QUILTS & FABRIC: PAST & PRESENT By Quilt Historian Barbara Brackman Above: Moda's Baltimore Blues

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Intepreting Old Patterns

Here's a quilt advertised in the past year or so on an online auction as a "Birthday Cake."
Does that say Dad in the lower right hand corner with a date of 1928?

I hate to spoil the party but the pattern was not meant to be the least bit festive.

It appeared in the Ohio Farmer magazine about 1890 with the name "The Monument." It was a memorial pattern. You could put Dad's name in there and the date he died.

Here's another one recently advertised as a "Birthday Cake."
The quilt top looks to date from about 1900 when the maker might have had access to the magazine with the design.
Or the pattern may have been passed around and modified a bit.

Here's one in somber tones, a slight variation with a curved top to the grave stone.
Quite a few were made.

Skinner Auctions advertised this one as Wedding Cake or Garfield's Monument

The blue and white example, again from about 1900, is based on another published pattern.
The Ladies' Art Company sold quilt patterns in the 1890s and called this one "Garfield's Monument."

It commemorated President James Garfield who was assassinated in 1881.
The patchwork pattern may have been inspired by his tomb and monument in Ohio.

It's always easy to interpret quilts through our own culture and forget about the culture of the past.

Garfield's death was, as we can imagine, a traumatic national event.
See another "Garfield's Monument" quilt in the Quilt Index by clicking here:

Birthday Cake by Bobbi Finley, 2009
Designed by Barbara Brackman
Not that a birthday cake quilt is a bad idea.

Just don't jump to conclusions in interpreting long-ago quilters' intent.


Sujata said...


History is so fascinating and you definitely make it so much fun to learn and understand. For an immigrant quilter like myself, your blog definitely proves to be a lesson every time I visit!
I have seen pictures of this quilt on one of the antique store website and was quite fascinated by it. Now, I know!

Hillbilly Handiworks said...

How interesting!! I am reading your Civil War Women book right now. I know you are busy, but if you ever get the time, I would like to know a bit more about Underground Railroad Quilts. Fact or Fiction? Which is it? hmmm, just thinking out loud.

I am going to post this on the Missouri Star Quilt company forum. I think my blog also.

Barbara Brackman said...

Go to my website www.BarbaraBrackman.com and you will find a page http://www.barbarabrackman.com/faqs4.aspx
that has several different features on the Underground Railroad Quilt Code. Decidedly fiction.

Wilene said...

And I own yet another quilt in this pattern found at a Wichita estate sale several years ago. Couldn't resist it since it's certainly not a pattern we see every day, plus I knew its history.

YankeeQuilter said...

It may have been an Ebay marketing ploy...not sure most buyers would be all that excited about bidding a memorial quilt to someone else's Dad...easier to sell a "birthday cake!"

WoolenSails said...

Really interesting pattern and nice for a signature quilt.


Anonymous said...


I am so happy to see you are among the quilt historians who truly understand the Underground Railroad quilt is FICTION!
The saddest part of it being fiction is that the black community is being fed lies about their own heritage. That is tragic. Just like the 'birthday quilt' you are showing in this posting, people can distort the truth.

Before everyone had cameras, or audio tapes etc, people found all kinds of ways to hold on the memory of loved ones. Think of the human hair pieces of jewelry! Today, I would think of them as truly 'gross" - yet they were a real remembance.

Happy to see you have once again help to keep history alive and well with your 'birthday' quilt post. THANKS for all you share with us.

Julie in TN

Queen Of The Armchair aka Dzintra Stitcheries said...

Hi there...happy to have found you...I recently purchased ON The Homefront and love it...Dzintra♥x

Pat Sloan said...

i love hearing the history behind the patterns...so fascinating!

*karendianne. said...

Gosh this is incredibly fascinating. Thank you so much!!!