Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Moss Rose

Moss Rose by Susan Black Stayman
Made in 1853 according to family history.
Collection of the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas
Gift of Miss Mary Stayman

I've been collecting information about these 19th-century rose quilts for years. I volunteer as quilt curator at the Spencer Museum where this particular quilt is one of the treasures. We put it on the cover of the catalog of floral quilts published with Kansas City Star books.

The pattern is indexed in my Encyclopedia of Applique on page 119 as #37.293

Mary Stayman of Leavenworth, Kansas, donated the quilt with several other family pieces. She was an acquaintance of Carrie Hall who pictured the quilt under the family name Moss Rose in her 1935 book The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt. Mary's mother Susan Black Stayman made the quilt in Illinois in the early 1850s, according to the family story.

Distinctive as the quilt is, there are others. The one below was recorded in the Iowa Quilt Project and pictured in the Quilt Index.

I took the photo above at an American Quilt Study Group seminar in Washington several years ago.
The quilt belongs to a museum in Yakima.

And here's a detail of a similar four-block quilt from the Michigan Quilt Project, made by Elmira Kibler.

For a view of the whole quilt click here:

These quilts have so much in common we have to assume the quiltmakers passed a pattern around. Aside from the four-block format the quilts have similar details. The roses all have reverse-appliqued slashes to give them depth.

Slashed roses aren't that unusual. Here's a late 19th-century version.

Other more distinctive details: Stems on the 4-Block Roses often include thorns. The rosebuds have detailed, feathery edges. Some of the quilts feature split leaves done in yellow and green. The Michigan quilt, which hasn't the split leaves, has both green and yellow leaves.

The Stayman family called their quilt the Moss Rose. Gardeners are familiar with what we call a moss rose today, a short sun lover named Portulaca grandiflora.

But a moss rose to a 19th century American meant a variety of true rose.

Above is a Currier and Ives print, The Moss Rose, featuring two-tone leaves and detailed buds. Victorian gardeners knew the moss rose as a hybrid with sticky, aromatic "moss" on the stems and leaves.

Here's another 19th-century print of a moss rose,
and below a photo showing the "moss" growing around the bud.

We rarely get a glimpse into the names that 19th-century quilters gave their designs. With this distinctive pattern the name Moss Rose seems authentic.

Detail of Susan Stayman's Moss Rose

Read more about growing vintage Moss Roses here:


  1. Always worth putting aside 1/2 hour or so to dig in to your blog.

  2. Thanks for sharing. They're all gorgeous. I particularly like the two leaves in the last show showing the split leaf, green on one side, orange on the other. Wonderful.

  3. Such a lovely display of quilts and flowers:)
    I agree that the last block is really lovely. And the quilting is gorgeous as well.

  4. Here's another one from the Quilt Index,

  5. Thanks for such a beautiful and fascinating post! After seeing the picture of the rose with the moss growing on it you can see it in the applique too.

  6. What wonderful work from the ladies of the past. Beautiful detail and quilting.


  7. what a pretty post on roses - I love moss roses in the garden and rose quilts of all kinds!

  8. Moss Rose (Portulaca) always grew in my Grandmother's Kansas flower garden, and decades later, I have it growing in my garden too, in remembrance of her. Thanks, as always, for the education and sharing of such lovely quilts.

  9. Would love to find a pattern for this are there any out there?

  10. Lovely rose block! In my dreams I have whipped it up today