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.

Teaching an Extreme Beginning Quilt Class: the class

Here’s the rest of teaching extreme beginners~

When participants come into the classroom, the table with quilts draped on it is the immediate draw! I like to provide samples showing several colorways and also different shapes that work well with a hexagon shape such as diamonds and stars. Seeing finished quilts is a good inspiration….

To begin the class, I have the participants introduce themselves. Though it does take some time, it’s useful information. I take note of who can sew and/or may be a quilter. These people will be able to work more independently and might help their neighbors. And it is a library class – I want “the locals” to get to know each other and perhaps make a friend.

When I start to talk, I begin by defining the project, which is piecing a hexagon; piecing being the operative word. In the US we call the craft quilting and so students gleefully say that they are quilting. In most other parts of the world where I have traveled or lived, they call the craft patchwork quilting, which is a much more general term. Most of them probably will not get to the quilting part! ;-D

The obvious goal is to get everyone sewing seams. Because I can’t be everywhere at once, I explain how to mark the middle hexagon so that some ladies can get started with that task. Two or three at a time, they prepare centers for the flowers and there is a table set up for this. (And I hope that If they mark and cut a quarter-inch seam, they will remember how to do it when they get home.) It makes the experience more personal and means that not everyone is sitting and waiting to get started sewing. For the Glen Ellyn group, I cut green and orange hexes for the petal area and because of the time of year, included some Christmas and Halloween fabrics.

For the first hour or so, the rhythm is this: I demonstrate how to sew a seam to 2 or 3 people sitting next to each other and continue around the room. The learning objective is to sew a straight line, on the line, on both sides! I spend some time talking about this and the importance of doing so. Sometimes I pull the stitching out, much to the horror of the stitcher. But if I feel they can sew on the line (I had a lady with a broken arm once….) then I encourage them to do so. By then, the first group needs to know how to end a seam and I show them that. I get around the tables as fast as I can and then re-check them. It takes about three times around the room to get people comfortable with the sewing part.

When everyone is sewing, I start to show them more general things, such as how to make a strong knot. Threading needles is another thing that most people can’t do and the poor lighting makes it even more difficult.

The reality is that you will have a variety of people in every class that you teach! Several years ago I learned an interesting tidbit at a workshop on teaching rug hooking. The leader said “each person has paid the fee and each person should get the same amount of attention”. It was an ah-ha moment for me. You may have someone who has stitched before and is working quietly. You may have a woman saying “I can’t make a knot, I don’t know how to finish a row, I cut the fabric without a 1/4” “. At the end of class you should have spent an equal amount of time with both the “needy” student and the independent worker.

When someone finishes a flower shape, then I start to demonstrate how to press the hexagon shape. Towards the end of class, as they’re sewing away, I explain how I start my grandmother’s flower garden quilts, with strips of fabric and cut middles in a baggie. I hold up a top being pieced together, when I have one,and talk about how to fill in the odd spaces at the edges of a hexagon quilt. Another finish I discuss is how to applique or sew the grandmother’s flower garden piece on a square of fabric. This can be made into a pillow or wall hanging. Don’t get too detailed. The librarian who pushed me into doing the flower basket class kept asking that I talk about batting. Good Grief! The reality is that most of the people in the class are not going to make a quilt! I also tell them about local quilt stores (not chains with nasty fabric) and what is available in the way of classes in the area. Many librarians will pull out quilt books and have them in the room, which is a nice touch.

The Glen Ellyn class was small (it was pouring rain that night) and everyone completed their hexagon. Because I had extras, I encouraged them to take another packet of petals and mark a middle to work on at home. They were a fun group.

After my initial library teaching gig, I began getting e-mails about teaching and couldn’t understand what was happening. It turns out, at least in Chicagoland, that area librarians get together once a year and have meetings and share information. And – they compile a list of people who have taught for their library and were well received. I was “on the list”! When you are a no name quilt teacher, it sure is a nice surprise to get e-mails about teaching out of the blue!

If you like to teach, I would suggest checking out local libraries. It’s a fun job and certainly gets your name “out there”!

