Friday, March 9, 2012

Quilt As You Go

Nancy Bryan sent photos of an antique quilt she bought a while ago.
A popular nine-patch (BlockBase # 1645) with a lot of names:
  • Double Monkey Wrench
  • Churn Dash
  • Shoo Fly 

Sashed with green calico. She wanted to share the pictures because it was, as she said, "Quilt As You Go."
The sashing pattern repeats on the reverse.
She had no idea the technique went back this far.

Each block has been individually quilted and then machine bound with green calico.

The finished blocks were then whip-stitched together by hand.

My first thought: A Civil War Soldiers's Aid Society Quilt. Several surviving examples were done using this finishing method.
But no. The fabrics are too late. That minty green on white and vivid blue are so 1880s.
(Do notice the top blue print above is a variation of Lane's Net---no clue to date, but interesting.)

Many of the fabrics offer few clues. Green calicos and madder browns---19th century---too broad a range.

The quilting is done by machine too---there's some wear to fabric and quilting.

The best clue to date is those bright blue prints. It's not from the 1860s but twenty years after the Civil War.
Nancy thought she might have bought it in Pennsylvania as it was in a file labeled Hershey Trip, but when I asked her about it (I was surprised to hear Pennsylvania) she remembered she'd bought it in Connecticut.
That makes perfect sense. In her paper on these "Potholder Quilts" Pamela Weeks noted that of the 76 quilts done in the technique for which she had a source, 78 percent were attributed to New England.
Soldiers' Aid Quilt with each block
 individually quilted and bound
in the current exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum

Seamstresses making quilts for Union soldiers during the Civil War were encouraged to use this method. Some of the quilts went to hospitals (those quilts are probably long gone) but a few were sold at auctions to raise funds, and several have survived. Pam Weeks and Don Beld have a new book out Civil War Quilts with more information about these soldier's quilts. Click here:

The Sanitary Commission stamp on the quilt.

These quilts, often called Potholder Quilts today, were shown last year in an exhibit at the New England Quilt Museum. See more about One Foot Square, Quilted and Bound, curated by Pamela Weeks by clicking here:
You have an opportunity to see the quilt above in Hartford this spring.
Colts & Quilts: The Civil War Remembered curated by Lynne Z. Bassett
"The exhibition captures intimate reactions by the American public to pivotal political and military events. Costumed vignettes, paintings, sculpture, Colt firearms and decorative arts from the collection narrate stories of the anti-slavery movement, war-time volunteerism, mourning and reconciliation."
Closes May 6, 2012

See a blog post about it by a volunteer at the museum:

See a terrific Picasa album with details of the Wadsworth Atheneum quilt here:

Read two papers on the topic of this method in the American Quilt Study Group's annual publication.

Pamela Weeks, "One Foot Square, Quilted and Bound: A Study of Potholder Quilts," Uncoverings 2010, Volume 31

Loretta B. Chase and Jan Coor-Pender Dodge "The Dublin Quilt: A Civil War Textile Document," Uncoverings 2011, Volume 32

Buy the volumes here from the American Quilt Study Group


  1. I have the new book on order and should get it next week. Very excited to read about the pot holder quilts.

  2. How very interesting. Now I'll go back enjoy all the links for more info. Thanks!

  3. Thank you. You always provide the most interesting background to the quilts you show.

  4. Wow lovely quilts, thank you for the history of them, very interesting. I love the idea of making separate blocks and joining later.

  5. Now you have me motivated, I want to make a potholder quilt, lol. I like the idea of making blocks that I can quilt and then put together, so will have to learn more about it and the construction.


  6. if we call them potholder quilts now, what were they called then?

  7. What did they call them? The word potholder apparently wasn't in use back then. They probably called them "You know, the kind of quilt where you bind it and quilt it before you join the blocks together."

  8. Love your last comment! I can see how this method would have worked well for compiling a large number of quilts. It makes so much sense! Thank you for writing this post.

  9. I have thE 1835 edition of Godey, and no where do I get the sense that completed potholders were sewn into quilts. In fact it specifically says to make a quilt to sew the rounds together so that 3 white hexagons meet in the corners, to put it in to the quilt frame to quilt it, and then to bind it. Little girls were urged to learn to piece by making kettleholders, ironholders, and blowerholders.

  10. Lovely article and so appropriate for the post I'm writing today on QAYG method. I hope you don't mind, but I borrowed a copy of the photo of the example of a military society aid quilt. I have cited the source to your blog. Just love your blog, I've learned so much about the history of quilting from it, thank you!