Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Irish Chains

A 20th-century version
of the Double Irish Chain

My great-grandmother was born in Ireland 150 years ago today. I remember her well as she was a formidable presence in my grandmother's house until I was six years old. To recall this sesquicentennial of an Irish-American immigrant I've put a version of the Irish Chain as the Civil War Block of the Week this week on my other blog. Click here to read more:

 Since I couldn't fit everything I wanted to say about the Irish Chain there I thought I'd go on about it here.

An indigo and white Irish Chain pieced of nine-patch blocks---
guess as to date:

First we have to define an Irish Chain: An overall design of squares creating a secondary linked pattern across the quilt's surface.

What's the difference between a nine patch and an Irish Chain?

Guess as to date: 1840-1860

A nine-patch can be an Irish Chain, but the one directly above is not shaded to make a chain. The blocks really don't work together to create an all-over linked pattern. Had she shaded all the center and corner squares in her blocks in similar fashion it would have looked like a chain.

We tend to call the linked nine-patch examples Single Irish Chains.
It's really the consistent shading that makes an Irish Chain.

Here's another variation from Pennsylvania (1880-1920). The quilt not only has complex shading that links the blocks, it's also a fairly complex design of two alternating blocks.

One block is 25 squares

And the other has a square in each corner.
These corner squares can be pieced in or appliqued.
We tend to call these Double Irish Chains.

Here's a Triple Irish Chain (late-19th-century?)

Again alternating blocks.

One with 49 squares

The other with three squares appliqued or pieced into the corners.

In looking at quilts with dates actually on them I was surprised to find how consistently popular Irish Chain designs have been.
The women who made and dated the quilts above may not have called them Irish Chains but it is interesting how closely these 18th-century quilts resemble our versions of Irish chains. The one on the right even alternates a block of 49 squares---a Triple Irish Chain on point.

The pattern is one of the earliest organized patchwork designs in American quilts.
So if you wanted to make a period design from the late-18th-century through the present time a Single Irish Chain would be suitable. The quilt dated 1851 is a Triple Irish Chain, which would also be appropriate. The only difference between time periods would be color and fabric choices with red and green popular after 1840 or so, and more subdued browns and blues used before that.

Red and white variations were popular at the end of the 19th century

Double pinks and indigo blue prints

And then new colors in solids from new dyes in the twentieth century.

See more Irish Chains by clicking here on two from the Quilt Index.

And one for sale at the Quilt Complex


  1. I have always loved that pattern, but I still don't have the patience or expertise to make small block designs;)


  2. What a perfect post, I'm in the planning stages of a red and white and I think all your samples have helped me decide.
    Thanks for sharing so much with us!

  3. Thanks for another wonderful post! I didn't realize the pattern dated back into the late 1700's. Wow! I've always loved Irish Chain quilts, now more than ever.