Saturday, July 13, 2013

Borders and Asymmetry

I did a post about run-on borders that make for an asymmetrical composition, often with some real graphic appeal. In the star above, time and fugitive dyes have added to the asymmetry. Those dark brown borders (and probably the browns in the star) were once blue or red. But it's more than unreliable dyes and running out of fabric that created these dynamic pieces.

See the Run-on Border post here:

There was, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th, a real devil-may-care attitude towards symmetry. The contrast in their attitude and ours drives some of us crazy. Others make up mysterious stories akin to the ancient idea of creating a charm to protect from the evil eye. Did the unknown quiltmaker above add an odd block to please the gods? 

It seems more likely that the women who made these quilts never saw them as wall compositions.
They were bed coverings for beds that were often seen from one view as you walked into a room.

Corners tucked into bed posts were not judged for their balance.

And the bed's size might require a quilt bordered on only two sides 

whether to make it cover the sides of the mattress or the sleeper's toes.

Square pattern---rectangular quilt.

People new to looking at antique quilts are always rather surprised
 to find borders on only three sides.

Or two sides

And shocked to see a border on only one side
(although in this unfinished top she
 might have originally planned more symmetry.)

Occasionally you get the feeling the quilt has been cut down
because the borders were ragged.
This quilt may have had four outer borders once.

Our aesthetic finds the whole idea here confusing.
Those of us who look to old quilts for inspiration 
rarely are inspired by a repeat like the one above.

Some of the asymmetry may be due to colors fading.
Was that gray in the border once dark blue?

Some of it due to a shortage of fabric.
We all know what it is to run out.

And some of us are quite clever in disguising our make-do solutions.

You often see rather narrow rectangular quilts sacrificing symmetry for bed size.

Particularly when the pattern is complex
and it's a lot easier to chop a block in half
than redraft the pattern.

The Whig's Defeat was a popular Southern 
design that sometimes required ingenuity
in getting the quilt to fit the bed.

This solution makes little sense to me.
She cut the blocks in half and then decided it 
was too short so added borders to the top and bottom?
And what happens to that extra half a block?

Few of us would consider this a reasonable 
solution no matter what the problem.

Asymmetry in borders and sets is another weak 
clue to a date late in the 19th century or early in the 20th.
Earlier quilters might put a border on only two or three sides,
 but you see the oddest arrangements more often after 1880.

Here's a mid-19th century applique with a fancy border
on all four sides.

Similar pattern with a typical after-1880 border.

In utility quilts form follows function---
It's mathematical:
x = number of pieced blocks
y = size of bedcovering needed.
z = yardage available for borders.

There probably is a formula here but let's not worry our pretty little heads about it.

When you see a composition like this think after 1880
as a loose date. It's a weak clue.

See more about asymmetry in quilts in a post here:


  1. I love quilts that are off, maybe they ran out of fabric or a color or just wanted to finish.


  2. And here I had been thinking that the half blocks went over the pillows so that the main field of the bed was fairly symmetric, and the border-less side was the head of the bed because it didn't need to drape down the side or foot of the bed.

  3. I thought the same as Jean. This is a most interesting post!

  4. Julie & Jean:
    That is a very reasonable assumption.
    Someone should do some research into how they made their beds.

  5. Jean and Julie's thoughts make sense for ones with half blocks at the top. I still wonder about the half blocks on the side. Maybe the bed was against the wall?

    Anyway...Barbara, after lusting after a quilt used for an antique show display table for 5 years - It's MINE! Mine, Mine, ALLL Mine!!!!!! :-) Ahem. It's constructed like no other quilt I've seen. Square blocks are folded around thin batting on the diagonal. Then the resulting triangles are whip stitched together into strips, and then the strips whip stitched together making a double sided quilt. At the top and bottom on the "back" side is a strip of straight grain fabric to keep the bias folds of the squares from stretching. Is there a "proper" term for this type of construction?

    Thank you for any help you can give!

  6. I can't believe it! The second picture is of a quilt I now own. I bought it from Jean S. Lyle at the Des Moines Quilt Expo a couple years ago. It has a wonderful story with it which is why I had to buy it. The oddball basket block was made by the quilter's granddaughter on a visit and she expected it to be in Grandma's quilt. The grandmother secretly removed one of her blocks and included the granddaughter's block to the little girl's delight.

  7. I made this one about 10 years ago for a 5 foot wide bed. The pillows were handled as part of the quilt.

  8. Another pondering on the unbalanced quilts...what if those half blocks were intended to be at the foot of the bed? And maybe the quilter liked the bottom of the quilt tucked under the mattress? I'm especially looking at the solid red Whigs Defeat quilt.

  9. Barbara, could you e-mail me please?


    Wondered if I could temporarily borrow a photo from this post:


    Thank you -- Cindy