I'm going to take a break from the graduation, school, and family blogging and share my tutorial on how to piece a Jack's Chain quilt top. I finished this one recently and am really proud of it. It's a great, old-fashioned pattern. Yes, there are lots of inset seams, but I'm here to tell you they are not really that bad! I personally have never wanted to do the English paper piecing that is so popular with hexagon quilts right now... and you don't have to. This is all pieced on a machine, with intermediate sewing skills. My points are not always perfect matches, and I have found that I am a happier person if I don't worry about it too much. The overall effect is charming, and I can't wait to get this quilted and on my daughter's bed. So, I'd like to persuade you to attempt this little-known vintage pattern, sometimes also called Rosalia Flower Garden.
I started thinking about this pattern when I was browsing through non-square block patterns in Maggie Malone's 1001 Patchwork Designs
. There are three blocks listed that combine squares, hexagons, and equilateral triangles in this unique way (the others are Merry-Go-Round III and Wedding Tile).
I like the way it creates a circular-looking pattern even though there are no curved lines to piece, and I thought it would be really cute in the 1930's reproduction fabrics I had been collecting. I also found the pattern on Quilter's Cache
(which is a fabulous resource for all sorts of quilt patterns, by the way!) Although Quilter's Cache does give step-by-step directions and templates, I don't really like using templates and so I bought a Clearview Triangle
ruler at a local quilt store. This makes it possible to cut both the equilateral triangles and the hexagons without templates. From that point, I did not really follow the Quilter's Cache piecing directions.
Here's the picture of page 2 of the Quilter's Cache Jack's Chain pattern. I did use it as a guide for assembling the rows. Complicating matters still further, this project became a UFO for a few years (I think I started it in 2007) and I didn't get back to it until this year when I've been participating in Judy L.'s
UFO project. I had divided the piecing of the top to be done over two months, and I groaned a little when the number for half of the piecing came up in April. But surprisingly, I found it was easy to make progress once I cleared some time to work steadily. I had already pieced a lot of the 9-patches and made enough blocks for a partial row of the finished top (which is 67x94"). I just needed to review and actually write down
how I had cut and measured the blocks I had already done before!
I wanted to use '30's reproductions for the 9-patches, white for the hexagons, and various pastel and bright solids for the triangles. (Many of these solid fabrics are vintage... my grandfather was a partner in a business college in Ohio, and my grandmother had in her stash the 1/2 yard lengths of rainbow colored cotton that were used in the Nancy Taylor course
, which was, I guess you would call it, a charm course for secretaries. So whenever I dig into my vintage solids, I imagine fashionable young women of the Mad Men era figuring out what colors were most flattering with their skin tones. I've read the books, and they are a hoot). The only significant yardage I required for this quilt was the white, and I think I used a little less than 3 yards of that. I have seen some examples of the Jack's Chain pattern online that use the same white background fabric for the hexagons, triangles, and the 4-patches of the 9-patch
. If you want to do this, be sure to plan ahead and buy more of the white fabric!
Here's the math that I should have done first, but didn't. I just plunged in.
The very first step is to make lots, and I mean lots, of 9-patches that finish to 3". You will probably choose to do this with 1.5" strips, and your best bet is to pace yourself. If you make a twin-sized quilt like mine, you will need 335
9-patches that finish to 3" (but with raw edge included, they are 3.5"). That's a lot of 9-patches. I wanted a scrappy variety of vintage-looking prints, so I tried to use different combinations of the fabrics I had. I would keep thinking that, surely, I had enough 9-patches. But then I'd calculate and realize that, no, I actually did not.
At some point, you will want to take a break from making 9-patches and cut some triangles (you will need 238
) and hexagons (you will need 110
, although some will be trimmed to half-hexagons later). That's only if you're making a quilt as big as mine; but you're on your own for calculating numbers if you change the size! For both these shapes, it's important to remember that the Clearview Triangle markings help you figure out the height of the triangle or hexagon, but you are going for a 3" finished measurement along the sides
, not the height. For triangles, I cut strips that were 3 3/8" wide, and then I used the Clearview to subcut the triangle shapes. I used a mix of pastels, and a few brights (red, turquoise, green). The sides of the triangles are 3 7/8" in length. But because of the angle, they will finish up to 3" So, 238
equilateral triangles, cut from 3 3/8" strips.
