Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Name on the Quilt

A few months ago the editors at The Quilt Life Magazine asked me:
What was the most surprising thing I've found out in quilt research?
I had to think for a while and I decided the answer:  
I've been most surpised by the differences between what we call a 19th-century quilt design and what the quiltmakers called it back then.

What would you call the pattern pictured above?

This quilt from the collection of the Shelburne Museum confirms a name I probably would use for this pattern. Another name I'd use would be Democrat Rose.

We don't know much about pattern names before 1890 when magazines and quilt pattern companies really began to publish them as a way to sell patterns. But some earlier quiltmakers like Charlotte A. Raynor actually recorded the name on the quilt.

Most of the examples I've seen over the years, however, do not confirm my idea of what the pattern is called. The Arizona Quilt Project found a similar quilt to the one above. The maker Sarah Gear appliqued her name and the words "Odd Fellows Rose" in the border. (See their book Grand Endeavors, page 187 for a photo of the quilt.)

How about an indigo star like the block above?
The Illinois Quilt Research Project 
found a quilt assembled  from old blocks
 like this one. In the border is appliqued:
I don't know of any other patterns named for Andrew Jackson. This might be the only one.

For a picture, see page 60 in the Illinois project book: History From the Heart

I might call this pattern Missouri Rose or Love Apple or Pomegranate.
On the reverse of this one is inked:
Mississippi Beauty
Judith Connor's Quilt. Presented by Jane Shelby,
Feb the 10, 1855

The quilt is now in the Winedale Collection at the University of Texas.
Click here to see the file in the Quilt Index with a photo of the quilt.

And here's
"The Peony and Prairie Flower"
by Parnell Grumley, dated 1847,
in the Shelburne collection.
The block might be the peony,
the border the prairie flowers.

How about this pattern?
I really don't have a name for it
because I don't think I've ever seen it before.

Clarissa Strong did us a favor when she created the border in 1854, telling us it's "The Indiania Fancy Quilt." The quilt is in the collection of the Indiana State Museum. Read more about their collection at the WomenFolk webpage by clicking here:

Years ago I saw an unpublished quilt in this pattern. Badly burned, it's fortunate that it survived at all. The applique pattern is one we'd call Prince's Feather---or is it Princess Feather? It really doesn't matter, because on the face of the quilt it says: Kossuth's Feather

Lajos Kossuth was an extremely popular figure in the 1850s, a Hungarian political activist intent upon overthrowing the rule of the Austrian Emperor in his homeland. In exile, Kossuth traveled the world raising funds for his revolution. A magnetic speaker and handsome man, he toured America 1851 and 1852.

Like all publicity-conscious revolutionaries, Kossuth wore a dramatic costume. His was topped with a large hat and a larger feather. The Kossuth feather became a fashion statement. I've never seen another reference to the revolutionary name for a pattern we identify with royalty.

Read more about the history of the pattern at Karen's blog posting:

And click here to see a pieced quilt with the pattern name "Ladies Ramble" on it at the Bergen County (N.J.) Historical Society:
Read more about it here by scrolling down:

So when people ask me what is the "correct" name for a quilt pattern I just have to say: "There is no correct name for a quilt pattern." That surprised me when I figured it out years ago. Now I just shrug and say, "Whatever you want to call it."


  1. Clarissa Strong's border shows what a strong woman she was - love her little G

  2. if cannot track a pattern name, from books, or on line, i just make one up.I'm afraid to say i've done it lots of times.

  3. I think it reminds us of how important it is to sign and date your work! When I first started quilting a million years ago, my teacher said that was one of the most important steps of all. she was right.

  4. Barbara, I love to see pictures of these old blocks/quilts. Thanks so much for searching them out and giving us a glimpse of these beauties.

  5. I'd call the first one Rose and Thistle.

  6. It's funny how the names of patterns have changed over time, and by location.
    In recent times I notice people are naming their quilts with names that have nothing to do with the actual block name, but more to do with the fabrics or colors. Imagine how confusing it will be for Historians in the future? ;)

  7. I especially enjoyed this post on quilt names. I try to name/title my quilts, along with my full name and location. Maybe I need to start adding the name of the block too.

  8. I am doing research on the civil war blocks for block of the month at our local quilt shop here in Northern Va.
    Rocky road to Kansas, is it from the civil war period. I have seen on the internet that it is from 1870. Please help.
    I want to be correct in teaching living history

  9. What a fascinating post with such gorgeous quilts!! I love Clarissa's block - what a quilt! Thanks so much for sharing.

  10. On the Material Culture post today on Facebook, you mentioned one of the pattern names was June Lip and you had no idea about it. Could it be just a poorly translated "Julip" as it does seem to be a southern quilt?