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nine-patch / Laura’s double nine-patch Irish chain quilt

Patchwork quilting block made of nine pieces of fabric, variously arranged. — Webster, 1882

Rose was making blocks of patchwork- “nine-patch,” her mother called it. You all know what that is. Rose’s mother cut the small squares and basted them neatly for Rose to sew “over and over” one block a day. – Julia P. Ballard,”Five Little Stitches,” in Northern Christian Advocate, April 3, 1879.

     
The nine-patch quilt block is a traditional patchwork pattern made up of nine square pieces of fabric sewn together in a 3×3 grid. By varying the arrangement and colors of fabric used, the simple pattern is quite versatile and subtle changes in color or fabric pattern will result in quilts with a completely different appearance.

In On the Banks of Plum Creek, “Mary was still sewing nine-patch blocks” while Laura was sewing bias seams (see Chapter 36, “Prairie Winter”). The Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, has a nine-patch quilt made by Mary Ingalls, possibly the quilt referenced. Mary’s quilt is in shades of brown and red and is made up of nine-patch blocks, set on the diagonal, with wide strips joining the blocks. A closeup of Mary’s quilt can be seen on the navigation button that brought you to this page.

At the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, there is a double nine-patch Irish chain quilt on display; see photo. In turkey-red and cream, it was pieced and quilted by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane at an unknown date. When my daughter, Ginny, was in the third grade (she’s out of graduate school now), I hand-pieced a matching quilt top, copying the exact dimensions of Laura and Rose’s quilt. I’ve put my own pattern HERE. You may print non-altered copies for your own, non-commercial sharing with Little House friends only; do not upload the pattern elsewhere on the internet. It’s an easy quilt to piece; the top is composed of only two different nine-patch blocks, with the “chain” pattern a result of the orientation and arrangement of the blocks.

Can you see the two different nine-patch blocks that make up Laura and Rose’s quilt in the closeup below?

     


     

Marking and cutting fabric.

Marking and cutting fabric.

Running sticthes to join squares.

Running sticthes to join squares.

Strips ready to join.

Strips ready to join.

Completed nine-patch block.

Completed nine-patch block.

Ironed seam allowance whorls.

Ironed seam allowance whorls.

A traditional nine-patch block made of two different fabrics is a nice first-sewing project for a Little House fan. Large (5 or 6 inch) squares will result in a size perfect for a pillow top or doll’s coverlet; a block with 1-inch or smaller patches makes a nice coaster, Christmas ornament, or greeting card front.

For the basic nine-patch block: Each block is made of nine patches. Cut five squares of Fabric 1 (in Laura’s quilt, this is the cream material; here, it is the green calico) and four squares of Fabric 2 (the red material in Laura’s quilt; yellow calico here). For ease in cutting and sewing, use two square cardboard templates to mark your cutting and sewing lines. For a 6-inch block with 2-inch finished patches with a quarter inch seam, cut two square templates: one 2 inches square, and one 2-1/2 inches square. I used a 2-inch metal template here. Place the larger square on the back of your fabric and lightly trace around it using a sharp pencil. Place the edge of the template so that one side of the square is exactly lined up with an existing line, and trace around it on the other three sides. You will need four yellow squares; cut these out on the pencil lines. Cut five squares in the same manner, using green calico. The calico used here is part of Andover Fabric’s Little House on the Prairie® collection.

On each of the nine squares you’ve cut out, take the smaller square template and lay it on the wrong side of the fabric in the center of the square, then trace around it lightly with the pencil. These will be your sewing lines. Just do the best you can to center the cardboard square; you will line up the sewing lines and only sew on these lines each time.

Next take one green and one yellow square and place them together with the right sides (the side with no pencil lines) facing. To line up the corners exactly, use a straight pen to match corners of your pencil marks, then pin the two pieces together, face-to-face, once the sewing lines are lined up. You will only sew one side of the square. Starting at a corner and using a needle and knotted thread, sew the patches along the pencil line using short, running (in and out) stitches. Do not sew past your pencil mark or begin sewing in the seam allowance area. If patches are sewn in this manner, they can be ironed so that they form a whorl where four patches come together. Knot the thread when done, sliding the knot close to the pencil mark using the point of your needle; take a few stitches back towards where you started, then carefully cut the thread close to your fabric. Repeat with three other green-yellow patches. You will have one green square left over. Sew this to the side of a yellow square opposite the green square you’ve already sewn on, to make a 1×3 strip (green/ yellow / green).

Open the two pieces and flatten with your fingers. It’s easier to iron after you have completed the square. Match the sewing lines to make a 2×2 square, alternating red and cream (you should always be sewing a red patch to a cream patch). Sew this seam. Sew another 2-patch piece to this one, so that you have a 2×3 piece.

Pin in place and sew the 3-patch piece along one side to complete your square. You will have cream squares in the middle and at each corner.

     


     

If you’re interested in LIW-inspired quilts, check out Linda Halpin’s Quilting with Laura: Patterns Inspired by the “Little House on the Prairie” Series (1999) and Johanna Wilson’s Prairie Quilts: Projects for the home inspired by the life and times of Laura Ingalls Wilder (2004). There are patterns in connection with each of the Little House books, and beautiful photographs throughout both publications.

     

nine-patch (BW 5; LHP 9, 19; BPC 36; LTP 15; THGY 32), see also quilt