I come to you today, writing this blog post on a typewriter, in a trench coat, smoking a cigar.
Okay, not really. But I should be. Because the Irish Chain Quilt, though seemingly just beautiful and innocent and a great choice for your next quilting project, is actually very, very mysterious.
For example, it’s called the Irish Chain Quilt pattern, but is it even Irish? (Mind blown? Oh, we're just getting started.) Time to do some research, fellow sleuths.
Here’s what we know:
Right now, the facts we have recorded in the Official Record of Quilty Things state that the Irish Chain quilt pattern was developed in the early 1800s… IN AMERICA. What?! I thought I knew you, Irish Chain quilt pattern!
You remember Barbara Brackman? We’ve talked about her before – she’s a big-shot quilt historian, and obviously really cool and smart. Well, Barb believes that the earliest known Irish Chain quilt pattern was from 1814, and it remained popular through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Then, there’s this:
Even though Barb & Co. are really sure about that whole ‘America in the 1800s’ thing, there’s this book called West Virginia Quilts and Quiltmakers with a very interesting photo inside of a quilt that was brought to America from Ireland… and it sure looks a whole lot like an Irish Chain. hmmm...Verrrry innnteresting.
The quilt in question was made circa 1805 with thread that is totally Irish with a fabric design that it totally Irish and if you didn’t notice yet, it was quilted a few years before the first Irish Chain quilt pattern we’ve found in America.
But here’s the Shyamalan twist:
The pattern of the Irish quilt is a pattern that is still used in Ireland… and guess what they call it. [Insert suspenseful music crescendo here.] THE AMERICAN CHAIN!
Whoa. Let’s let that sink in a sec.
Have you recovered? Okay, then let’s recap. The first typical Irish Chain quilt pattern was discovered in America in the 1800s and it was named the ‘Irish Chain.’ Then there’s another quilt pattern very close to the Irish Chain pattern found in Ireland a few years BEFORE, and they call it the ‘American Chain.’
I know! What's an amateur quilt historian/film noir detective suppose to do?? I'm pretty sure the correct answer is drink more black coffee and make an Irish Chain quilt.
The conclusion I have reached after hours of pacing in my poorly furnished office and staring out rainy windowpanes into night-time Brooklyn traffic is:
The Irish Chain quilt pattern is one of the oldest and most popular quilt patterns, and it’s a great choice for your next quilting project. And I’m satisfied with that. Case closed.
Now, for the fun and innocent part!
Even though the history of the Irish Chain quilt is mysterious… its creation is pretty straight-forward! First, you get to choose whether or not you’re going for the single or the double Irish Chain.
The single Irish Chain pattern is a little simpler to construct but still super pretty. You only need two colors of contrasting fabric for the single, and it creates this cool diamond illusion that makes it seem like you didn’t create it from squares at all! But you totally did!
The double Irish Chain pattern is a little more work, and one extra contrasting color (that makes three in all, in case you lost count.) The double pattern gives you a similar, impressive diamond-shaped outcome, with a few more bells and whistles (meaning… squares and colors.) There’s also a triple Irish Chain pattern if you’re really into overachievement! Awe, Irish Chain, you have something for everyone!
If you can’t decide, find a few patterns so you really know what you’re getting yourself into. OR… check these out!
Irish Chain, Denyse Schmidt
This pattern can be found in her book, Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration (I bought this book when it first came out in 2012 and it is still one of my favorites.).
Double Irish Chain, Jessie Fincham
When I first posted this quilt I did not know who made it (read below for the original post.), but thanks to the top-notch detective work of Ann Christiansen, the mystery has been solved!
I want you to know that I take copyrights very seriously. I spend a lot of time researching and citing who did what on this blog because I know first hand how much time goes into making a quilt. With that said, even after 45 minutes of scouring the internet to figure out who to credit for this quilt, I still have no definitive conclusion.
