Several years ago my sister became interested in genealogy and she spent many hours tracing our family tree. The result was lineage that went back several generations, although she never found the elusive “three O’Cara brothers from Ireland” that my father always claimed were the immigrants who settled in America. More recently my sister submitted one of the now popular DNA ancestry tests, and the results did, indeed, confirm that the largest part of our heritage is Irish.
Over the past year I’ve worked on three different Irish Chain quilts. This pattern first became popular in the US in the early 1800’s, and it has remained a favorite of quilters through the ensuing decades. It has the benefit of being a strong design, especially when the colors are of high contrast, yet its construction isn’t as difficult as it appears. It has a large area that lends itself to show off quilting or to feature a favorite fabric.
The first quilt was my own work – pieced in between working on customer projects. I’d been wanting to make a Double Irish Chain for some time, and when perusing my stash I realized I had a pleasing combination of fabrics that would make a queen size spread. I quilted it on my longarm, using a design called Drunken Feathers.
By using batiks in deep rose and blue, a member of my quilting group put a modern spin on this traditional pattern. She didn’t want any sharp points in the quilting, so I found a design called Beaded Curtain that met this criteria. She is finishing the borders on her home machine, with an entwined rope design.
The third quilt had a long history before even coming to me. A friend started it for her daughter over 25 years ago. The daughter had picked out the fabrics, and although my friend got the top all pieced (the only quilt she’s ever made) she never tackled the quilting. The finished top, backing, batting, and fabric for the binding stayed together through a few moves, and finally ended up with me for finishing. My friend wanted a strong Irish design to go with the theme of the quilt, so we decided on a clover done in Kelly green.
It is true that in addition to myself, these two other quilters have a family history that embraces Irish roots. Whether every family story is true or not, the links we feel, or imagine, can be a source of comfort, connection, and pride. My grandfather used to ask my father and his eight siblings, “What would you be if you weren’t Irish?” In unison they would respond, “I don’t know. What would we be?” And his response, which I’m sure he said with a twinkle in his eye, was, “You’d be embarrassed!”