Classic Blocks: Churn Dash

Welcome to the second installment of my Classic Block Series! I want to pay some respect to our fore-mothers who made what we now call “traditional” quilts. They mostly sewed and quilted by hand, but what amazes me even more is that they had to cut out all their pieces with scissors and handmade templates – no rotary cutters and acrylic rulers! Revisiting some classic blocks, and maybe tweaking them a little bit to give them an update, is my way of keeping tradition alive and even passing it on to the next generation of quilters!

This month, let’s look at the Churn Dash block. This one is another in the nine-patch family of blocks – you can see it is made up of the 4 half square triangles on the corners, 4 patches of two rectangles sewn together and then the center square – so nine equal patches all together. The block was so named for it’s resemblance to a butter churn. The actual container is called a “churn” and the stick used to stir the cream until it became butter is called a “dash”.

A few terms to keep in mind when making this block:

  • HST means Half Square Triangle
  • RST means Right Sides Together
  • Please use 1/4″ seams unless otherwise stated
  • Finished vs Unfinished size: finished size literally means just that – how big the block will end up when sewed into a “finished” quilt, and unfinished size means how big the block is before it’s sewn into a quilt. Unfinished blocks still have raw edges.

Cutting Chart for 1 Churn Dash Block

Finished Block Size6″9″12″15″18″
Unfinished Block Size6.5″9.5″12.5″15.5″18.5″
Piece A (center square) CUT 12.5″3.5″4.5″5.5″6.5″
Piece B CUT 4 rectangles of EACH color1.5″ x 2.5″2″ x 3.5″2.5″ x 4.5″3″ x 5.5″3.5″ x 6.5″
Piece C (HSTs) CUT 2 of EACH color3″4″5″6″7″

Decide how big you want your block to be, then use the diagram and cutting chart above the cut out the appropriate sizes. My example block happens to be a 9″ block, so I cut my A patch at 3.5″, all the B patches at 2″ x 3.5″ and finally all the C patches at 4″. The construction process is the same for all sizes.

Now we will make the four HST units for the corners using the C patches. Use the two-at-a-time method. Place one white C and one green C right sides together, draw a line diagonally from corner to corner, and sew 1/4″ on either side of the line. Cut along the drawn line. If you need more clarity on this process, please see my tutorial on making HST – there is more detailed info with photos there (look under the Tutorials tab on the menu bar.)

Press the HST to the darker fabric – I pressed to the green. You could also press the seams open if you prefer.

Next, using your B rectangles, place one green and one white rectangle RST and sew along the long edge. Repeat for the remaining three sets to end up with 4 green/white squares. Press. I pressed my seams open, but you can press toward the darker fabric as well.

Now using all your patches, lay out your block like the photo below. Pay attention to the orientation of the HSTs (C blocks) in the corners, and also to the orientation of the B blocks. If you rotate any of these in the wrong direction it won’t be the end of the world, just the end of your churn dash block 🙂 This configuration makes the churn dash green, with white as the background.

But if you wanted to make the opposite, or negative, coloration of the block like in the very first photo at the top of the blog, all you need to do is rotate all the blocks with the white towards the middle of the block, and then cut another A square in green.

Ready to sew it all together? Take the middle column of patches and place them RST with the left column. Chain piece them all together – by that I mean start with the first two squares, sew them together, then WITHOUT cutting the thread, sew the next two together. Then again, without cutting the thread, sew the final two together. You can see in the second photo below that the two columns are sewn together and still have the thread connecting them.

I use this method all the time because it keeps me from getting confused and sewing blocks together in the wrong orientations – they remain joined by the thread between them, and if I get called away in the middle of sewing a complicated block together (which let’s face it, frequently happens!) I can jump right back in to sewing and my block will be just as I left it. The connecting thread kind of acts like a pin.

Then take the last column and place it RST with the middle column, and again using chain piecing, sew that column together. You can see in the final photo the rows are now complete and are still held together with the threads between them.

Press all the seams. I pressed open, but the other option is to press the top and bottom rows in one direction and the middle row in the opposite direction – that way the seams will nest. Either way is fine!

Lastly, sew the rows together. Place the top row RST with the middle row, match or nest the seams and sew in place. At this point, feel free to snip that connecting thread if you’re having trouble seeing the seam intersections. Sew the last row in the same way. Trim up your block to the unfinished size in the chart – I trimmed my block to 9.5″. And that’s it!

Thank you for reading this tutorial! I hope you found it helpful. If you have questions or comments, please reach out. I’d love to hear from you!