Because I can only take a guess as to who made this quilt, I should probably not post a photo of it at all...buuuuut, it's SO PRETTY! And those floral sheets paired with it?! Come on! I had to post this picture. So let me do my best to cite my source:
I found this pretty pastel quilt on Pinterest. When you click on the link, however, it redirects you to an error page. (Come on Pinterest! I'm relying on you!) However, it looks like originally it was taken from a Finnish blog titled, "Isyyspakkaus." Even after translating the page, it does not seem to have anything to do with quilts. It appears to be a blog documenting fatherhood from a personal perspective.
Guys, I have stalked this adorable family's social media and entire internet presence. I know about dance recitals, Sunday breakfast and even clicked through hospital birthing photos. I can find NO QUILT. I repeat. NO QUILT.
I'm not going to let NOQUILTGATE get me down about my detective skills, though. But I am now going to rely on you, the trusted reader, to vigilantly be on the lookout for who made this Irish Chain.
A Tip for the Road:
Even though the single, double, and triple Irish Chain quilt patterns look like a whole bunch of squares (which they are), construction of the Irish Chain quilt is best done in strips. That means three strips of three squares for the single, five strips of five squares for the double, and seven strips of seven squares for the triple. But don’t forget: every Irish Chain quilt has an alternate block with more blank space to provide contrast, and complete the pattern.
Well, gumshoes, you’ve earned your keep today. Thanks for diving into the mysteries of the Irish Chain quilt pattern with me! If you have any more tips, theories, or revelations (Eureka!) leave them for me in the comment section below! Or send a letter sealed with melted wax. I love those.
FREE Irish Chain Quilt Pattern!
The very talented Heather Jones shows step by step how to make a simple Single Irish Chain quilt. In her effort to bring you a great tutorial, she partnered with Missouri Star Quilt Co. to make a video. Enjoy! Click her for the FREE PATTERN!
11 thoughts on “The Irish Chain Quilt Pattern: A Quilty Mystery”
Interesting reading!! As to the mystery quilt, I may be of help to you! Or… my super nerdy boyfriend, that is 🙂 He does come in handy from time to time (yay!) He suggested that we google the picture on image.google.com (no www!). This lead to both pinterest but ALSO to http://www.jessiefincham.com/2014/03/triple-irish-chain-quilt.html where you will find the original post along with loads of other pics of it!!!
I am sorry you had to scour through Finnish birthing pictures :”)
My SAVIOR! How did you do that so quickly?? Wow…confidence in my sleuthing skills has been seriously shaken. haha! 😉 I will update the info now! yippee!
Alas, the Jessie Fincham website no longer seems to be available.
I’ll help a girl out. The “mystery quilt” was made by Jesse Fincham, blogged here: http://www.jessiefincham.com/2014/03/triple-irish-chain-quilt.html
An easier way than stalking IG is to simply search Google for the image URL (right click image, and click on “Search Google for image”. It will pull up all instances of the image on the interwebs, and it becomes easy to find the original source. (sorry for the quick tutorial! my librarian instincts can’t help themselves!)
Well would you look at that! A whole new world has opened up! THANK YOU!!
I went and grabbed my foil hat for the Shyamalan twist! Now I want to make one.. The double… And I want those sheets. Could you sleuth those out for me? Thanks😂
Hi Suzy! I recently purchased Denyse Schmidt’s book and was going to make this very quilt. I am trying to semi-duplicate the look of an antique quilt I inherited, and was hoping to make it somewhat scrappy. Any tips for using a variety of fabrics since the instructions for piecing include sewing strips that are cut Selvage-to-Selvage, and don’t specify fabric length? This probably wouldn’t be a hang-up for a more experienced quilter, but I’m struggling to think of how I would convert her cutting instructions to incorporate a variety of fabrics. Thank you!
If using scraps or any variety of fabrics, I would layer 3-4 fabrics on top of each other and then cut the squares out individually. Whatever the finished square size is, add a 1/2″ to the cut size – that will allow for the 1/4″ seam allowance. Does that help? You could also find a scrappy Irish Chain tutorial online too, I’m sure.
I really enjoy reading your blog posts.
Thank you for all of your research and presenting all of the information.
Your writing style is fun!
I’m a 65 year old retired commercial fishermen just learning sewing n quilting. Can you tell me if there are family patterns, mine is Higgins
Not that we know of!