I was looking to make a case for a date on a fan quilt so
I went through my file of date-inscribed quilts to help make
that point that fancy fans were earlier than more utilitarian quilts.
Collection of the San Jose Quilt Museum dated
The earliest fan blocks I found were several in early crazy
quilts dated 1882 and 1883. Some of these early crazy
quilts had one fan, but this one has four in the corners.
Signed 1884 Emily Sprague, Mattwan NY
In the early 1880s the fan showed up as a repeat block, usually of silks and wools with the same kind of elaborate embroidery stitches and pictures seen on crazy quilts in the 1880s.
The fancy embroidery continued into the 1890s.
1893 Mount Carmel
Collection of the Smithsonian Institution
1894 Ima Frank Richie, Virginia
1896 Quilt Index North Carolina project
Many of the late 19th-century examples in the file
show variety and skill in the embroidery. The fabrics were elegant
silk and wool scraps in show quilt style.
1896 Duglas AcresHere's a signature quilt with many names, and little decorative embroidery
The look is more austere but that
ruffle indicates it is more for show than for warmth.
In the late 1890s changes occur.
One change is that the fans are often combined into
circles or wheels.
Another is that the silks begin to vanish from the scrap bag,
replaced by more everyday wools. This is probably explained
by the changes in international trade in silk, making the scraps
While embroidery continues, the trend is towards less variety...
More of this feather stitch or briar stitch.
Fewer unusual or complex stitches.
Pictorial embroidery becomes scarcer.
1903 Columbia County Pennsylvania
1905 or 1906
Four fan blocks
equal what we call a Dresden Plate or Wheel
1912 Lizzie Miller
There is less skill in the embroidery as the new century passes.
Here's the last one in the dated quilt file that looks to be show quilt style,
nicely embroidered, although without much variety.
And dated 1918
Another big change in the 1890s was
the switch from wool and silk to cotton.
Red and white fans are often seen. Embroidery was rarely added to cotton.
This sampler, dated 1893, is a style affected by the coming of the commercial pattern purchased
through the mail.
I had no fan or wheel quilts dated in the 1920s, which could mean that people were less likely to sign and date their quilts in the 1920s or that the fan fad had played out.
In the 1930s we see a new style.
Each of these three in the pastel cotton scrap look is
New look, new fad.
Style changes that are useful in dating fan quilts
Here we have one with the numerals "81" in a corner.
Someone thought this meant 1881 but the quilt looks nothing like
the other fans or wheels from the 19th century.
It's probably 1930-1950, when the new-fashioned fans were so popular. That 81 embroidered in white could be the maker's age,or she might have kept count of the quilts she made.
It does not mean 1881 or 1981. The style just doesn't fit those dates.