Monday, 16 March 2015

Red Sky at Night - Broken Dishes and Whirlpool

I had the special treat this week of borrowing the wonderful Quilt History book, "The Fabric of Society" by Annette Gero, which focuses on Australian Quilt history. I was surprised to discover that there were almost no 'block' quilts in the book. Australian quilts in the 19th century, followed British fashions at the time, which were mostly medallion quilts, hexagon quilts, or applique. I thought this series would take us around the world, but interestingly, it appears these creative, beautiful blocks are unique to America's history. The book is full of interesting stories, though, and if you can find it in your library, I recommend it.

Today's blocks are older even than Colonial Australia and are made from half-square triangles, the quilt block staple. I've put these ones together, partly so we can condense our Quilt-Along to fit within the year, and partly as a follow-on from last week's Peace and Plenty. It fascinates me the wealth of designs derived from the humble triangle and how different a feel each of these blocks evoke.

The Broken Dishes block is one of the oldest known traditional quilt blocks. I've always wondered at this name, assuming it must have come the regular everyday stuff of pioneer life, though I thought this an unusual choice for a name, and couldn't quite make the connection with the inspiration. But on further research, I discovered that broken dishes were a traditional grave site decoration used by African American slaves. When I think of broken dishes in terms of mosaics and art, I can see the connection, can't you?

From the book 101 Patchwork Patterns by Ruby McKim, 1931
I love the star that comes through in this block when it stands alone (rather than repeated), depending on how your eye focuses on the lines. But I do find it boxy and jarring, compared to the flowing shapes of the Whirlpool block, which is almost identical to Peace and Plenty, except for the white diamond in the centre instead of the pinwheel, yet it still looks unique.


You will need:

Red: Eight 4" squares for each block, cut in half into triangles

White: Eight 4" squares for each block, cut in half into triangles

1. Sew the red triangles to the white triangles, press seams open or towards the red, and trim to 3.5"

2. Arrange your quilt blocks as shown below.
Both blocks are a 'Four Patch' of a 'Four Patch'. If you look in the bottom right quarter of the Whirlpool block, you'll see a larger red triangle under a parallelogram. That part of the block is repeated, but turned once around the quilt block.

The Broken Dishes block is arranged in 4 diamonds, with alternate colours facing inward. 

3. For each block, sew squares together in pairs, press and sew those pairs together into squares. Press and sew the larger squares together, and then then the final two pieces together.

Today's tutorial was basic, due to an onslaught of children arriving at my house today while I was making, delightfully leading to an abundance of questions about sewing and quilts and a beautiful fascination with these lines and shapes. So I had far less photos that I remember taking, but still a feeling of deep satisfaction that I'm passing on the quilting bug! I wonder why these blocks and others didn't make it into many Australian and British quilts? I think they are so simple and clever and beautiful. Maybe I'll learn more along the way. Meanwhile, if you need to go back to the Peace and Plenty Tutorial, it has more detail about how I prepare the blocks for sewing together.


  1. It's amazing the number of lovely variations with HST's! I too have that Ruby McKim book, just wonderful for inspiration! Linda

  2. Sooooo many hst! I'm going to get quick at this by the end of the year! Lovely once again Jodi. Xx

  3. Actually, Central Asian patchword is also basend on blocks. Nine patches, lots of HST, different kind of log cabins. I believe that modern versions are inspired by american quilts, but the roots have be to much older. Probably it's were patchwork came from in the first place. I never had time for proper research, but it might be worth looking into it, if you truly want to go around the world!


I so love your comments! I read all of them and reply when I can. If you don't hear back, I'm lost under a mound of scraps or outside jumping on the trampoline with the kids. Jodi. xx