted with butter Churns and Wrenches along with Broad Axes, Holes in the Barn Doors, Hens and Chickens, and Shoo Flies (additional names for the blocks). Regardless of which one of the 40-plus published names is used, 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. Do not be confused, the names Monkey Wrench and Churn Dash have been used interchangeably for many years to refer to both versions.

Pattern designers are probably responsible for some of the more romantic names for the blocks like: True Lover’s Knot, Bride’s Knot and Love Knot. This simple block can have a soft feel made in pink and white but in browns and shirtings has quite a masculine feel. The block is a true chameleon, taking on the flavor of the fabrics, setting and sashing used. Modern quilters are using this characteristic to make this traditional block their own. More about that next issue and hints to make the pattern uniquely you. Whether that is making a wonky version, block in block version or using crisp, clean, modern colors. There is a popular quilt along right now highlighting the continued popularity of this timeless pattern.

And speaking of modern, the quilt shown here is antique but has a very fresh feel. This unusual Amish version, about 100 years old, would be the star of any modern quilt show. The uneven fading of two different purples has created an unexpected and innovative color placement with striking diagonal movement from light to dark. While the original quilter might be dismayed, you can color me inspired, and I hope you will be inspired, too!

 

a rocky road quilt

An Amish Churn Dash

An Amish Churn Dash, circa 1920; 70” X 80” from the Donna Starley Collection. (Image courtesy of the autho

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

Ocean Waves quilts revisited

March 2024

Covering Quilts

Ocean Waves quilts revisited

by Sandra Starley

 

Nature has long inspired quilters. As American quilting developed in Eastern seaboard settlements, it is not surprising that early quilt designs and pattern names often carried a nautical flair. In New England, quilts were influenced by the lives of the people who lived and worked there, and for many New Englanders, the overwhelming force was the ocean. Many traditional quilt patterns honor their influential neighbor. Some common New England nautical patterns are Mariner’s Compass, Ship of Life, Storm At Sea, Ocean Waves, and World Without End. The Ocean Waves quilts did not remain on the East Coast but traveled westward with the migrating population. By the latter half of the 19th century, “the Ocean Waves pattern was a staple of the American quiltmaker’s repertoire – even on the vast plains and in mountain reaches where the ocean itself seemed little more than a traveler’s tall tale or a half forgotten dream” (“American Patchwork & Quilting,” 1985). In the early 20th. century, the land-locked Midwestern Amish made many amazing full-sized quilts in the pattern, as well as crib quilts featuring just two or three blocks.

The pattern initially ap-peared in about 1855 and was very popular from 1880 to 1920. It was first published by Farm and Fireside in 1894 as Ocean Waves, which has remained the most common name for the block. Other published names include Waves of the Ocean, Odds and Ends, Odd Fellows Quilt, and Our Village Green. It features pieced triangle waves that cascade across the quilt, especially when the blocks are set on point creating interlocking X’s or a lattice look. For a calmer sea, the blocks can be straight set, which results in a cross design or grid pattern. The pattern is a “quilt of illusion” as it tricks the eye, and it is often difficult to see the pattern and determine where one block ends and another begins. Unlike many quilt blocks that are framed, Ocean Wave blocks are generally joined together without sashing strips, in an allover design. The pattern consists of four elongated hexagons (or lozenges) pieced around a center diamond or square to create an octagon block. It was traditionally hand pieced with difficult inset and partial seams. In 1935, quilt historian Carrie Hall noted it is “one of the authentic old-fashioned quilt patterns with a tang of the sea which shows its coastwise ancestry. It was a decided favorite with those who wished to put considerable piecing into the making of a beautiful quilt.”

 

a rocky road quilt

An Ocean Waves quilt top

An Ocean Waves top, circa 1890, 74” x 92”, from the Sandra Starley Collection. Image courtesy of the author

If you have always wanted to make one, you will be happy to learn there are many new techniques to make your journey easier and help you avoid sea sickness. One trick is to divide the block into its four lozenge components and treat each as separate blocks. This method divides the large center diamonds or squares into four segments and eliminates the inset seams. If you like precise paper piecing and working in small scale, stop by Candace Moore’s blog for a 6-inch block pattern (nancycabotsewalong.blogspot.com/2013/08/ocean-wave-quilt-block.html).

Similarly, Bonnie Hunter has created an innovative pattern. She divided the pattern into two blocks: block A has four triangle sections (16 half squares), and block B features the center diamond with four triangles on each corner to square it up (uiltville.blogspot.com/2005/06/scrappy-ocean-waves.html).

Maybe this is the year to turn your big scrap basket into a lovely Ocean Waves quilt. Enjoy the trip; I hope you will have smooth sailing.

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

Journeys in quilt history: Political patchwork edition

February 2024

Covering Quilts

Journeys in quilt history: Political patchwork edition

by Sandra Starley

Learning about the past can be fun! One of the things that I love most about collecting antique quilts, blocks, and fabrics are all the interesting tidbits of history that I have gleaned along the way. I have learned about so many aspects of American history by studying fabrics and quilts in my collection. For example, from an 1850 Quaker signature quilt made near Philadelphia with a hand-drawn picture of a whale and a boat, I discovered that Quakers were prominent in the whaling industry. Similarly, from inkings of grapes on another signature Quaker quilt from the same era I learned that grape growing dated all the way back to William Penn. And during the mid-1800s Pennsylvania had a wine production boom. It is impressive what you can learn from quilts.

Recently, my friend Mea sent me a photo of some interesting antique fabric she had found on a new to her quilt. The quilt had tiny pieces, but she could see partial printed words or text on a couple of fabrics and thought I might have an idea about it. As luck would have it (or almost 20 years of antique fabric study), I immediately recognized it as a fabric that I had researched: Fabric that was related to famous politicians and United States presidential campaigns. I had found an intriguing antique printed fabric advertising the presidential campaign of Ulysses S. Grant with the text “US Grant, First in Peace and First in War” and “Let Us Have Peace” with a depiction of Grant. Interesting mix of war and peace slogans, but it was soon after the Civil War. Later, during a tour of the Manchester New Hampshire Historical Society with the American Quilt Study Group (AQSG), we were treated to a selection of antique swatch books from the local fabric mills. I was delighted to find another US Grant campaign fabric with the same slogan along with his 1871/1872 running mate Henry Wilson. I have yet to find either Grant fabric in a quilt, but my friend had found campaign fabric from Grant’s 1872 presidential opponent, Horace Greeley, in her quilt! And I had photographed that very fabric and several other Greeley fabrics in the same swatch book that had the Grant fabric. The fabric mill was covering all its bases and printing fabrics for both campaigns — an equal opportunity printing company for sure.

 

a rocky road quilt

1871-72 Horace Greeley presidential campaign fabric

1871-72 Horace Greeley presidential campaign fabric. Left – fabric in New Hampshire swatch book. Right – fabric in Tumbling Block Quilt Top, private collection. (Image courtesy of the author)

The fabric she had found is interesting as it does not have Greeley’s name on it at all. Instead, the fabric features alternating stripes of his trademark heavy overcoat, beets (yes, beets), and the words “What I Know About.” Greeley authored a book called, “What I Know About Farming,” hence the text and the root vegetable. Another striped fabric from the same book features his signature top hat and glasses, along with his initials and farm equipment (axe and sickle). He was a newspaper editor and most famous for his entreaty “Go West, Young Man!” Greeley was not considered fashionable in 1871 and did not have the dashing bravado of General and incumbent President Grant. Greeley was relentlessly mocked by political writers of the time including cartoonist Thomas Nast of Harper’s Weekly. Do a search for Thomas Nast and Greeley to see the images. Grant prevailed and Greeley died soon after. His fabric lives on in swatch books and quilts as does that of President Grant. Political campaign fabrics are still being made and collected. Have you found any interesting fabrics lately?

 

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

My Old Kentucky Home – Quilt adventures with the American Quilt Study Group

December 2023

Covering Quilts

My Old Kentucky Home – Quilt adventures with the American Quilt Study Group​

by Sandra Starley

 

I recently revisited “My Old Kentucky Home,” having lived there briefly as a youngster, for the Annual Seminar of the American Quilt Study Group, aka AQSG, (www.americanquiltstudygroup.org).

The main event was held in lovely downtown Louisville right on the Ohio River waterfront. It is a beautiful old city full of Southern charm. Seminar is the annual meeting of AQSG and is much anticipated by all as a chance to visit with friends we only see once a year; see beautiful old and new quilts in exhibits, as well as the vendors mall; and learn about interesting in-depth research in the scholarly paper presentations. It is a magical time of rejuvenating friendships and quilt knowledge, along with fun and good food. And that is just what happens at the on-site hotel location. Annual Seminar rotates around the country and allows members a chance to experience regional differences in quilting both old and new.

