Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Southern Quilts

Unnamed pattern from the Kentucky project and the Quilt Index.

As a person who has spent entirely too much time indexing quilt patterns, determined to find the published source for every one of them, I have long been confounded by Southern quilts. These are not "book patterns" as they say in Gees Bend.

I have eagerly awaited the publication of Southern Quilts: Celebrating Traditions, History, and Designs. Mary W. Kerr has collected 13 quilt historians to write about their areas of expertise. She also collected pictures of 270 Southern quilts for this book. That's a lot of pictures, thank you, Schiffer Publishing. And a lot of information, thank you, Mary.

It's the perfect picture book and the information by all those historians is the definitive summary of Southern quilts and what makes them different from Eastern, Western, Northern quilts and regular old book patterns.

Elizabeth Wages Butler, Alabama
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

For years quilt historians have been puzzled by the many contradictions in Southern quilts made after the Civil War. Stitchers frequently chose ambitious pattern that often seemed to overwhelm their skills.  No one ever appeared to be intimidated by too many pieces, too much bias or too many points. Quiltmakers chose gorgeous color in cheap and unreliable cottons that usually lost their color--resulting in an unintended palette that is beautiful in its own right. We see a formidable amount of needlework in thick quilts that kept out the cold and were used and used up.

Here a short sample of topics addressed:
Circles and Spikes by Teddy Pruett

Mary Elizabeth Eddleman 
Historic Arkansas Museum collection
(These are photos from my files---You're going to buy the book
so you can see their photos.)

She says: "Quilt makers in the deep South were extremely fond of circular patterns, particularly circular patterns with points, teeth and spikes....It would be gratifying to know why this is so, but the answer to that question is not readily available....These circular patterns are not for the faint of heart."

 "They are stunning works visually if not technically." 

Pattern found in Alamance County, North Carolina

Alamance Applique by Kathlyn Sullivan
She says: "Fabric choices were limited for Southern quilt makers. The source of fabric was primarily the crossroads general store....Southern mills produced plain cloth dyed as a solid...Printed cloth was not produced locally until just before the start of the twentieth century, until that time prints were imported from Northern mills, which made them more expensive."

Crown of Thorns by Merikay Waldvogel
She says: "It originated in the southeast with examples coming from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee. A quilt in this pattern from Tennessee was dated in the quilting  '1857.' A quilt from Georgia was titled 'Rocky Mountain' in the quilting."

Chapter Headings:

Making Do- a Southern Tradition by Mary W. Kerr
Alabama Pine Burr by Mary Elizabeth Johnson
Alamance Applique by Kathlyn Sullivan
Circles and Spikes by Teddy Pruett
Cotton Boll by Kathlyn Sullivan
Crown of Thorns by Merikay Waldvogel
Double Wedding Ring by Sherry Burkhalter
Farmer's Fancy by Bunnie Jordan
The Impact of the Feedsack on Southern Quilts by Sarah Bliss Wright
Pieced Pine Burr by Mary W. Kerr
Rattlesnake Quilts by Marcia Kaylakie
Seven Sisters by Sandra Starley
Southern Florals by Lisa Erlandson
Tricolor Quilts: How the Germans of Pennsylvania Influenced a Color Palette and Style in the South by Lynn Lancaster Gorges
Whig's Defeat by Gaye Rice Ingram

Read more about Southern Quilts at Schiffer Publications:


  1. Sounds like an interesting book. I am from SC and had two great aunts who were Quilters. They made very very few “patterned” quilts and none with exclusive fabrics (like a quilt made entirely from two or three fabrics). They had to use scraps and worn out clothing. Their made many string quilts, log cabins, court house, etc type quilts. They were very creative with their use of the fabrics they had. Surprised there doesn’t seem to be a chapter in the book about string quilts.

  2. At a minimum, this book looks like some yummy eye candy and inspiration. Given a good read-through, a great source of information on southern quilts. Thank you for featuring it and making my wish list longer.

  3. I bet that is a wonderful book with lots of information!

  4. LOVE this book! Lots of information that I didn't know and even more that I did but sort of took for granted, being a southerner myself. I'll agree with Sally that a chapter on string quilts would have rounded it out. I've owned it two weeks and read every word twice.

  5. I just purchased this book and I am working my way through it. Really like it so far.