Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Looking for Garden Quilts: Broderie Perse

Charlotte Whitehill and her Garden Quilt,
photo from the late 1940s.

I've been interested in Garden quilts for years. Friends Cuesta Benberry and Joyce Gross and I spent many pre-computer hours mailing photocopies of possible sources for the pattern shown in Ruth Finley's 1929 book Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them.

The Garden in conventional applique from Finley's book

Finley defined The Garden, a one of a kind quilt made by Arsinoe Kelsey Bowen, rather loosely as:

 "no actual pattern but rather an idea. No two Garden quilts were ever quite alike, though all have certain characteristics in common....All show a center medallion." Among the imagery: wreaths, flowers, birds, "festoons of ribbons or ropes, baskets, cornucopias and fruits."

Quilt dated 1859, Melrose, Maryland,
 in the collection of the Newark Museum

Single central wreath from the
 collection of Laura Fisher

These album quilts with large central wreaths
 MIGHT be what Finley was talking about.

But we never found truly similar quilts made before Bowen's quilt was published in 1929. See this post for ideas about what might qualify as a Garden quilt in conventional applique.

Cut-out chintz or Broderie Perse quilt
from the Koval collection

Another option: In 2003 Hazel Carter summarized a theory Joyce Gross developed. The design "is reminiscent of the early 1800s quilts that are today termed broderie perse...[appliqué] cut from printed fabrics of birds, flowers, animals..."

Broderie Perse detail

Here's a possible Garden quilt from the collection of the Museum at Michigan State University.
Wreath, flowers, maybe some fruit, birds.....
See more about the quilt here at the Quilt Index:

The wreath idea was certainly popular in the Broderie Perse era which ran from about 1780 to 1850. The one above from an English online auction shows the block influence in the contstruction. Block style eventually replaced the medallion format.

Another wreath with an unusual loopy swag.

Many of these floral medallions survive, each one different arrangement of bouquets and garlands cut from chintz, so it may be that the original Garden quilts were the early chintz quilts, out of fashion by the time Arsinoe fashioned hers.

Broderie Perse quilt from the collection
 of the Museum of American Folk Art

Ilyse Moore's Paradise in Kansas was inspired by the Garden quilt in Finley's black and white photo (towards the top of the page). See our new pattern book The Garden Quilt: Interpreting a Masterpiece by clicking here:

Here's another great wreath of cut-out chintz in the collection of the Winterthur


  1. I don't remember seeing anything like that when I was younger that might have been passed down. My grandmother did wool quilts from old pants, no one in my family did appliqué, that i know of.


  2. Are the backgrounds for these quilts pieced or one big piece of fabric? I'm trying to picture how these quilts were appliqued....

  3. They are pieced. Fabric that wide is hard to find. In the book on Garden Quilts Ilyse and I pieced the backgrounds. She did it one way. I did it another. No seams down the middle however.

  4. I have an 1817(?) Broderie perse but I don't know if it would qualify as a garden quilt.

  5. Such exquisite quilts! The loopy swag makes me smile.

  6. What a glorious way to work. Foraging around for clues, you have to better than detectives,

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention.