Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dogtooth Borders

Quilt by Anne Dagge, date-inscribed 1818
Collection of the Smithsonian Institution

I've been looking at a lot of quilts with the dates inscribed on them, working on my digital newsletter for 2011. One of the things that impresses me most is how popular the appliqued dogtooth border was before 1860, and particularly before 1830.

Dogtooth border on a tattered quilt from about 1850

When you see pictures of these triangular borders you might think they are pieced, but several years ago quiltmakers Elly Sienkiewicz and Judy Severson, researching quilts by reproducing antiques, realized borders of spiky triangles that look pieced in photographs were actually appliqued. Quilters probably slashed strips in regular fashion and turned the edges under to form triangles.

The source for the name Dogtooth seems obvious; canine teeth are sharp. The word is used to describe several pointed objects such as the Dogtooth Violet in botany and dogtooth spar in mineralogy. In her quilt research, Sandi Fox noted that dogtooth is also a name for an ornament in English gothic architecture, a type of quatrefoil detail found in medieval buildings.

A Vandyke scallop or Portuguese hem on the right

Fox suggests the word Vandyke scallop might be a better name for the quilt technique. She found fashion illustrations in the 1790s featuring geometric borders such as a dress described as having a "chintz border in Vandyke scallops." A search of fashion illustrations from 1790-1820 will show many such clothing details.

Queen Henrietta Maria by Van Dyck,
 wearing a few scallops in the 17th century

Louis Harmuth's 1915 Dictionary of Textiles defines a "Van Dyke" as a "pointed scallop in laces and embroideries." The name comes from the paintings of Anthony Van Dyck, an artist born in Belgium in 1599. Van Dyck achieved fame as court painter to the English king when fashion dictated small pointed beards and elaborate clothing with v-shaped scallops on collars and cuffs. His name still describes a goatee beard, but the association with dress and embroidery has been forgotten.

Vandyke scallops in 1813

Fox also defined the edge as a Portuguese hem. A 1917 book Dressmaking: A Manual for Schools and Colleges described "Portuguese laid work" as a technique "chiefly used as a border decoration."

Cut-out chintz quilt with dogtooth border by Mrs. James Lusby,
 date inscribed 1837-1838
Collection of the Smithsonian Institution

A Star of Bethlehem with a dogtooth border, a photo sent by Jane Hall

One sometimes sees these double dogtooth borders in different colors

I tried to find a tutorial on the internet about how to stitch a dogtooth border (or a Vandyke scallop) but couldn't find any. Instructions are in two of my books and in Judy Severson's Flowers in Applique.
Below is a small illustration from my Quilts From the Civil War.

Begin with two strips of fabric, for example 
1 strip 4 x 20" inches of light
1 strip 2-1/2" a 20 inches of dark
Baste them together with a stay stitch on the bottom.
Mark every 2" on the top of the dark strip
Slash 1-1/2" down at those marks
Turn the edges under and applique them into a point. 

Erma's Wedding Quilt, by Judy Severson and friends
Judy does a very orderly dogtooth border

Nancy Hornback, Reunion Eagle
And so do Nancy and Karla
Liberty's Eagle by Karla Menaugh

Karla Menaugh, Sunflowers

Karla has included instructions for her plaid dogtooth border in my book Borderland in Butternut and Blue, available from Kansas City Star books. Click here to read more about the book:

 I love to find the dogtooth appliqued edge used in other ways
A quilt from about 1850 with a dogtooth top to the basket

And a dogtooth edge on a scallop from another mid-19th-century quilt

Here's a detail of a terrific album quilt
in the collection of the Winterthur Museum.

See more 19th-century quilts with dogtooth borders by clicking on the links:
Two from the International Quilt Study Center and Museum
Number 2008.040.0195
Number 1997.007.0688

Another from the Winterthur

Chirp, Barbara Brackman, 2010
Inspired by Anne Dagge's 1818 quilt at the top I put a wacky dogtooth border on my little Broderie Perse quilt of paisley birds.


  1. Love this border and have a much greater respect for it now that I have tried it! The sawtooth on the swag is pretty amazing.

  2. interesting, I always thought those kind of borders were pieced not appliqued - love that first quilt in your photos.

  3. I love the Paisley birds - what a good idea and the quilt is delightful.

  4. Barbara,

    Such a fun inspiring post. I loved seeing all the applique quilts in one place.
    You game me something to think about while finishing a quilt with a border. They all look so attractive!

  5. I love the look of dogtooth border and I enjoy the process of making them too.

  6. I did a dogtooth or sawtooth border on my applique quilt (posted 1st december). I actually made a template and marked the fabric, but it is a small quilt. I will have to try the slash method - it looks easier.

  7. THank you for this marvelous piece. Bonnie