Perhaps Martha Milne should have called this quilt Historic Houses
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the House blocks, use the templates and cut:
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