The Churn Dash Quilt Will Remind You Why You Love Quilting


You guys, the Churn Dash quilt pattern is everything. Each time I work on a Churn Dash quilt, I think, “Yes. Yes. This is why I quilt!”

There’s something about the history and the simplicity and the tons-and-tons of variations and modernizations that really make the Churn Dash quilt block the complete package of all that quilting should be. So, indulge me in this little “Ode to the Churn Dash Quilt” and I’ll reward you with some great tips, and favorite variations at the end, deal?

Here’s how the Churn Dash quilt will renew your love for quilting, in five parts.​

​But first, if you're itch'n to make a church dash quilt lickety split, check out these patterns. Some of them are originally traditional in style, but with a minimal color palette and modern/solid fabric, any of them could be transformed into a chic modern design.


​Above photo cred: Amy Smart, Dairy of a Quilter

You love quilting because it’s simple.​

Whenever you started quilting, whether it was earlier or later in your life, you probably fell in love with the accessibility of the methodical, repetitive work of making quilt blocks. Being part of the nine-patch quilt block family, the Churn Dash quilt totally taps into this warm-fuzzy-familiar place for me.

The Churn Dash quilt was one of the first patterns many young girls learned in the 1800s because it’s straight-up triangles, rectangles, and squares. The basic Churn Dash quilt block can be divided into 9 equal square units: the four corners are half square triangles, with each unit in between split into contrast-colored rectangles. The block in the center is a solid square. This pattern is seen most commonly with two, highly-contrasting fabrics. However, you can see from some of the quilt examples that the inner square can be different from the background fabric to create a completely different look. 


Above photo cred: Caroline, Sew Can She

You love quilting because it’s not simple.​

Yes, the basic Churn Dash block is simple, methodical, and really accessible to new quilters. But the Churn Dash pattern has a ton of really beautiful, complex variations. There’s 3-fabric variations (Mosaic, Dragon’s Head), placement-swapping (Greek Cross), using four squares instead of two rectangles (Prairie Queen), or even an uneven 9-patch variation (Monkey Wrench).

You can adapt the Churn Dash to your own difficulty level, and your own style, making this quilt pattern a quilter’s dream.​


​Above photo cred: Katherine Lowe, @mintlane

The process of making the Bulldog Churn Dash quilt in Katherine's words: This was a totally serendipitous mini quilt. I got these cute little bulldogs for no project in particular, and they happened to end up stacked next to a few of the Cotton + Steel Sprinkles. (Sewing inspiration always strikes when fabric gets unintentionally moved around in my sewing room!) After studying the bulldog print a little more, I realized that this little guy had several different poses – perfect for fussy cutting. I once heard someone describe quilters as the long-haul truckers of the sewing world, and that (accurate description) always tickled me.

Starting and finishing quilts is always so satisfying, but my interest always seems to sag a bit in the middle. I am currently in the middle of several long-haul projects right now and feeling a little ambivalent. After spotting a color and print combo, I just started cutting and making. I am always drawn to simple shapes, and my first instinct was a simple log cabin. However, I decided this print needed a little bit more, and I quickly settled on the churn dash block. This was exactly the little creative break I needed. I like to imagine the churn dash frames as little pieces of washi tape, and the C+S colors give it a nice pop. The teal block is my favorite--I just can't get over that cute little dog looking up. This now hangs in my hallway and makes me smile several times a day.

You love quilting because it’s part of our past.​

And now, we’re getting into the history of the Churn Dash quilt. You knew this was coming. The Churn Dash quilt pattern dates all the way back to 1849. What was happening in 1849? A lot of Americans were preparing to travel West, embarking on the huge adventure of making a new life for themselves on the other side of the country.

A really important part of this was comfort and warmth (duh!) so on average, each family member would have three quilts or blankets. That’s a lot of sewing. So many women and their daughters sewed their hearts out in preparation for travel, and while they created new patterns, they looked to their surroundings for names. That’s how the Churn Dash quilt was born.

