So what exactly is a Churn Dash?

My bedtime reading had me puzzling over this question: So what is a Churn Dash? I know it is the name of a much used and much loved patchwork block but actually what is a churn dash?

Little House in the Big Woods Puffin edition by Allison Reid
My childhood Puffin edition of Laura’s book was printed in 1974

Little House in Big Woods is the first in a wonderful series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder telling of her childhood in the 1860s and 70s. The books tell of the adventures encountered and everyday activities lived out by her family as they followed the Pioneer trail for ten years from the Big Woods of Wisconsin to the Prairies of Kansas onto Minnesota until finally settling – at Ma’s insistence – in De Smet, South Dakota.

Mary Ingalls churning butter, illustration by Garth Williams
Mary Ingalls churning butter, illustration by Garth Williams

The recollections of everyday life for Laura and her family include a description of the weekly task of making butter. Laura describes how Ma poured cream into the tall crockery churn and then lowered the ‘churn dash’ attached to a long pole into the cream, dropping a lid with a central hole over the pole to stop the cream splashing out of the container before the lengthy task of churning got underway. Laura was too small to move the dash up and down but her ‘big’ sister Mary was able to take over every-now-and-again while Ma had a break from the heavy work.

Having read this description of butter making I wanted to know what a churn dash looks like. I tried ‘images of churn dash’ in my computer search engine and received links to lots of very lovely variations of churn dash blocks used in patchwork quilts! I was in danger of disappearing down a rabbit hole …. But managed to resist and instead tried a more specific search, ‘images of butter churn dash’.


Image result for images of butter churn dashThis second search provided the answer I was looking for. Seeing this image and others showing the churn dash at the end of the pole has helped me to see how the patchwork block got it’s name. The dashers vary from simple ‘X’ shapes through to circles with several round holes. Wisemen Trading have a variety of replica churns and dashers on their website.




The Churn Dash patchwork block is simple but very versatile. Here it is in a straight layout and then turned on end in an on-point layout.

Churn Dash 3 x 3 by Allison Reid

Churn Dash on point by Allison Reid


PS. If the photo of my Puffin book has made you nostalgic then have a little smile at the price on the back cover 🙂

Little House in the Big Woods cost 20p by Allison Reid


3 thoughts on “So what exactly is a Churn Dash?

  1. The Little House series was one of our family’s read aloud book choices when the kids were young. It quickly became a favorite and the books were read over and over again. We took an Oregon Trail vacation with the kids and stopped at one of the locations that Laura Ingalls lived in (as well as many other pioneer stops). So many years later, we still talk about that vacation! 🙂

    • Yes! The books are great. Reading them as an adult I’m struck by all the things that aren’t detailed: Ma was busy bottling and preserving the harvest and involving Mary and Laura whilst she must also have been feeding and caring for baby Carrie… Amazing how hard they worked to survive through the Winter.I have read a couple of later books including ‘A Little House Sampler’ which is a collection of writings by Laura and her daughter, Rose. Very interesting especially thinking about the fast changing times Laura lived through – from the horse and wagons of her childhood to the car bought for her and Almanzo by Rose in the 1930s.
      It must have been lovely to follow the Oregon Trail with your family knowing you were following in the wagon tracks of Laura and her family 🙂

  2. I have done a whole lot of canning (as did my Mom, her Mom, and her Mom before her), and it is a ton of work, but I enjoy it. Nothing tastes soooo good as a home canned peach (unless it is the peach straight from the tree)! 🙂


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to the newsletter to receive: 

  • Links into the Worldwide Quilting Community.
  • Links to tutorials and patterns.
  • And be the first to see new listings in my Folksy and Etsy shops 
%d bloggers like this: