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