Rock Around the Block – Jack’s Chain Quilt

Jack’s Chain is a quilt pattern I have admired since I first saw it – in the July/August 1998 issue of Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine! In the accompanying article, Nancy Elliott MacDonald said that it was called Rosalia Flower Garden when it was published in the Kansas City Star in 1939 and then renamed Jack’s Chain in Primarily Patchwork by Puckett and Giberson. When you Google the name, you will find lots of lovely variations.

A Jack’s Chain square is made up of 6 nine patches (easy!) around a hexagon with inset triangles (not so much!). Over the years, I have tried to draft and simplify the pattern, but never quite figured it out, but quilt designer Nancy McNally did. She calls her version Rock Around the Block and has added a lattice with a (red) churn dash square in between each chain. Several weeks ago I was so excited to drive to the mountains of North Carolina to A Stitch in Time for a class with her.

Nancy McNally's Rock Around the Block

This class was labeled Intermediate and – wow – there is a lot of sewing involved. Should you want to make this quilt, the pattern is in the Summer 2015 issue of Fons & Porter‘s Scrap Quilts magazine. (Nancy does not presently own the rights to the design.) I would suggest you go to her website to buy the triangle template. In each square, you need 16 of those triangles and it’s so much easier to rotary cut a stack of the background fabric than trace around template plastic. Jack’s Chain was designed in the 1930’s, so the quilts would have been made with lots of pretty prints and a white background, which most of the class chose to do. I have been using pale fabrics a lot recently so I opted for a dark background to make the nine patches pop.

Nine patches with template

I have been sewing away and have decided not use the churn dash/lattice piece. I love the way that the chains continue to circle, which you will see when I sew all the blocks together. Some quilts on the Internet have a hexie appliqued in the middle, which I may add as well. Nancy’s quilt is 12 blocks, but I want this quilt to be sized for a queen bed. I bought all the blue hand dyed fabric on the bolt, but it is not going to be enough. Oh phooey! I have to shop for fabric…

Debbie's Jack's Chain

It was a lovely day in A Stitch in Time. The owner, Maxine, made us lunch so we could sew, sew, sew, and I got two squares completed. (They are my closest Sweet 16 dealer and a Better Homes & Gardens Quilt Sampler store.) The store has lots of great fabric and goodies to check out, and her daughter is Bonnie Christine, designer extraordinaire. Franklin, NC is a lovely mountain town, located pretty close to the amazing towns of Highlands and Cashiers. Most of the ladies were from there, either owning a second home or living part-time in their campers. These mountain towns are a huge draw for Floridians, escaping the heat. It’s a two-hour+ drive for me, so I spent the night and enjoyed my mini vacation very much.

All About Hand Dyes & Batiks

The other day I was looking at paint chips and the guys behind the counter were discussing what scallions, shallots and leeks were, or were they different names for the same vegetable? It was quite funny and eventually I had to go talk to them as none of them had a clue. In that vein, I have noticed that many quilters don’t know much about hand-made fabrics either. It doesn’t matter, I guess, but since I love to make many of these fabrics, I thought I’d tell you about them. (By the way, most quilt store owners don’t know either and it’s too bad that the manufacturers don’t educate them.)

Everyone points to the luscious shelves in the quilt stores and says “There are the batiks”. In most cases that’s not entirely true – many of them are hand dyes. Here is a selection of hand dyed fabrics from my stash.

Hand dyed fabrics

Hand dyeing to most people would be the stack of reds, yellows and oranges at the top left of the picture. That is a gradation that I dyed. The color is fairly even, but has quite a different look from commercially dyed fabrics. I mixed up water and dye in buckets and immersed the fabric in to take up the dye. Most of the other fabrics are drizzle dyed. Look at the orange strip at the left. Can you see that someone (probably) spread the fabric out, wet it and then dripped dye on it? The upper right fabric has many colors drizzled on and the colors mix together to make some new colors. The pattern, if you want to call it that, is random. The middle background piece is one of my favorite background fabrics. It’s just a white piece of fabric with all sorts of colors randomly dropped on it, leaving lots of white space. Some hand dyes look like they have a pattern and it may be that salt was dropped on the dyed fabric. I remember doing that in art class and fun things happen.

Here is a selection of batiks.

