Monday, May 11, 2015

Baltimore Album Quilts 3x3

I'm looking for a unified field theory for applique. How this miserable task started was I have a new/old applique quilt with three different blocks. It looks Baltimore-ish to me. The blocks aren't layered flowers, triple bowknots, white roses or the wreath above: simpler designs. (More later about that quilt.)

So I thought I'd try to find the three patterns in Baltimore Album quilts.

Not actually my files. Mine aren't this neat.

My files (both paper and digital) are a mess.

Joyce Gross and Cuesta Benberry comparing notes.

If only Cuesta and Joyce were around. Many years ago when computers first became practical we did a numbering system for every Baltimore album (BAQ) in our files. I never talked the dynamic duo into computerizing their files but they had some mighty nice notebooks full of every BAQ we ever saw---hundreds in numerical order and we could find them in a minute. (I'd guess their notebooks are with their papers: Joyce's at the Briscoe Center in Texas, Cuesta's at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York---UPDATE: Merikay reminds me they are at MSU's Museum in East Lansing Michigan.)

I thought maybe I could apply our numbering system to my pictorial files. As I recall, we started with the number of  blocks in the set. 3 times 3 = 3x3. We also added border info since there are fewer border possibilities than block possibilities. We could instantly say it was a 3x3 with an appliqued border and see if we already had a picture.

Therefore the quilt below would be a 3x3. I arbitrarily made it 3x3-1.

3x3-2 is an old black and white picture from 1983

 I found I had seven examples based on a 3x3 set. Some of these quilts are small but most are large: 84" across.

This last one is a recent addition. It's in the DAR Museum's
Eye on Elegance exhibit. See this link:

Once I had the BAQ's numbered I was sure I could find the applique patterns I was looking for. I can now coordinate the numbers in my Encyclopedia of Applique for many of the simple designs.

BAQ #3x3-1-A3
Encyclopedia # 05.55 variation

And I feel a lot better now. This block in the quilt at the top of
the page has both a BAQ number and an Encyclopedia of Applique Number.

There are two variations in my pattern index.

#5.54 is from an unnamed album quilt dated 1844.

#5.55 is from a quilt in the Shelburne Museum. They gave the 19th-century quilt a 20th-century name: Laurel Leaves. 
Stella Rubin has a great example for sale. She calls it
Laurel Leaves, which is the standard name today.

Here are two variations from vintage quilts.
This one from a quilt dated 1849 by Mary Jane Shoemaker
from Rockingham County, Virginia.

I'd never noticed how consistently the top 3 leaves are colored.
The quilt artists probably didn't think of them as Laurel Leaves but some kind of flower
with paired leaves. 

Block 3x3-1-A3 has a gap in the middle but I'd still call it
a variation of  5.55. Maybe I'll number it 5.56

Well---that block isn't in my new quilt but I love having things in such nice order. And having better pictures than my black and white tracings in the Encyclopedia.

A variation with heart-shaped flowers from Mary Ann Gray's quilt.

I'll keep looking for my blocks and I'll show you my BAQ files in neat order for the next few months. Next time the 3x4's.
The biggest problem will be when I get to indexing the 5x5 section. There are dozens and dozens of BAQs set like that.

And I'll also show you a simple pattern that you could update---adding a patterned background like this mock-up of a blue and white print from my Union Blues line.

And feel free to print out my digital  BAQ index pages if you like to keep your inspiration in order.


  1. How about crowd sourcing? Show us you blocks and see what we come up with? That would be fun!

  2. Oh yes, how we miss Cuesta and Joyce. Thank goodness we have people like Barbara Brackman who carry on with quilt and quiltmaker research! I'd much rather read your research and spend more time quilting. Thanks for making this possible!

  3. And for me it's the opposite. I intend to sew more everyday, but then I get caught up in the past.