Monday, March 21, 2011

Cats On Quilts

Appliqued sampler by Susan Rodgers, 1867
Brooklyn, New York
Collection of the Smithsonian Institution

People often write to ask me about symbolism in Civil-War-era quilts. My standard answer is we cannot presume to know what a long-ago quilter was thinking when she made her quilt.

Although there are exceptions....  I came across the quilt above when I was looking for 1860s samplers with patriotic symbols on them. There are several patriotic, Christian, Masonic and other fraternal symbols in Susan Rodgers's 1868 quilt. The meaning of  images like an anchor and a triple link chain (Christian hope and Odd Fellows Fraternity) is easily understandable today.
But I am not enthusiastic about ferreting out symbolism that isn't obvious in today's culture.

This image of cats and birds on Susan Rodgers's quilt probably has no deeper meaning than
"Watch out, birds!"

See more about her quilt by clicking here:

But that darn cat.

Sampler dated 1868 Willimantic, Connecticut from an online auction.

You see him occasionally in quilts from the 1860s.
It's a front view, he has his tail curled around him
and his legs are indicated by two reverse appliqued holes.

Here he is with whiskers from the 1867 Reconciliation quilt by Lucinda Honstain.
It's in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum.

Lucinda put two versions of the cat on her quilt

She also did a tiger cat on a calico pillow. See a photo of the whole quilt:
It's number 2001.011.0001in the IQSC Collection.

Well, Lucinda was from Brooklyn too.
And the pictorial quilts are both dated 1867.
I don't know what it all means.

Sandi Fox did a nice little gift book called Cats on Quilts Years Ago.
She found another of the same cat.

A yellow cat in an Irish Chain

Here's the cover of Sandi's book.

(I have to guess the graphic artist who did the cover was from Brooklyn too as the top right creature is not a cat. It's an opossum, something we have in abundance in the woods across the street from my house. And in my yard late at night.)

The story of opossums on quilts is another story for another post. The topic today is Cats on Quilts. So keep your eyes open for cats on quilts from the 19th-century.

No, Roseanne, not those kind of cats on quilts.


  1. Your post was such a pleasure to read today, definitely made me chuckle. I love the image of the cat watching the birds on Susan Rogers quilt.

  2. I love that book, lots of inspiration. I did make a version of a wall hanging using wools and fabric.


  3. Hi Barbara! I own an early 20th century quilt (signed!) from KY that has cats all over! I love your post--- I ve never seen any other cats on quilts. Here's my blog post link, scroll down for cat quilt pix..

    lizzy at gone to the beach


  4. Cats on Quilts! I never know what I'll find on your blog, but it's always interesting.

  5. Barbara,
    I love the cat on the quilt in the last photo- Our cat Mars, thinks that I make quilts just for her pleasure.
    She checks out every new quilt that I make- She thinks that I make them just for her... LOL
    A very interesting post.

  6. What a fun post! Thanks! Are there ever dogs on quilts? :)

  7. Dogs, of course. More in another post.

  8. I have a whiskerless 'Susan Rodgers' cat on my circa 1890 cheddar crazy quilt top. It can be seen on my post on cat and horses on quilts


    It is nice to see the earlier version. Thanks.
    Sandra Starley

  9. Love that rotund 1860s moggie - definitely one that is due for a revival :-)