One of the benefits of the rotation of seminars is the opportunity to take optional small group tours to area museums to see more of the local quilting and area history. There were several tours available this year and I was able to do a couple. A very special tour was to the Kentucky Historical Society in Kentucky’s Capital Frankfort to visit an unusual and famous quilt: the Elizabeth Roseberry Mitchell Graveyard Quilt. The pieced star quilt features a central graveyard with appliqued coffins bearing the names of the maker’s family members. It was quite emotional to see this important mourning/memorial quilt from the 1850s. I hope to share more information about the quilt in a future article. We also toured the Old State Capitol Building for some educational history lessons. We then had time on our own to visit Frankfort, a very charming small town unlike most capitals. We visited with old and new friends and hit the local bakery, gift shop, and bookstore. What a wonderful day! I was also able to visit the Speed Museum at the University of Louisville. It is a unique museum full of hidden gems; you think you’ve seen all the exhibits and then you find a stained glass from the 1600s, step into part of a German castle, or find a waterlily painting by Monet. You can see some of their wonderful quilt collection in a special online exhibit at www.speedmuseum.org/exhibitions/kentucky-quilts/

 

a rocky road quilt

Log Cabin Crazy Quilt

Unique Kentucky Log Cabin Crazy Quilt. (Image courtesy of the author)

 

We saw a dazzling array of antique treasures in the quilt vendors mall, which is like visiting a museum where you can get up close and touch and even buy the displayed items. There was a special exhibition featuring new Kentucky quilts and another with miniatures and other wonderful quilts from The National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY. A distinct highlight was the Biennial Quilt Study -Nineteenth-Century Blues exhibit. It featured almost 50 antique quilts reproduced in small scale by members of AQSG and shown for the first time. There will be a book available next year with all the new quilts and their antique inspirations, and 25 of the new quilts will be traveling around the country. More about that later. We were treated to new foods like “The Hot Brown” and sweet treats like modjeskas. Then there were all the items available to purchase in the silent auction. And I haven’t even mentioned the live auction, which began with a stunning rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home” by the official Churchill Downs bugler. Don’t you want to join AQSG and see what happens next at Seminar 2024?

See you in September in New York!

 

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

The Rolling Stone Quilt Pattern

November 2023

Covering Quilts

The Rolling Stone Quilt Pattern

by Sandra Starley

As I noted in last month’s column, the Rolling Stone block is a classic early pattern that has been popular for more than 170 years. Part of its appeal is the simple, aka easy piecing: rectangles, square in a square blocks, and plain center squares. Another charming aspect is how the simple piecing showcases beautiful fabrics in an elegant way. The block can be made in two different versions: even or uneven 9 patch blocks and in any size you heart desires. Creating the even 9 patch block pattern involves less math as each segment is the same size; for example, in a 12-inch finished block each segment finishes at 4 inches. You may need a calculator or at least a pencil to figure out sizing for an uneven 9 patch pattern or just find an online tutorial. Either way, it is a fun block to make, and I hope you will give it a try. I recently did and had a blast.

A Piecing Challenge

As an ambassador or representative for Island Batik Fabrics, I receive monthly quilting assignments or challenges and new fabrics to complete the projects. The September Challenge was “Pieced to Perfection.” The brief was to create a lap-size or larger quilt using foundation paper piecing or English paper piecing with an assigned newly released collection. I love foundation paper piecing, which is essentially like painting by numbers or sewing by numbers. You just sew on the paper pattern’s lines for precise piecing and spectacular results. So, at this point, I had picked the piecing technique, the specific fabric, and a general size but I still needed to choose a pattern and a block size. My go-to size with paper piecing is small, miniature, tiny, or teeny which would require a lot of blocks. I do enjoy working on a small scale, but I wanted to highlight the new fabrics, so I was thinking about going big for a change.

It is always good to get out of your comfort zone (so they say). I still needed to pick a pattern (a critical decision) and I wanted to make something that had a floral or flower garden feel for the Buds and Blooms Collection featuring flowers and butterflies. I suddenly remembered that the classic Rolling Stone quilt pattern often has a strong floral feel with careful color placement.

Surprisingly, though I have collected antique examples and studied the pattern for almost 20 years, I had not made one, so I decided it was time.

a rocky road quilt

A Rolling Stone

A Rolling Stone Flower Garden, 2023. (Image courtesy of the author)

 

Old Meets New

I was almost done with the planning stage, but I still had to pick a block size. Remember, I had decided to go big, but how big? Twelve-, 15-, or 20-inch blocks? They all seemed so large after sewing 2-, 3-, or 4-inch blocks. And who said it was good to leave your comfort zone? But with a deadline rapidly approaching, it was time to sew big. I decided on 15-inch blocks and drew my pattern on old school graph paper. Sometimes the old ways are best. I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly the project came together and with just nine large blocks, I had a good-sized quilt. It was a joy to pair an antique pattern with new fabrics.

Breathing new life into an old design by giving it a makeover is one of my favorite things! Thanks for following along, and I hope you are inspired to make your own Rolling Stone quilt, be it big or small, traditional or modern.

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