Monday, 23 November 2015

Red Sky at Night Quilt

When I first embarked on a quilt history adventure, I expected to find a tonne of resources on the internet. I heard snippets of interesting stories from blocks, slaves rescued, quilts donated, stories of war and weddings, that I figured it would be easy to dig up others. But just like we ordinary women make quilts in the present, as a gift, or for the sake of design, without much thought as to how it fits into a wider narrative, or what future generations will want to know about us, the million old quilts out there are often silent. I've written here before, while men's history is The History, the history of politics and war and civilisation, the history of women is often more like archaeology. We dig around and make inferences based on the tools they used, the magazines they read and the quilts they made.
But this escapade has not been in vane. While we may not have learned many women's names, not been able to read their diaries, or have their stories passed down through generations, we have gleaned beautiful things about them.

We know that when the sewing machine was first invented during the industrial revolution, around the 1850s, that women flocked to it, having previously spent up to 12 hours a day sewing and quilting. We know that quilt blocks became popular in America around this time, as an alternative to British medallion quilts, possibly because they were easier to sew in quilting groups, or because the repetition made them faster to come together. Quilting was a community endeavour, the space where women shared themselves and were known.
We know that quilts were the significant way women contributed to war efforts throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. They were sent to soldiers, they made political statements, they commemorated victories and losses. They were stitched from extremely limited resources, and yet still made immensely beautiful. 
We know that women made quilts to celebrate birth, birthdays, engagements, weddings, leaving West, and to commemorate a death. Quilts became a family's way to tell their story.
As pioneers settled across the country, quilt blocks were shared and altered, often without names. It was the introduction of published patterns in journals and newspapers in the 1890s that canonised quilt block names across the country. It was a time of great depression, and quilting boomed as women made do ever so artistically with old sheets, flour sacks, and dress scraps.
Quilts were art as well as necessity, and they carried both titles beautifully and equally. They reflected everyday life, nature, history and literature, as well as political and social concerns. They celebrated the mundane churn dash, and cups and saucers, and riled against slavery and alcoholism. And in a simple mix of squares and triangles, they created several thousand variations of design. They were generous and they were genius.


You will need:

Red: Sixty 1.5" squares, two 9.5" squares cut in half diagonally for the corners, Four 18" squares cut into quarters diagonally for the side triangles.

White: One hundred 12.5" x 1.5" strips.

1. Lay out your quilt on point. Your quilt will have 41 blocks of 5 blocks across the top and 5 down the side. The extras will fill the spaces in between. Take note of blocks with more dark or light colour, and spread them evenly.

2. Starting in one corner, sew a white strip to the left and right side of your block. Press away from the block.

3. Take another white strip and sew two red 1.5" squares to each end. Sew it to another side of the block. This will be the corner. Press.

4. Sew a corner triangle to this white strip. Press.

5. Sew a side triangle to the white strips on the side. Press.

6. Take 3 white strips and sew red squares between them, end to end to make a line of sashing. Add to the first row.

7. You will now repeat these steps in diagonal rows through the quilt. First sewing strips between the blocks, then sewing red squares between lines of strips, then side triangles, before adding another row of sashing. I sewed these in rows as below before sewing my quilt top together.

I used Carolyn Friedlander's Doe Wide for the backing, and handquilted through the sashing, and in a simple echo of each block. I find hand-quilting easier with a queen size, though obviously much slower. I like the look of the thick, chunky perle on the red, but I also wonder if a simple cross hatch design on the machine would have worked well too. Washing it made some parts puffy rather than giving it an even crinkle, which I love. You can see in the picture above that there's a little overhang with the triangles. I trimmed the top before basting, but you could also wait till after. I washed the quilt three times with colour catchers before I felt safe giving it to my mum. There was lots of pink in those babies, and a little bleeding after the first wash, but it was gone by the third.

I made a single Dresden Plate for a side corner and considered making more, but I worried it would be too busy. I think it's sweet there on it's own.

It's a humbling thing for a Quilt Along to be a huge learning experience, rather than a raving 'success'. For me it's been a fumbling, scrounging, eye-opener, not a neat, organised package. But I'm not sure I could have come to quilt history any other way. And it's made me all the more certain of the need to tell stories through quilts and about them. It's been a winding path, but the next leg of the journey feels clearer because of it.