The triangle and rectangle perimeter of the Churn Dash pattern resembled the block of the butter churn, with the center block being the stick, or “dash” of the churn. The Churn Dash name meant something to the sewer, as it was such an important part of their daily life – a life that was about to drastically change.​


​Above photo cred: Alexia Abegg

You love quilting because it’s part of our present.​

I know that when I’m quilting, I feel like I’m putting a piece of my present life into each quilt, just like homesteaders were doing in the 1800s. Everyone does this. That’s why the Churn Dash pattern actually has a ton of different names and variations. You’ll see this pattern referred to as the broken plate, the fisherman’s reel, hens and chickens, the picture frame… so many different references to different lives in different places.

What would you call the Churn Dash pattern? Quilt block patterns both unify us as quilters across many cultures, but also set us apart as we give them our own spin, and our own name. It’s something I really cherish about quilting. As for me, I might call it Scrap’s bone! (For new readers, my cute lil pup's name is Scrappy.)


​Above photo cred: Charla McCrory, @csmez

You love quilting because it’s everything.

I do, too. And the Churn Dash quilt pattern really delivers.​

As promised, I want to share a tip for Churn Dash quilting with you: When quilting the Churn Dash blocks, stitch in the ditch, baby. It’s a minimal route to take, but it keeps it really soft and smooshy, and it really works with this particular pattern. Plus, you have to love the effort-to-result ratio here. The Churn Dash pattern is a great example of less work with a great finished product.​

Check out this FREE Churn Dash pattern by Robert Kaufman.​ Now I want your names and variations of the Churn Dash pattern! Lay ‘em on me in a comment down below!

churn dash pattern tutorial

​Above photo cred: Mary Fons, Paper Girl - so funny and good and awesome, just like Mary 🙂

16 thoughts on “The Churn Dash Quilt Will Remind You Why You Love Quilting

  1. Natasha says:

    I really like this post. I agree with everything! I just made a quilt with the shoo-fly block. Does it come from this same block family? I put in squares where those rectangles are in the churn dash. I love the simplicity. It’s still taken me way to long to make, but that’s a different story. Thanks for writing this.

    • Suzy says:

      I think they are related because the two blocks look very similar. And some quilts just take longer than others. I have a WIP in a closet that I started 13 years ago – I still have faith that someday I’ll finish it 🙂

  2. Audrey says:

    This is my absolute favorite block, my “go to”, my happy place!! Although I love the basic, the Nested Churn Dash is the best. I love making it and putting it on the back of a lot of my quilts too. I really enjoyed reading your post!

  3. Christine says:

    I love the churndash quilt pattern. I made the Bohemian Churndash several years ago. It is now following my niece from home to college and college to home. Your enthusiasm makes me want to make another one right now! Thanks for sharing and thanks for the inspiration – now, if I could just find some more time!!!

  4. karen s says:

    Now that you’ve broken it down for me–I need to look harder at the basic components of blocks so I’m not so intimidated–I think I could pull off some churn dash blocks 🙂 Thanks so much for the encouragement. And #scrappyonthings is too cute–all 3 of you seem to be having an awful lot of fun.

  5. Katherine says:

    So awesome! Thanks for including me!! The connection to the past is one of my favorite things about sewing. That last quilt is stunning!!! I love the neutral and the pops of color.

  6. Mary says:

    The block you mention as being the uneven nine patch is the block I think of as Churn Dash. The other I call Hole in the Barn Door. Both are also known as Monkey Wrench. Among many others. For an exhaustive, authoritative list of all the names these two blocks have been known by, with provenance, I refer you to Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.

  7. Sharon says:

    Brilliant post. Churn Dash is my first “what block will I use” in a new project. I love connecting with the historic while making something for me and family. I’ve shared on my Facebook page Two Bits Patches.

  8. Cynthia says:

    I look at all the lovely quilts that have been made using Churn Dash & I would love to have a go, I’m 76 & I have cut my square’s made triangles with 2 different colours & when I see them together my points of the triangle’s disappeared, , please can you help me.

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