Wednesday, December 16, 2020

QUILTING THE PAST- Part Two by Jo-Ann Roberts


QUILTING THE PAST- Part Two by Jo-Ann Roberts

“Our lives are like quilts, bits and pieces, joy and sorrows stitched with love."

“The best kind of sleep beneath Heaven above, is under a quilt, handmade with love.”

The first known quilt pattern published in an American periodical was the honeycomb or hexagon pattern published by the Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1835. While we know that some early periodicals like Godey’s, featured patterns for quilt making they seldom gave names to these patterns .

In the 1850’s Godey’s continued to publish quilt patterns for American quilt makers with a series of numbered but unnamed quilt patterns. Other mid-century periodicals published patterns occasionally, and references to quilts and patterns appeared with increased  frequency with the popularity of the periodical.


Quilt pattern names reflected all aspects of life on the trail West.  While Biblical names reflected the belief and conviction of the importance of a spiritual life so valued as the pioneers walked and rode into an unknown land, more down to earth names like Hole in the Barn Door, Broken Dishes, Cake Stand, Basket, Baby Blocks, Rail Fence, Churn Dash, and Log Cabin echoed the environment that the quilt maker lived in.

                                          Log Cabin                       Hole in the Barn Door

Quilt pattern names that reflected patriotic emotions and political views are proof that women were interested in these issues, and that they were knowledgeable of current social events. While their voices may not have been heard at the time, their words speak out from their work and remain for us to see today.  Abe Lincoln’s Log Cabin, Railroad Crossing, President’s Wreath,  Martha Washington Star, Fifty-Four Forty or Fight were popular choices.


Martha Washington Star 


But by far, the patterns created  from what pioneers saw, heard and experienced on the trek to their new homes are still some of the most popular quilts today. 

The Crazy Quilt

The Crazy Quilt is one of the oldest quilt patterns. Early quilters used an scrap, regardless of its color, design, or fabric type. Children’s worn clothing, women’s calico dresses, men’s canvas pants and coarse shirts, and household linens were cut, fitted and stitched together, resulting in a hodgepodge of color as well as a story behind each scrap.

The Road to California

The discovery of gold at Sutter’s mill, near Sacramento, triggered the great migration westward in 1849. Soon it was not just men but families on the road to California. Many of the Road to California patterns involve triangles. Many patterns created during the trek used triangles to represent the flight of birds and their movement. The Flying Geese pattern involved a series of triangles going in the same direction representing the migration of geese. So, it’s not surprising the triangles were used to represent the migration of pioneers as well. Sometimes  the pattern is known as Road to California or at other times The Underground Railroad or Jacob’s Ladder.



The Rose of Sharon

It was no secret that the trip west would be filled with danger.  Holding on to their faith and devotion to The Lord was, in many cases, all that kept them going. A quilt made with blocks named from the Bible would be a source of comfort.

One of the oldest applique quilt patterns is the Rose of Sharon. The Rose of Sharon, mentioned in the Bible, might actually refer to a wild tulip that grows today on the plains of Sharon in Palestine. When the Bible was translated into English, the word rose was used in place of the word tulip.

During the 1800s, there was a custom for a young girl to make a baker's dozen of quilt tops before she became engaged. This collection consisted of 12 utility quilts, and one great quilt, which was pieced or appliqued, as a show piece for a bed. The Rose of Sharon was often used for the great quilt. Many young women traveled West as brides, their great quilt folded safely in a trunk.

Many times the quilt maker deliberately sewed a mistake somewhere in the quilt. It is thought, by some, that this reflected the maker's faith in God; for only God can make a perfect thing.

The Schoolhouse Quilt 

In many cases, settlers went West for a better life, and part of that better life was education. It was natural then, that the schoolhouse was often one of the first public buildings constructed in many communities.  

The Schoolhouse block was often a variation of a house or church pattern. Most featured a side view of the building and were either pieced or appliqued. Depending on the skill of the quilter and time available to her, crosses in the windowpanes and outlines of the doors could be added. 


Not only did quilts reflect the daily work of the women who helped to homestead the prairie, they told the story of the challenging work of the men.

The Anvil pattern represented one of the necessary and important activities of the early settlers-blacksmithing.

By 1890, catalogue sales included quilt patterns. If a woman ordered her yard goods from Sears or Wards, she could purchase any of 800 designs for just a dime.

The Friendship Quilt

The quilts the homesteaders brought with them were a comfort to these women who traded their home, family and friends in the East, for the uncertainty of traveling through vast prairies in the West. A quilt that held special value to the pioneer women was the Friendship Quilt.

Putting a Friendship quilt on the bed, gave a woman a sense of connection with her former way of life. It kept alive the memory of family and friends, providing comfort and company during the difficult days of homesteading.

One woman homesteader said, "When I get lonely, I read the names on my quilt. "

Through the years, quilts have become documents of history. They are the products of their society, influenced by the culture, and the environment of the people who made them. The history of America can be seen in the history of quilts. Stitched into these quilts is the rich heritage of thrifty self-sufficient women who helped homestead the land, the history of families sewn into quilts one patch or one stitch at a time, and the legacy of the art of quilting, passed on from generation to generation.


Barbara Brackman, “Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Pattern Names,” 1993. American Quilters Society.

Barbara Brackman, “Encyclopedia of Applique,” 1993, EPM Publications, Inc.

Maggie Malone, "5,500 Quilt Block Designs", 2003, Sterling Publishing Co. Inc. 

Jenny Beyer, "The Quilter's Album of Patchwork Patterns," 2009, Breckling Press.

Judy Rehmel, “The Quilt I.D. Book,”  1986, Prentice Hall Books. 

Yvonne M. Khin, “The Collector’s Dictionary of Quilt Names and Patterns,” 1980, Portland House.

Cross, Mary Bywater, Treasures in The Trunk, Rutledge Hill Press, 1993

Dallas, Sandra, Simonds, Nanette, The Quilt That Walked to Golden, Breckling Press, 2004

Ferrero,Pat, Hearts and Hands, The Influence of Women and Quilts on American Society, The Quilt Digest Press, 1987.

Finley, Ruth E., Old Patchwork Quilts and The Women Who Made Them, Charles T.Branford Company, 1929.

Martin, Nancy J., Pieces of the Past, That Patchwork Place, Inc., 1986.

Regan, Jennifer, American Quilts: A Sampler of Quilts and Their Stories, Gallery Books, 1989


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