Fire Light and Chimmney Smoke

Materials

  • Small pieces of bright fabric for the house blocks, approx. 2m in total
  • 2m of black for the sashing and borders
  • 2.7m of backing you will need a seam (avoid lime green!)
  • 50cm for binding
  • Light invisible thread
  • Black thread for quilting the sashing and border

Finished Size

126 x 80cm (63 x 50in)

Skill Level

Intermediate

You can download a pdf copy of the original magazine pages for this project here, Fire Light and Chimmney Smoke

I’d been making a Jewel Box quilt using a black background and pure jewel-tone colours and had lots of leftover fabric which I carried over into a schoolhouse quilt. I set up an impromptu design wall in our dining room with a flannel sheet, turned over and sewn to make a sleeve for a broomstick which was hung over a picture frame. This gave me the space to audition various combinations of fabric for the houses. Having my bits and pieces in the dining room turned the quilt design into a family affair, with various children adopting different houses and everyone discussing my progress over dinner. A black background looked as the night sky. The idea was for each house to have its own personality and I had fun playing with my fabrics to achieve this. As the individual house blocks were completed I was able to pin them to the flannel and rearrange them until I found a pleasing pattern. I added the sashing and the piecing was complete.

And so it goes...

The top was the best thing I’d pieced so far, I loved it. But I couldn’t bear to quilt it because I was afraid of ruining it. It had taken me months of concerted effort to machine quilt the Jewel Box quilt and I just wasn’t up for that kind of time commitment, not to mention neck and back stress. Hand quilting was not even a remote possibility. So my lovely top went into my UFO basket. Two years later my mother gave me a SuperQuilter (SQ) for a Christmas present.

New Lease of Life

Despite being diagrammatically challenged it was not difficult for me to set up. I played around, doodling various patterns on small practice quilts. I completed my first bed sized quilt, a scrappy pinwheel. I was thrilled! I had used the low loft cotton batting, ‘Warm and Natural’, which was a dream to quilt through and gave the quilt an old fashioned texture. After two months of experimenting I was ready to take on the Schoolhouse. I had the inspiration and knew just what I wanted to do. I was going to quilt a swirly smoke pattern coming out of the chimneys and flowing all over the black background. I used black thread as I was going after a subtle background texture. I also figured that black on black would disguise my mistakes! I named the quilt Fire Light and Chimney Smoke. The smooth movement of the SQ carriage made the swirls of smoke easy to draw. The free flowing design worked well as an overall pattern. After a week of sporadic swirling the background was finished and I was ready to go back and put in the architectural details on the houses.

Being Particular

Each house needed to be different. I used real houses as my design source, taking note of various patterns in roofs, windows and doors even a thatched roof! In order to give the quilt a whimsical feel, I did not do any marking on the quilt. Instead, I went for a primitive look, almost like a children’s drawing. This gave me the freedom to play with my quilting. I practised drawing patterns first on paper and once I was confident ‘straight onto the quilt with clear monofilament thread. In the end, I decided that the irregularities gave the quilt charm. Finally, instead of a label on the back, I machine quilted the dedication, signature and date on my daughter Rosie’s favourite house. She loves it!

The Schoolhouse was machine quilted and bound in less than a month. This was good considering I have to fit my quilting time around the demands of a large family and small business. I enjoyed making this quilt and I am thrilled to have finished it! Each quilt I make teaches me something new, and if I were making this quilt all over again I would chose a different backing. The lime green I chose required green bobbin thread and I had lots of trouble with the thread tension because the bobbin thread kept showing on the top. If I had chosen a black patterned backing I could have used black thread in the bobbin as well as the top and I would have avoided this trouble.

Figure 1: Basic house block
Figure 1: Basic house block

To make a similar quilt

For the House blocks, use the templates and cut:

  • Two rectangles 2 1⁄2 x 2in of colour, chimneys (B)
  • Three rectangles 2 1⁄2 x 3in of black (A and C)
  • One strip 1 1⁄2 x 5 1⁄2in in black (M)
  • Two strips 1 1⁄2 x 5 1⁄2in in house colour (M)
  • Three strips 1 1⁄2 x 3 1⁄2in in house colour (M)
  • Two strips 1 1⁄2 x 3 1⁄2in for windows (N)
  • One strip 1 1⁄2 x 6 1⁄2in in black (l)
  • Two strips 2 x 5in in house colour (J)
  • One strip 2 1⁄2 x 4 1⁄2in for door (H)
  • One strip 1 x 2 1⁄2in for doorstep (I)
  • One strip 2 x 5 1⁄2in in house colour (K)
  • Cut pieces D and DR using template in black
  • Cut piece E and G using template in house colour
  • Cut piece F using template in black
Figure 2: The quilt layout
Figure 2: The quilt layout
Figure 3: Ideas for quilting shown in red
Figure 3: Ideas for quilting shown in red
  1. Piece the house into rows following Figure 1. Start at the top and join pieces A, B, C, D, A.
  2. Join the pieces cut from templates to create the roof.
  3. Join the windows and the house sides (N) together and then add the M sections at the top and bottom.
  4. Join the doorstep I to the door H and then add the house sides J, finally add K to the top.
  5. Press the pieces well and then carefully join the rows together. Make another 11 blocks the same way using different colours. Experiment with light and dark colour to achieve different looks.

Joining the Blocks

  1. Cut eight strips 2 x 11 1⁄2in in black (cut a strip across the width and then cut up into strips).
  2. Decide on the layout of the houses and add a sashing strip to either side of each house in the centre column. Join the other houses to the sashing strips to give four rows of three houses.
  3. Cut three strips of black 2 x 36 1⁄2in and join between each row to assemble the quilt top.
  4. Cut two border strips 7 1⁄2 x 49in and add to the sides of the quilt. Press towards the border.
  5. Cut two strips 7 1⁄2 x 50in and add to the top and bottom of the quilt.
  6. Piece the backing into a piece large enough to overlap the quilt by two or three inches. Press and lay RS down on the floor. Lay the wadding on top and the quilt on top RS up. Pin or tack all the layers together. If you are using the Superquilter, roll onto the fabric bars and miss this step!
  7. See Figure 2 for quilting ideas for the houses. Look at the real houses in your street or on your way to work. It’s amazing how many different styles there can be in a short journey.
  8. Quilt black swirls all over the sashing and borders, creating smoke from the chimneys.
  9. Trim the edges square and bind using 1 1⁄2in strips for a single binding or 2 1⁄4in strips for a folded binding.
  10. Remember to add a label or sign and date the front

First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 11 Issue 12 - December 2003