How Do You Make An Irish Quilt Chain As A Beginner?


Q: I recently downloaded the free pattern for the Irish Chain quilt. However, I didn’t get any instructions, I need to know how much fabric to buy for a full / queen size quilt, how to put the blocks together, etc. Thank you for your help. I am a fairly new quilter and having a great time learning!!!

A: Thanks for your question. The Irish Chain quilt is a perfect project for a beginner quilter, since it is made with just squares, and can be made using only two or three fabrics.

In this method of making an Irish Chain, the quilt is made of just two different blocks. One block is a simple nine-patch with alternating colors, and the other block is a simple square of fabric – no piecing required. In essence, you are piecing only half as many blocks as are in the quilt.

double irish chain quilt
This Double Irish Chain quilt is more traditional, using light fabrics as a background, with the chain being contrasting colors. Click on the picture for a larger image.

That means you finish the quilt quicker!

Many traditional Irish Chain quilts were made using a concord blue and muslin or turkey red and muslin. A traditional Irish Chain quilt would have the “chain” in the darker fabric (i.e., blue or red), and the light fabric (i.e., muslin) as the background.

The quilt shown in the picture on the left is a Double Irish Chain using a teal green and dark blue in the “chain” and muslin for the background. When I made that quilt, I didn’t know about the concord blue or turkey red, so I made it “my” colors.

For a more interesting look, you can reverse the color scheme so your dark fabric is in the “background” position and the light fabric makes the chain. (See the picture to the right for an example.)

irish chain quilt
Many Irish Chain quilts are made using light fabrics as a background, with the chain being a contrasting color. The green fabric is a batik that I wanted to “show off.” Click on the picture for a larger image.

Just a couple of hints in fabric selection:

  • Choose a good quality 100% cotton fabric. Resist the temptation to use an inexpensive, low quality fabric for the background pieces. Be careful of muslin – sometimes the weave is loose and the quality is low. Your quilt may fall apart before it’s time.
  • If you are making a Double Irish Chain, varying the scale of the prints you are using makes the quilt more interesting.
  • Tradition has it that you should stay away from plaids and stripes. I guess quilters stick by those rules, because although I can’t remember ever seeing an Irish Chain made from plaids or stripes, it might be interesting.
  • Try something different. In the quilt on the right, the green fabric is a batik, and I love this quilt. The narrow strips in the border are the same batik fabric. Talk about a two fabric only quilt!

Fabric Requirements for a Simple Irish Chain Quilt

For a Full-Size quilt, with 3 inches (finished size) patches, you will need:

 Single ChainDouble Chain
 Light Fabric3 yards2 1/4 yards
 Medium Fabric1 1/8 yards
 Dark Fabric1 1/2 yards1 7/8 yards
 Backing 6 yards
 Batting 6 yards or 81” by 100”

This includes an allowance for a 4″ wide border.

For a Queen Size quilt, with 3 inches (finished size) patches, you will need:

 Single ChainDouble Chain
 Light Fabric3 1/3 yards2 2/3 yards
 Medium Fabric1 1/4 yards
 Dark Fabric1 2/3 yards2 1/8 yards
 Backing 9 yards
 Batting 9 yards or 90 ” by 100”

This includes an allowance for a 4″ wide border.

Sewing the Quilt

  • First, sew your nine-patch blocks together. You can easily strip piece these blocks, as described in The Beginner’s Guide to Quilting. Or you can cut the squares for the patches and sew them together individually.
  • Next, cut squares of fabric for the alternating blocks. These squares should be the same size as your 9 patch blocks. For example, if your 9 patch blocks are 9 inches square, the alternating blocks should also be 9 inches square.
  • Once all of the patches are sewn into blocks and your alternating squares are cut, lay your quilt out on a flat surface, or your flannel wall, as you would like it sewn together, alternating 9 patch blocks with the squares of fabric.
  • Sew each row of blocks together, then sew the rows of blocks together. Add borders, layer the quilt top, batting, and backing, and you are ready for quilting.
  • In choosing a quilting design, you can take advantage of the alternating squares for some fancy quilting. This quilt lends itself to some simple quilting as well – just follow the “chain” lines.
  • The last step is binding. I usually bind my quilts with a fabric that is darker than the last border. Occasionally I use the fabric from the outside border, so the binding blends into the border.

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