Cutting the white hexagons was more of a challenge. I think I made a paper template for the first one and measured it. What you do is to cut strips 5 5/8" wide. Then, you press them in half lengthwise. Then you place the 5 5/8" line of the Clearview Triangle on the folded
edge, and the 2 3/4" line on the raw edge, and cut along the side angles. Discard the little white equilateral triangles or save them in your crumb bin: they are too small to work as the triangles you need for this pattern. You should be able to get 7 hexagons out of one strip; you need 110
total for a twin-size quilt. When you measure the raw edge of the hexagon, it will be just a smidge over 3 1/4", but again, because of the angles, all the edges will finish to 3".
Arcs and Canoes:
Now we're ready to join 9-patches and triangles into some of the elemental units that will later be formed into blocks. If you're like me, you'll want to do a few blocks just to see where the pattern's going. I call the two units above "arcs" and "canoes" because that's what they look like to me. An arc is 2 9-patches connected by a triangle. A canoe is 2 triangles connected by a 9-patch. My quilt uses 112 arcs and 63 canoes.
Looking closely at how the triangles match up with the 9-patches, you can see that the 3" finished measurement is where you will need to start and stop stitching. I drew little dots so you can see. The triangle points extend a little beyond the straight edge of the 9-patch, but because of the angle, the lengths are just about exactly even along the future seamline, 1/4" in from the top edge. You will need to backtack to secure the stitches at beginning and end of each seam. I know, it's a bit of a drag if you're used to chain piecing and never stopping, using leaders and enders, etc. You kind of have to get into a frame of mind where you are not primarily concerned about speed piecing, and you will be surprised at how fast it actually does go. When you are piecing a unit and one seam meets another one, as in the arc unit, make sure to position the seam allowances for the first seam so they are not caught in the second seam.
Wheels and Apple Cores:
Now we are ready to begin constructing the blocks themselves. There are three basic types of blocks; above is what I call a "wheel." I made it by sewing two arc units onto opposite sides of a hexagon, and then adding two canoes on either side. If you have a stack of arcs and canoes ready to go, you can make a wheel block with 10 seams, each of them 3" long. My quilt needed 28 wheel blocks.
The second type of block is what I call an "apple core." It consists of two arcs on opposite sides of a hexagon, just like the start of the wheel block. There are 21 apple core blocks in my quilt. By adding a single canoe unit to an apple core, you create an "end" block, needed for the end of each row in my quilt: I needed 7 of those.
Here's a view of one seam of a hexagon joined to a 9-patch. You can see that where the triangle was longer than the 9-patch at the raw edge, the hexagon is a little shorter. But it is even at the 1/4" seam line, which is where it counts. Start and stop stitching at the point where the 1/4" seamlines cross. I tend to eyeball it and it usually works. And you do need to clip the threads close to the fabric after stitching. Again, wherever you have multiple seams meeting at that 1/4" point, make sure not to stitch over the seam allowances. Stitch back and forth a few times at the beginning and end of each seam. I think it worked best if I avoided pressing the seams until after I had joined an entire row or even multiple rows of the quilt.
For my quilt, I joined 4 wheels, 3 apple cores, and 1 end block to make a row that was 8 hexagons long. That's the width of the quilt. In addition, you will eventually need to piece the connector or "chain" rows. In the above photo there are two regular rows and one connector row in between them.
My chain connector rows consisted of 8 9-patches alternating with 9 hexagons. The two hexagons on either end will eventually be trimmed to half-hexagons. And yes, when the quilt is ready for binding, I will be binding a very scallop-y, raggedy edge. I will almost certainly need to use binding cut on the bias, not straight of grain. It's similar to the technique used to bind a Double Wedding Ring quilt. The alternative would be to cut with a rotary cutter to make a straight edge, and I don't think I would have the heart to do that!
Here's a shot of how I didn't work: I never used pins. But you could certainly do so if you were concerned about hitting the right 1/4" intersection point, or keeping the seam allowances out of the way of the needle. Remember that Jack's Chain has a different rhythm than most modern quilts: there's a lot of stop-and-start seaming, but the seams are short and regular, and you will very quickly get used to how the quilt goes together.
My final quilt had 7 regular rows and 6 chain connector rows, and is 67"x94" or twin size. I didn't calculate everything out in advance, and I have enough extra blocks to make a baby quilt, which I'm working on now. I did find that one very thorough pressing with steam at the end of all the set-in seaming was good: pressing before all the seams were joined meant I was more likely to have trouble with a seam allowance getting caught in the stitching.
If you find this tutorial helpful, please drop me a line or even send a photo of yours. I'd love to see this pattern become more popular!