Hello! Welcome back to Manx Quilting part 2 – how to make a Manx quilt block! If you’re looking for the background of Manx quilting and where it comes from, you can find it in Part 1 here. I was so tickled by the reaction to that post. There really is something about the Isle of Man and its people that pulls you in and makes you love them. It was fun to find out that it wasn’t just me!
I’m so excited to walk you through the process that I learned for making a traditional Manx Quilt block. As you can see, it is similar to a traditional American Log Cabin quilt block in terms of appearance and layout. The construction has some similarities and some differences. (Others have commented that they learned a similar piecing technique elsewhere – I don’t know if those techniques were developed independently or inspired by this traditional Manx version. I’d be curious to know!)
My blocks are made with my Gretel fabric collection. More details at the bottom of the post where you can find Gretel fabric. 🙂
Thanks for your patience while I finished preparing this tutorial. (Writing tutorials always takes me about 3 times longer than I expect them to take!)
In addition to the how-to, here’s a little bit of the history of why this method was developed. As I mentioned in Part 1, the main reasons this method evolved was that it was very inexpensive and did not require any fancy notions – only what was had on hand: scraps of fabric from worn-out clothing, a needle and thread, and literal hands. No batting, no rulers, no rotary cutters, and often no scissors!
Keep in mind, almost everything on an island has to be imported, which made everything more expensive, particularly in the beginning of the 19th Century. So everything already on hand was carefully used and reused as much as possible, with as much material sourced from the Island itself – people even built their homes from peat bricks cut out of the side of hills because it was the most economical construction tool available.
As a result, this method was developed to not require any extra supplies. It’s also traditionally done with big hand-stitches, which would have been much simpler in the evening in darker homes where lighting would have also been expensive.
The strips were an ideal use for scraps (still are!) and they were pieced on a foundation backing in a quilt-as-you-go method. There was no batting (or wadding) in these quilts, making them lightweight and mostly decorative. Heavier rag rugs (also made from fabric scraps) were made as bed covers that would provide needed warmth.
How to Hand Piece a Roof Pattern Manx Quilt Block
Here is my effort to demonstrate the steps of making the Roof Pattern block in the traditional Manx method and goes back to the beginning of the 19th Century.
A foundation square was cut using the span of the hand as measurement. This would keep block size consistent without the need for a ruler, but would obviously vary from quilter to quilter.
The length of the center square (traditionally red, like the American style Log Cabin blocks symbolizing the hearth of the home), came from the length of the middle finger. For me that was 3″.
The width of the surrounding strips were measured from the length of the base of the thumb joint to the bottom of the thumbnail. For me that was 2″. All fabric pieces would have been torn after an initial cut with a knife or by biting, but I was lazy and used a ruler and rotary cutter because I am a wimp. 😉
I think that cutting system is pretty ingenious! No ruler needed, and every maker would have different size blocks or strips, but they would all be perfectly proportioned for each maker.
If you choose to make your own, you can of course use a ruler and or cut them to any size.
The next step to prepare and “mark” the backing fabric is equally clever as it creates a simple guide for uniform strips without any other kind of measurement. First, fold the backing square on both diagonals to get an X in the fabric.
Using the X creases as a guide, center the ‘hearth’ square in the middle of the foundation fabric.
The next step is to create a grid guide for placing the fabric “logs”. Again, no ruler or math required. Simply fold the edge of the foundation square up to meet the edge of the center hearth square. Finger press to crease at the fold.
Now fold again, bringing the creased fold up to meet the edge of the hearth square and crease the fabric again at the new fold. Repeat steps on all four sides.
This will mark 3 even crease lines on all four sides of the center hearth square. You’ll later use these lines as guides.
Place the first ‘log’ or 2″ strip at the top of the hearth square matching the raw edges. Keeping the knot on the front of your work, hand stitch at about a 1/4″ seam allowance using a running stitch. (You could do this by machine if you want. I enjoyed having a little handwork project to carry around.) As you can see, I didn’t stress about beautiful stitches or an accurate seam allowance (so liberating, right?!) – you’ll see why in a minute.
Also, don’t cut your thread. A 1/4″ before the end of the strip, drop the needle and thread to the back of the foundation block – you’ll bring the needle up when you add each new strip and continue to stitch.
(PS Traditionally with this block, as with log cabin blocks, start with a light colored log, rather than a dark. In my excitement to start this project I picked up a blue/dark strip, so there are more light logs than dark logs in my blocks. This is not the end of the world.)
Now fold the first ‘log’ strip back and line up the outside edge with the first crease in the foundation square. These creases, or fold lines, on the backing fabric are what creates the uniform-sized logs.