Teaching an Extreme Beginning Quilt Class: the preparation

I had the pleasure of teaching a beginning quilt class at the Glen Ellyn Public Library last week. I thought that those of you who like to teach or who are looking for new places to offer classes, might like to know how I plan and execute this type of class. I enjoy these groups because you get such a variety of curious people, much more so than when you teach at a quilt shop. I dub them extreme beginning classes as most people have not worked with a needle and thread…

I started teaching at libraries a few years ago. We have a friend whose wife is a librarian and in charge of programs. She is always looking for new ideas and when her husband told her about my studio full of fiber stuff, she called me and we came up with a plan. The libraries in this area pay about $100 per 2 hour class. It sounds like a lot, but I provide everything (except scissors) and so I have a lot of preparation. In these days of high gas prices, they will often add some money for that. The participants pay a $5 fee. More than paying for the class, I’m told that the fee makes people actually come to the class.

Of course I teach my favorite hand sewing shape – hexagons – and sometimes baby blocks.  It’s worked well. Nancy, my first librarian, has been in charge of  enrichment activities for years and she helped me shape my class.

Here is what I take:

  • Threaded needles! Nancy was very concerned that people could not thread needles and that sure is true! (Bad lighting plays a big part) In the photo below you can see pieces of pink felt with the threaded needle and a few pins.
  • The template for them to make and use at home.
  • Mechanical pencils, plastic templates, sandpaper, scissors and thread
  • A sample ready to sew. You need “swap outs” as they are called on TV, so I have some hexes ready to sew together and some sewn and ready to attach to the middle. (Use contrasting thread so that the ladies can see your stitching.)

  • Six hexes cut and ready for the students to sew for the “petal” area of the Grandmother’s Flower.
  • Fabric choices for the middles.

  • An iron, an extension cord and a towel to press on. I do want to show them the whole process and pressing is an important step.
  • Rulers for them to add the quarter-inch seam.

A word of warning – librarians may push you, so be careful what you commit to! My second gig was for a librarian who had done some quilting with her church. I tried to sell her the GFG class but she wanted more. (In hindsight I think that she chose the class for her needs rather than the participants’) I had taken some quilts to show her and she chose two patterns she liked…… She wanted me to teach this basket and an Ohio Star and include everything they would need! It’s hard to remember why I agreed but it was a tremendous amount of work to prepare for and then to teach. And waaaaaaay too complicated for most of the group. Simple is better!!!

Do not forget to bring extra fabric, needles, supplies, everything!!! I did not bring extra fabric when teaching the flower basket class and it was a disaster! Luckily not everyone who signed up was able to come and so I took apart the kits and quickly cut some pieces, but the librarian was quite annoyed. And I was so angry with myself for getting hornswoogled into teaching an inappropriate beginning project!

Gail Garber Class – day two

Day two started early. Gail needed to leave for a quilting cruise before the scheduled ending, so we tweaked our times. I was in my seat and sewing at 8:30. Gail sews her pieces like an assembly line, working on all 8 pieces at once. I did 4 at a time, for space reasons. Paper piecing is slow work, but I had the first half sewn before lunch. After lunch, we met at the front table to do more drafting. Everyone brought what they had completed. Are these not wonderful ???

Gail is demonstrating the many ways to design within the circles around the stars.

We spent the afternoon watching demos and drafting our own. Gail was such a good teacher; constantly circulating, answering questions and encouraging us. (This sort of class, when you need drawing space and then sewing space is a bit tricky. I dumped all my sewing supplies on the floor to work on our “assignments”and what a mess it was to pack up!) Gail must love teaching this class – – –  here are some fabulous stars created with her instruction. This one belongs to my “table mate” Claire. Claire lives not far from me and I was delighted and surprised to make a new quilt friend from Illinois in Indiana! Isn’t her design is so elegant and crisp?

Ellen sat behind us and she lives in Bloomington and works at a museum. Isn’t her design different? She is working in a series and using some African textiles as her inspiration.

Wow – I think this one is my favorite! I did not think of choosing fabrics with so much pattern on them, but what a fabulous effect they make!

And here’s such a bright and happy star! The paisley was her focus fabric and she pulled out some great fabrics to support it.

