Monday, 7 September 2015

Indiana Puzzle - Red Sky at Night Quilt

I'm sitting at my messy dining room table wondering what to write about this week's block. I'm surrounded by plates of half eaten lunch, my children are in their beds for rest time, and I have to be somewhere in half an hour. Usually, I have an idea of what I'm going to write, and Monday's deadline provides the motivation to clear the space in my day to sit and put those thoughts into words. It's not ideal. The weekends here are busy, and Mondays are a rough-and-tumble competition of homeschool and leftover washing, planning and interruptions. When I think of a blog series on the history of quilting, or any series for that matter, I think of something a whole lot more polished, researched, written in advanced. But I am more of the 'jump in and see what happens' type person. And what has happened is that quilt history is much harder to come by than say, the history of the Civil War, or the Russian Revolution. Partly that's because quilt history is an obscure study with a limited audience, and partly because it's the history of women.

Women's history is often a tricky one. One of the first things I learned studying history at university, is that history is written by the victors. Men at war, in politics, in the arts, in scientific research and discovery, in colonizing far away lands. Of course there were prominent women too, but the history of women at home, women like me, the stories of what drove them, what scared them, what filled them with longing or gave them joy, what expectations crushed them, or kept them going, they are the histories locked silently inside old quilts. They fill me with curiosity, with more questions than answers.

Indiana Puzzle was first published in Ruby McKim's Parade of States Sampler Series. It got me wondering, why samplers? What happened in the 1850s in America that made quilters shift from those beautiful old medallion quilts, to block designs? Was it just because it was easier to work on a small square at a time? Was it because quilting groups were more common than in the UK, and blocks made the quilt easier to make by several women? Did it come from the same origin as girls' needlework samplers? Were they used as a kind of pattern booklet, but sewn into a quilt? Were they mostly a teaching tool? Or was it merely fashion or preference? Reading my quilt history books failed to answer my usual slew of questions. A quick google, and some articles made a guess at the kinds of questions I've asked here.

And so, I've sat here wondering at my own intentions and expectations for a quilt sampler series. One that told stories, both old old and new. And I realised, nibbling on an abandoned piece of apple, that this journey has not been, nor ever could have been, a professional, expert, academic history lesson. Instead it's been my story of learning how quilt history works. Where to find the stories, the people, the lies or assumptions, what the questions are, and which ones may never be answered. Even though I've often felt out of my depth, and Mondays are crazier than they need to be, it makes me glad I jumped in. We've got about a third of our blocks to go, and I don't know what stories are left to tell. But as long as I remember that this series is here for the learning, not the proving myself, or fulfilling some professional obligation, that's going to be just fine.


What you'll need:

Red: Four 5" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles. Two 3 3/8" squares cut in half diagonally to border to centre diamond.

White: Four 5" squares cut in half diagonally to make half square triangles. One 3 3/8" square.

I made this block a while ago, and obviously got distracted (or engrossed!) while sewing and didn't take many photos. Let me know if the steps aren't clear!

1. Sew your red half 5" triangles to the white triangles. Press open and trim to 4.5"

2. Sew the largest edge of your leftover red triangles to each side of the white centre diamond. Start with one side, then its opposite. Press outward and sew the next two to the remaining sides.

3. Lay out your block as above. Sew together in rows of three. Press seams open.

4. Sew your rows together to complete your block. Press seams open.

This block reminds me of shooting stars and twirling skirts. I love it's movement. It feels optimistic to me. And I wonder again. Were these women like me? Did they make what they felt? And what were they feeling when they made this sweet block?


  1. Oh Jodi I miss you! I see skirts too how beautiful xx

  2. It is a real testament to women that they produced these amazing quilts with all that has gone on around them in the world. It is a shame that we don't know more of the whys and wherefores, but I suspect that there may not really be any. Why do we do things now, because we fancy it most likely! I expect they were the same, but it would be nice to know! At least we have the quilts and patterns there as the reminder of them! xx

  3. I love your posts each week with your red blocks.

  4. Thank you so much for the facts and your speculation on the who, when, where and why of quilts. Some we can know, some we can only speculate. Our reality is not theirs - or is it? I see in blogland much discussion of quilt components made by hand, some modes more popular than others - like EPP. The rational is that it is easier to take-along and work upon. Perhaps the same was true for women in the early-middle 1800s? That was a time of huge migrations of people from Europe to America and then across America to places like Illinois, Kansas, etc. Could take-along hand work have been some of the genesis of block quilts?
    Really love your blog. Following eagerly the Red Sky. Thanks.


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