Pin the strip in place to keep in from slipping out of place before adding the next log. Rotate the foundation block clockwise 90 degrees, ready to add your next log.
Instead of folding the strip all the back for a nice, flat open seam like we traditionally do in quilting, this will create about a 1/4″ pleat at each seam. The pleats in the block nicely hides the big stitches as well as adds extra weight to the quilt, where batting was not available.
The guide in the home (see video in Part 1) did tell us that the quilts weren’t necessarily used for warmth – that heavy rag rugs would have been used on beds for real warmth.
When working on this project I kept a pile of light 2″ strips and a pile of dark 2″ strips next to me while I stitched. When it came time to add the next log/strip I just trimmed the end with my scissors before stitching it in place. Again, so very little measuring and math.
Repeat the same step, adding another log, this time along the edge of both pieces. It’s traditional to keep all of the logs the same width, but don’t stress about the perfect length of your logs – you can always trim after the log is stitched in place.
Bring the needle and thread up where you stopped stitching the first strip. This will not be at the beginning of the second strip, but you will catch the fold of the first strip. The unsewn half inch will be secured by a next round of stitching. (I changed my thread color so it would be easier to see, but recommend using a light or neutral colored thread.)
Fold the new log to the first crease on that side, rotate the block and prepare to repeat these steps to continue building your block.
Continue stitching and folding each strip in place, then rotate the block and repeat.
As with a traditional log cabin quilt, always add the next strip above the shortest log.
Continue to build the block, moving the pins to the outer strips as you go, until you have 4 logs or strips on each side of the hearth center.
Use continuous thread all the way around. (I doubled mine to keep the needle from sliding off.) When you get to the end of your thread, knot it by running 2 backstitches on top of each other before trimming the thread away.
Also, remember to stop stitching 1/4″ away from the edge of each strip. This is particularly important to leave a 1/4″ free around around the entire edge of the foundation square so that there is space to join the pieced blocks together.
Here is a finished block. All blocks will have 4 strips (or logs) on each side of the center hearth square, but the widths of the finished logs will vary in size depending on the size of the finished block.
How to Hand Sew Manx Quilt Blocks Together
Joining the blocks together: first decide on your layout. I used the traditional Sunshine and Shadows layout for my blocks.
I’m sure there are more effective and efficient ways to do this, but I’ll share how I did it. It’s a little tricky to depict in photos, so bear with me. (If someone knows of a better tutorial for this process, feel free to share the link in the comments!)
Place the blocks right sides together. Carefully fold back the backing/foundation square fabric. (This is the reason for not sewing the seams for your logs all the way to the end of the fabric.) I put pins in place to hold the foundation fabric out of the way so they don’t catch in the seam allowance.
Sew the two pieced blocks together using a 1/4″ seam allowance. You can continue to hand piece, if you like. (I chose to sew these seams with my machine for the sake of time.)
Finger press the sewn seam to one side. Pull the background fabric back in place, overlapping the two. I folded down the edge of one of them to create a finished edge and then sewed the folded side down to the other foundation with a simple whipstitch. (Be careful not to go through all of the layers of the fabric, just the two background squares.)
Repeat the same process with the other two blocks for a clean, finished joining of the back sides. (If you are making a bigger quilt, sew all the squares in one row together this way before adjoining the rows.)
While we’re here, feel free to notice my imperfect stitching. I used non-white thread for the demo so it stands out even more. I knew I wasn’t going to have this be a full quilt – it will either be a mini quilt hanging on my wall or a pillow, so now one will ever see the stitches. I decided this was part of the learning and trying something new and I chose not to stress about it. So I give you that permission too. By the time I pieced my fourth block, I’d finally figured out the rhythm, found a needle that I liked etc, and my stitching looked improved on each block.
Remember – trying something new is about broadening your horizon and having fun – don’t let yourself get stuck on perfection.
Repeat the same process when sewing the rows together. Fold back the foundation layers (I double fold one side to get a crease for finishing later.) Place the rows right sides together and sew using a 1/4″ seam allowance.
Lay the seam flat in one direction and layer the two foundation squares over each other, turning down one edge for finishing. Whipstitch closed to finish.
And there is my finished mini Manx quilt. Mine finishes at 16″ x 16″ (16 1/2″ x 16 1/2″ unfinished) because I started with 8 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ foundation squares. The great thing about this method is that you can start with any size foundation square you want. You can go traditional Manx style and use the span of your hand as your measurement, or you can choose a specific size you want your blocks to finish at (remember to had 1/2″ for seam allowances).
So there you go! It’s not a perfect tutorial, but hopefully you can understand the Manx quilt block process from my photos. My biggest advice is to just jump in and try and see what you think. I’d love to hear what you think.