We got home on Sunday and the first thing I did on Monday was to complete my star. I’m pretty pleased with it! But this is only the beginning…

Gail Garber Class – day one

Peter and I drove down to Bloomington Indiana last Thursday, so that I could take a quilt class and attend The Indiana Heritage Quilt Show. I’m not sure how I got on their mailing list, but this year when the e-mail came, I looked over the classes and was pleased to find one just for me – a two day design class with Gail Garber! Though I wasn’t sure I knew her, when I looked at her website, I certainly knew her work. I do a lot of drafting, but not stars or circular flying geese, so the class would be a great challenge.

Here is the stack of fabrics I collected. Happily we were driving, so I was able to take whatever I wanted and not pay baggage fees! The fabric on the top is the focus fabric and there are backgrounds and light and dark values of a lot of colors. Plenty to choose from, but not too many….I have discovered that I can get caught up with choosing colors!

One of Gail’s primary rules is that she only gives 3 sets of instructions at a time and then the students get to work on those. I appreciated that as I was a bit nervous about dealing with a protractor. I had nightmares remembering Sophomore geometry class with Dottie D as I got more and more lost and confused! I bought one of the protractors that Gail recommends and sells and it is a nice tool. We began by learning how to draw circles and all the necessary divisions to draw our designs. Most everyone was finished drawing by lunch, which was amazing to me.

Then we chose fabrics. I was sitting with my stack in my lap and Gail came by to help select. It was really fun as she and I have similar taste. As I went through the stack and a great color would appear, we’d both quietly gasp and I’d pull out the fabric. I was glad to have her help as she has done so many of these stars she had a good idea of where to put bright colors and where they should be less so.

Then to the cutting. Gail’s rule, and a good one it is, is to measure each piece, add a generous inch and make the shapes rectangular, rather than the weird shapes they actually are. I had trouble with that precut-all-the-pieces-before-you-sew rule. I am sort of an instant gratification person and I was so anxious to see what my wedge would look like. But precutting means that you can sew and sew, so I did it.

This is the fun part. Here is the wedge, all sewn and looking really crazy.

And here it is, all neat and tidy!!!

Whew! That was a full day of work. Much as we probably all wanted to stay and finish the whole circle, the ladies arrived at our door to lock it for the night and Day One was over.

Library Quilt Class!

Where did January go??? It’s hard to believe that February starts this week. Saturday was the day that Peter and I took down my quilt show. It was a few days early, but he is away this week on a business trip and he’s my main man for quilt show assistance.

And as part of my agreement with the Morton Grove Public Library, I taught a quilting class there on Saturday. I provide each student with a kit, so I started cutting fabrics on Tuesday. The class limit is 20, so even though I used a rotary cutter, it was a lot of cutting. (Normally I make all the fabrics the same, but I didn’t have enough of  any one fabric, so there were a variety of fabric combinations to choose from.) Then the sewing lines need to be marked, which is a good job to do while watching T.V. An important part of the kit is a piece of felt with a few pins and a threaded needle, so there is a lot to prepare.

Here is the room, set up for 20 students. 20 is a big class…

Thanks so much to Nancy, coordinator of programs, (standing in red and black) for asking me to have a show and teach a class. She plans many fun and interesting activities and makes the library an important part of many people’s lives.

After making the rounds of both tables and showing each person how to sew a seam, it’s wonderful to take a moment and see everyone working away – – – before someone needs help.

It’s fun to see the ladies interact with each other, and perhaps some new “quilty” friends are being made!

As the ladies finished piecing their hexes, they pressed the seams at the pressing table in the back of the picture.

And then the real fun begins! I usually teach just a plain Grandmother’s Flower Garden sort of shape, but the library has a devoted following for this monthly crafts class and I figured that some of the ladies I taught several years ago would come, so I needed to tweak my project. I decided on a half hexagon, which is a fun variation.

How to put the pieced pieces together??? And should she choose a different middle fabric? I usually cut middles out and then have each person choose the one they like and then mark the sewing lines. This gives them some idea of the piecing process and makes their project unique.

And just when I thought I had seen all the combinations for half hex designs, someone came up with a new one!

It often happens in a class like this that there are Nervous Nellys  who moan and people saying “I can’t sew” or “that looks complicated”. I was a bit worried that sewing the two seams together to make a hexagon and then sewing a flower shape might be too much for a 2 hour session. But wow – most of the ladies completed their flower or came close too it. And there were some very lovely seams sewn, with even and small stitches. I had some extra packets, which were snapped up and I wish I’d made more. Thanks to all you MGPL ladies – you were great!!!