Batik fabrics

Right away, I hope you are seeing that there is a pattern to these pieces. Wax is applied to a chop or tjap and stamped on the fabric. The red and white dotted fabric in the top left is the simplest version. I’m not sure if the dots are stamped or dropped, but then the fabric is immersed into the dyebath. The wax resists the dye. The fabric is washed and then the wax is removed. The other three examples are much more complicated and I can’t quite decide how they are made. They are certainly made using stamps and are then hand colored or perhaps dyed in a dyebath. Multiple waxings and dyeings, I assume. The square in the middle is traditional batik that you would find inSoutheast Asian. The flower was stamped and then painted, sort of like a paint by number. You can see on this piece that there was a lot of bleeding, but it is so pretty.

If you go to Southeast Asia, this is the sort of batik you will find. This is part of a sarong, (as is the flower above), made in Bali, and it is all done by hand.

Antique Balinese sarong

When a batik is done by hand, one uses a tjanting. I have tried my hand at it and it is not an easy technique. There is a fine balance between the wax being too hot or too cold. And then, of course, one needs to be skillful enough to draw a design on the fabric. Look how fine the lines are! This beauty is an antique.

In a quilt class I recently took, the teacher and a student were talking about how the quality of the batik fabric was so good, and the teacher said that it was because of the batik process. That’s not true. When you dye a fabric, you want to use a tightly woven fabric. Imagine dyeing a piece of burlap – or a sheet. The burlap is so loosely woven that the dye wouldn’t show up much. Sheets are made of very densely woven fabric, so they take up the dye and show the details in a batik well. When you buy hand dyed or batik fabric, you can count on the manufacturer using the nicest cotton.

So perhaps now you understand why these types of fabrics are so expensive.

To thank you for reading the whole post, here is a giveaway – – – a selection of batiks and hand dyes for you to make a pillow top or tiny quilt or just admire. Leave a comment and I will draw a name on Monday the 21st – before things get too crazy! (Sorry, US only!)

Batik & hand dye giveaway fabric

Patchwork Couch-Pillows

I have been eyeing these tiny  blue and white quilt pieces and feeling fairly sure that they weren’t going to become a quilt, but I’d pieced quite a lot and didn’t want to throw them out. One day genius struck and I took them downstairs to the new couch and these four squares fit perfectly on the (matching) (dull) pillows that came with the couch. Yippee!

Tiny Delectable Stars

This is something that I do frequently. Matching pillows on a couch are pretty dull… Here is a couch-pillow slipcover that I made for the Colorado brown loveseats using fun bits of fabrics in my stash.

Brown batiks

In the Colorado Summers, I covered the loveseats with denim slipcovers and made these two cases from my wonderful Asian fabric stash. I hand stitch one end of the cover, so it’s easy enough to rip out the stitches and change the brown covers to the blue ones. (I’m too lazy to sew zippers…)

Asian blue pillows

This Delectable Stars pattern was made using foundation piecing and this is what it looks like when all the paper is (carefully) ripped off. Quite the mess!

Paper piecing detrius

I love to sew triangles, but they are nasty when it comes to pressing. It involves some careful pressing and then a lot of mashing with a steamy iron.

So many triangles

And here it is quilted and in place on the couch! I quilted it way more than I needed to do for just a pillow, but I wanted to be sure to highlight the piecing pattern. And it was good practise for the big Delectable Stars quilt, should I ever finish that one.

Blue pillow


Thread Problems

Last week I took a class at a quilt store. I was a good student and oiled my machine, changed the needle and wound bobbins before I went there. When I started sewing in class, I had nothing but problems! I was using Aurifil 50/2 and it did nothing but break. It’s always nice to take a class in a store, so I went out and bought a spool of Guterman 50. It worked well in class, but now that I am home sewing, it’s breaking like crazy. I’m using a dark color and I can see how uneven the thread looks as it spools out on the beige of the sewing machine.

I am using my trusty and reliable Pfaff 7530. It’s been recently serviced and I have threaded and re-threaded many times. The only other time I have had issues with threads breaking was when we lived in Singapore. Luckily the local quilt store owner knew just what the problem was – the humidity! It was so humid there that she said it made the cotton thread swell up and became too thick for some machines. The solution then was using cotton wrapped polyester thread. And back then, the favorite thread for quilters was Mettler, and I bought lots of it. Now I’ve heard that it isn’t the best quality.

So what do you like to use for piecing?

Calling all quilters!!! I need some suggestions.

Handwoven Dish Towels!

