Thursday, December 12, 2013

New York Beauty

What do you call this design?

Collector Bill Volkening has been specializing in the pattern. 

Volkening's Collection on display

Here's what he says:

"...Most people call them New York Beauties. A recent search of the Quilt Index showed as many as 18 names for the pattern. New York Beauty was, by far, the most popular name. A majority of the pre-1930 quilts that weren’t classified as New York Beauty were called Rocky Mountain Road or a derivative name. Crown of Thorns was the second most popular early name..."

In an essay online at the Quilt Index Leslie Jenison writes about the names:

"The New York Beauty quilt was known by several names in the nineteenth century: "Rocky Mountain Road", "Rocky Mountain", ”Rail Through The Mountains”, "Crown of Thorns", and "The Great Divide". In the 1930s, the “New York Beauty” title was adopted by Stearns and Foster Mountain Mist® company for an old quilt pattern to be published as a new design. It hadn’t been popular in New York in the previous century, but it was in Tennessee."

Jenison shows this quilt discovered in the Kentucky
Quilt Project. The family's name:
President Polk in the White House.
James K. Polk from Tennessee successfully
ran for President in 1844.

See a Polk biography here:
And see the form on the quilt above at the Quilt Index

My Tennessee friends Merikay Waldvogel and Bets Ramsey were surprised at the number and variety of quilts in the design they found in their Quilts of Tennessee project in the 1980s. In their 1986 book The Quilts of Tennessee they counted the Log Cabin as the most popular antique quilt they saw, the Nine-Patch second and the Rocky Mountain (or New York Beauty) third.

Nineteenth-century names for this pattern became a favorite topic of discussion among pattern historians in the late 20th century. Our conclusion, expressed in Merikay's 1990 book Soft Covers for Hard Times (page 21):

"This pattern [for the cover quilt] was commonly called Rocky Mountain Road or Crown of Thorns in the 1800s in the South. When the pattern was printed commercially in the twentieth century it was renamed New York Beauty."

The Mountain Mist pattern company still 
sells the pattern for New York Beauty

But our conclusion has been called into question by a recent find by 
Vicki Betts of the University of Texas at Tyler Library.
In transcribing a Texas diary from 1854 she found remarkable references to a quilt pattern name:

"Oct. 29  Going to put in my New York beauty tomorrow if nothing happens to hinder

Monday Oct. 30th put in the New York Beauty but only began to quilt"

More in the next post!


  1. Making a New York Beauty (by any name) has been on my bucket list for a long time. LOVE these quilts!

  2. That's cool. I hope we can see the quilt that goes with the notes.

  3. it's been on my list for a long time too. I've got a copy of Bill's book and look at it at least once a week. before i fall asleep! really great collection.

  4. Yes, I'll confess to also having this block pattern on my bucket list. I've made many individual blocks but never an entire quilt. Can you kindly tell us more about the quilt (particularly the blockname) that is on the front cover of "The Quilts of Tennessee"?

  5. Oh Barbara, I call this one DIFFICULT!
    Name mine? "Difficult Journey". One I have always wanted to make, using paper piecing would be a must.
    Beautiful collection.

  6. I too, got a little wobbly over that quilt on the cover of the tennessee book. looks incredible!!