Scrappy Hexagon Class

Wednesday night I had a class of 5 ladies all anxious to learn how to construct hexagons using the English Paper Piecing technique. I introduce people to this technique during an hour demo at the Midwest Fiber & Folk Fest, but I wanted to design a class to move further than that and actually get to the finishing part. So I came up with the little quilt below, which you have seen before.

It was a bit confusing at first. One lady came with a bunch of 1″ pieces already constructed, feeling sure she didn’t know the proper technique. Two others had bought a “kit” and a book; I had no idea what they were talking about! And the last two didn’t seem to know that there was a project and hadn’t pre cut the fabric for their quilt top. Whew- I have no idea what the disconnect was as the description I wrote for the newsletter went something like : This quilt was designed to showcase the English Paper Pieced hexagons…..

But no matter – – – I had scheduled 3 hours (I never know how long to allow, with people sharing irons and cutting tables and so much going on), so there was plenty of time to deal with everyone! I got the two making my project sewing strips and demonstrated the EPP technique to those who were ready. (Turns out the “kit” went with a EPP doll quilt in the store and was sewn on a one piece background.) I had come up with a quick way to piece the lattice and background squares for the top, and the other ladies were ready to learn EPP in no time.

We ended up gathering at one table, like a sewing circle, and talked as they sewed. Below you see the pieces already sewn together by the one woman. It’s a true scrappy hexagon!

By the end of the evening, the two ladies making the project each got a hexagon appliqued to their top. The two ladies making the doll quilts each completed a hexagon and were starting another. The woman who brought her project got a lot of questions answered, though the big one about how to finish the EPP hexes as a “real” quilt was one I wasn’t sure about. The people at Paperpieces.com are really friendly and I suggested she e-mail them for advice.

I am happy to report that everyone loved sewing the squares and I am sure will continue with whatever project they started! That’s the best part for any teacher – students who are happy and excited about a new technique. It’s one of the many reasons I enjoy teaching so much.

Half Hexagon Class

On Saturday, Peter and I drove to the Johnsburg IL Public Library. He headed off on his bike in the drizzle and I unpacked my kits and supplies. Nine ladies joined me for a class on how to hand piece half hexagons, which is a new class. You know that I love hexagons, but did you know that the shape can be divided in several ways which will make lots of interesting variations? I have so many fun pictures of the class that I won’t put my class sample on here, but you can see it on my website.

I like to ask the ladies what their sewing experience is (like- have they ever held a needle before?!?!?) One lady took the cake. She said, “I thought it would be good to learn hand sewing. My husband and I camp a lot and I thought he would appreciate it if I had something to do rather than saying “Aren’t you too close to the car ahead ?” or “We’re awfully close to the side of the road!””  Isn’t that too funny?

Each student got a baggy with some of the pieces cut out and marked, a piece of felt with a threaded needle (;-D) and a few pins as well as the templates on a piece of paper. They were quite nervous about sewing the two hexagon halves together; I don’t know why!

Two ladies had taken the grandmother’s flower garden class I had taught at the library a year or so ago, so I knew they could sew and there were several (machine) quilters as well. While I demonstrated for half of the group, the other went over to the supply table and chose and cut out middles for their piece.

There are quite a few ways you can put the half hexes together after you sew them and I showed the ladies some examples that I had sewn. As I walked around the tables, I watched them move their pieces around to make different designs…

This was a variation I had not thought of – isn’t it fun? It occurred to me then that you could use a limited amount of fabrics for this quilt and then arrange the half hexes in many, many patterns.

I really like teaching at public libraries. They usually charge $5 for supplies and such a variety of people take the classes. And this was a fun group. They talked and laughed and I hope that some of them have caught the hexagon bug.

Thanks to Maria and everyone at the library for having me!

An Accomplished Applique’-er

I just got some quilt photos the other day from my friend Louann, and I wanted to share them with you. We met when we both moved to Colorado; she returning to the state as a native and me, repatriating from some years living in Asia. We settled in a town in the Foothills where there was a great Newcomer’s Club, with many fun activities. We might have met at a potluck dinner; or through a mutual friend; I don’t remember. She and her husband had retired and Louann was a bit at loose ends; wondering what she might do. There were quite a few ladies like her and I persuaded them to take quilting classes from me.