It has been a long, long time since I have woven anything that feels like cloth and I used to do it a lot! I showed you the weaving in progress and I have finally finished the dish towels.

They felt stiff when I cut them off the loom, and it is obvious that I had two threads in each dent of the reed – – – can you see what I mean in the top picture? How is it possible to make these towels look and feel soft and absorbent and function well? By wet finishing. I’ve been reading various posts and articles on the Internet and I had to laugh a bit. Wet finishing seems like a funny term for washing something before using it. I always wash handwoven fabric after I weave it. And I always wash the fabric I use for making quilts and weaving rag rugs as well. To me, a fabric isn’t finished until it’s been washed.

Before washing

Before washing


After washing

After washing

Big difference, isn’t it? And I was so pleased to see how they thickened up. Fulled is the word used for wool; I’m not sure it applies to cotton.

In case you think I am crazy for doing this, I have been inspired by several bloggers who weave dish towels. Kerry at Love Those Hands at Home has made a lot of them. And Karen at Warped for Good makes some beauties as well.

When I was Googling to see who else made “useful” woven items, I found Marilyn.  Please take the time to read her lovely piece about weaving such time-consuming textiles at Whimsy and Tea.

I must say that 8/2 makes for a nice weight in a towel. Now that they are hemmed, they are on the rack to be used tonight! And I’m looking forward to making more.

Handwoven dish towels!



A Quilt Store Visit – Island Quilters

While we were on our vacation, the stars aligned and we were able to stop on the way home for the grand re-opening of Island Quilters in Hilton Head SC! Why was this so special, you may ask? Because the new owner is my friend Beth Hanlon-Ridder! You have seen her name on the blog before, because she has had a machine quilting business for some years and she has quilted many of my quilts. But now she is in the quilting business big time.

Beth and I met in 1993 in Singapore. Peter and I had been there for a few months when I got a telephone call from Beth, who had just moved and had many questions and concerns. (Our husbands worked for the same company.) She is a super organized person and had thought about what she might do in her spare time and had brought a lot of projects. Mostly she was into counted cross stitch, but she did have one quilt pattern. It was a runner with pieced trees on it, I remember, and not a beginning project, but we did get through it. I had been quilting for about three years, so I was an expert, and I was glad to assist her any time she had a questionThis is a long way of saying that Beth is knowledgeable and experienced and IQ will be a wonderful place to shop.

Beth is knowledgeable

Here is my favorite part of any quilt store – the batik section. There are many to choose from and I restrained myself. I did buy some background for a new Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt, but I did need that, I really did.  She carries lots of other fabrics too,including some tempting holiday prints, but you’ve seen pictures of the studio and know I don’t need another fat quarter.

WOnderful batik shelves

There are lots of samples in the store. Some are of quilt design ideas and others showcase her wonderful machine quilting – her big machine is lurking in the back, waiting to get to work. Peter and I were so glad to see she and Jim again (thanks to Jim for photographing us!) and are so pleased now that we all live in South Carolina.

Deb & Beth & Peter

If you are in Hilton Head, please make sure you stop by and tell Beth that Debbie sent you!

Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley!

Peter and I are big Harry Potter fans (honestly, isn’t everyone?) so we decided on this Florida trip to make sure to get to Universal Studios to see The Wizarding World. Turns out that Universal has two parks and there is a Harry area in each, so we had to decide where to go since we did not purchase a two park ticket. We polled the young wait staff at our Disney World hotel and they all recommended Diagon Alley as the best “experience” and we certainly enjoyed it! Here is the interior of the store where the Hogwarts kids buy their pets (familiars?). The cat was twitching her tail and looking annoyed.

Pet store

While drinking a butter beer, we enjoyed all the advertising on the walls of the buildings and

Diagon Alley ad

remembered all the hilarious  tricks and toys and magical gags that the Weasley twins came up with at school and then for their store. This is the wonderful store front for Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes.

Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes

There is so much to look at in Diagon Alley! The (what do you call the people who come up with theme park designs?) theme park designers really outdid themselves. The feel and texture of it was very evocative of the books.

Diagon Alley

We did not run into any of the human characters from the book, but were properly intimidated by the clerk at Gringotts!

Gringott's clerk

And Peter very much enjoyed the (escape) ride through Gringott’s bank. I get sick with very little provocation, so I sat that one out.

I hope I haven’t spoiled it for you. There’s lots to see and do (particularly if you buy a wand) and who knows what fun is to be had in the other side?!? Has anyone been there?