Thank you, thank you for your following, encouragement, and allowing the freedom to grow and fail and learn in this experience. Right back at the very beginning, I noted one of my reasons for doing this was to shake that quiet, persistent voice that quilting was an extravagant waste of time. If there is one great success in this, it is that. I never hear that voice now. And it's why I believe so passionately in understanding our story. Quilt making is not an excess or a passing phase, it is an old art form, once so highly regarded, and deemed necessary, and now pushed to the side as a hobby. I for one am honoured to be passing on the tradition. This Quilt Along has moved quilting in my mind from a bit of a sanity keeper, perhaps even a distraction from real life, to a calling. 

An InLinkz Link-up

This link up is open internationally!


  1. Beautiful!!! Thank you for sharing this journey with us!

  2. Hi Jodi! This quilt is gorgeus! I have followed how you made each block and hope to make them one day! This is also fantastic example how awesome white with red looks. x Teje

  3. Favourite QAL. Hands down. Although I didn't join in (due to time constraints this year) it's been a pleasure checking in on your progress and learning more. Brilliant job. A beautiful finish and A*** photos! Best wishes, Jessie

  4. I have followed this QAL and wishing I had joined up from the start! �� beautiful quilt I love the red and white my favorite colour. I would still like to make this maybe next year!

  5. Beautiful Quilt Jodi, I joined in late but I finished my last block yesterday, I think it took me 3 weeks or 4 lol, many hours of sewing but so worth it! Now the fun begins putting it together! I will send you a pic soon!
    Thanks so much for the QAL, loved it!

  6. I love everything about this QAL. Thank you so much Jodi!

  7. Seeing this post this morning just made my day. Every Monday morning I have loved reading your QAL post. The finally product is impressive and beautiful.

  8. Stunning! What a journey for you and us! I've enjoyed following along and wish I had started making these blocks with you!

  9. i love this quilt. I only started following you for a couple of months - I hope the instructions will be up for a while as I really want to make this quilt - possibly in navy, or black and white.

  10. I admire your perseverance, intelligence and ability in putting together a wonderful quilt. I have taken blocks and used them in different ways as I make quilted blankets from remnants and at the moment am making a star quilt with all sorts of different stars made from old flannel work shirts. It has been as inspiration

  11. Congratulations. Althought I haven't been quilting along, I have really enjoyed all your posts on this project, not just because of the interesting quilty history but also for your thoughtful reflections.

  12. What a beautiful, eloquent tribute to our shared passion. I have loved every post in this quilt along, loved learned along with you about the amazing rich history of quilting. You have been so generous in sharing your knowledge. Your tribute is both in words and in the magnificent quilt you have produced. It doesn't get any better than that.

  13. Thank you for this lovely sew-a-long quilt and for all the stories and research you have shared. The history of 'the people' gets lost/hidden under the weight of the history of 'the heroes.' You have unearthed some of that - a welcome addition. That we have walked in her steps making this quilt has been as illuminating. Neame

  14. I have loved each post with the history or story for each block you have done. This is an amazing quilt, You rightly deserve to feel proud of such an achievement. I am sure it will be a much loved and treasured quilt, destined to be handed down as a family heirloom.

  15. Your quilt is really, really beautiful. I must say I have been worried all along about the red bleeding and ruining the quilt. There were discussions about this when you started. I am so relieved to hear that it has been wash successfully. Red can be particularly bad.
    A note of warning for your readers--I always pre-wash and I have found that many of the Kona's darkish and medium blues really run--you need to pre-wash and use color catchers.
    I look forward to seeing what you do next!

  16. Congratulations, Jodi, on so many levels: having the guts to embark on such a ambitious quilt-along, following through so faithfully, bringing something unique and of value to the quilt blogosphere in the stories you told and finishing so very, very well. I have been happy to see you blossom as a quilter and blogger this year. Wishing you many more to come!

  17. How much fabric of each color does it take for the red sky at night quilt? I LOVE this quilt & is my next project on the list!

    1. Thank you! I used around 7 yards of the red and 5 1/2 of the white. Happy sewing!


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