We did all sorts of fun classes in my wonderful mountain studio, with coffee and treats and often a potluck lunch. One day I hung a new quilt in my sewing area, a contemporary sort of Baltimore Album quilt that I made in Japan using some of Elly Sienkiewicz’s patterns and some of my own design. The ladies loved it and we decided to have a year-long class, as Elly does it in her books. (Another group started soon after Louann’s did!) Here is Louann’s completed Baltimore Album Quilt – isn’t it a glory of Autumn Mountain Colors???

One of the best things about teaching a sampler sort of class is to see what colors the quilters choose and then how they put them together in each square. As I recall, one of Louann’s difficult decisions was choosing the background fabric. It is an important decision for sure, as that fabric holds the whole quilt together. Certainly she didn’t want anything too busy to compete with the intricate applique, but she wanted something interesting to work on and for the viewer to enjoy close up. This fabric was a great choice.

And isn’t this square spectacular? I must say that cornucopias are not a favorite design of mine, but it was such a good choice given Louann’s colors. I think making large complex quilts like this must be like writing a novel. I often hear authors say that the characters “told them what to write” after a time, and I think a quilt like this does the same thing. (Foe instance, a pale pink and blue and lilac quilt would not lend itself to making a cornucopia…) Look at all the amazing fabrics she chose to make the delicious fruits and the many browns for the cornucopia layers.

Go back to the large photo and look at her lovely border. Louann designed that after much discussion because the border is so important. The first decision was the sawtooth design. As I recall, she asked her husband to help with the math! (I don’t know what I would do without Peter to do that hard math either!) Then we spent a lot of time looking at books and brainstorming. She finally came up with the asymmetrical vines and all those grapes. She might remember how many grapes she appliqued! It is a special and unique design, isn’t it?

I am proud to say that I taught Louann, and it is a case of the student out doing the teacher! She is a careful and patient stitcher (and she finished things!) and the result is always a wonderful, well crafted quilt! Thanks for the pictures Louann, and keep on stitching!

The Flag Quilt Project

It finally is summer here and it’s going to be a pleasant 4th of July. I have been working on getting out the summery things for the house (and weeding and edging the flower beds). Freshly washed and ready to hang up are my two American flag quilts.

Some time after 9/11 I felt like doing something Patriotic. I was living in Colorado at the time and had lots of quilting friends and thought they might like to do something as well, so I hatched the flag project idea. I wanted to piece American flags to display and use lots of scraps in the making of them. I had a large stash of fabrics, but my collection of white/off whites was lacking. I was sure the other ladies didn’t have enough either, so I decided we should have a square exchange.

I came up with the idea of two different sized flags. I think everyone else made the smaller size, but I really wanted the larger one as our house had huge spaces (17′ ceilings in the great room area!) and anything small was dwarfed. Each quilter who participated had to bring xxx number of reds and xxx number of whites to give to the others. These fabrics didn’t need to be solid white or red, but needed to “read” as those colors. All the ladies but Beth lived nearby, so we chose a day to assemble at my house in my wonderful downstairs studio. All the baggies of fabric squares were exchanged and the ladies started sewing. (I do have photos somewhere, but they are really photos!) They worked in pairs, and one would sew strips for a bit while the other pressed. After lunch we talked more about the design. With the strips nearly done, they had to decide whether the flag would hang vertically or horizontally, so that they could sew the star piece in the proper place. Then I showed them some ideas I had for creating stars.

I think several ladies found some really fun star fabric to use, as is. For the small flag above, which measures 20″x34″, I stenciled the stars in white and yellow fabric paint and quilted around the shapes.
For the large flag’s stars(26″x46″), I picked out white buttons from my button jar and sewed them in a star shape.

Of course I had to buy some buttons – it really took a lot to fill in the shapes. If you enlarge the photo, perhaps you can see that I also quilted more stars in the background after I got weary of sewing the buttons.

This is the perfect sort of project to make a label for, so you remember everything. It was completed for Memorial Day 2002.

Happy 4th of July and thanks for doing this with me – Beth, Louann, Karlanne, Sherry and Julie. And a happy 4th to my readers as well!!!