Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Old Fashioned Nostalgia

 In the 1930s Sunbonnet Sue evolved into a sunbonnet woman with a grown-up figure. In my Encyclopedia of Applique she has a page to herself with a variety of poses. Names include Calico Girl, Sunbonnet Girl, Colonial Lady and Old Fashion Girl.

The bow on the back and the French knot buttons are nice details in this quilt. I didn't find a pattern but I imagine there's a published source.

The whole idea of a girl in nostalgic dress has been traced back to a taste in the 1880s for illustrations by Kate Greenaway. Here's a Kate-Greenaway-style figure floating into a piece of faux patchwork (we'd call it cheater cloth) from the end of the 19th century.

The idea of a girl with an umbrella persisted into some of the 1930s patterns.

This old-fashioned girl often did a lot of old-fashioned work.

Sunbonnet Sally here is busy all week with housework and gardening.
Sometimes the girl was more an adolescent than a woman.
What makes her old-fashioned is the Sunbonnet hiding her face. Unlike Sunbonnet Sue she has a waist.

Part of the old-fashioned costume is a hoop-skirted dress, sometimes with pantaloons peeking out. She is often called a Colonial lady, but the dress style echoes the Civil War era, with a lot of Scarlet O'Hara thrown in. It's more nostalgia than history.

The image could be done in feedsacks or calico for a homey look, or lace and gauze for a boudoir pillow.
Notice that her face is revealed here.

As with the younger Sunbonnet Sue---a lot can go wrong. Especially when seamstresses started drafting their own patterns.

Now you see why the sunbonnet is a necessary accessory; it's so hard to embroider faces.

And then there's a weight problem.

Below we have a weight-distribution problem. This is drawn right from the Laura Wheeler Baloon Girl pattern, shown above, but the original design had a bell-shaped skirt---not a maternity outfit.

Another pattern without a source. Some kind of manic offshoot where the balloon has migrated into the skirt.

This one kind of reminds me of Kate Middleton wearing the see-through skirt as a dress.
Sort of.
Sorry, Kate.

And see one more home-drawn variation at Deb Rowden's blog Thrift Shop Quilts:


  1. I purchased a box of cut out pieces that look like they would go together like your first photo pattern. All 1930-50's material in prints and solids. Thank you for the visual pattern suggestion.

  2. Thank you for sharing all the Sunbonnet girl variations: especially the "what not to do" ones. How entertaining!

  3. We buried my sister-in-law today. I needed a good laugh and you provided it with those tortured improv Sue's. How funny. Bless her heart. That's probably why I'm just not going there in my quilting. :)

  4. You are such a good blogger! This is a great post.

  5. I guess these were beautiful to someone at some stage! Thanks for the interesting (and entertaining) post.