Monday, June 1, 2015

Hattie Sprague's Charm Quilt

Top reported to have 1,676 pieces

In 1879, 21-year-old Hattie Sprague was busy at her sewing machine.

She entered numerous items At Sacramento 's California State Fair in September:
  • Two Java canvas tidies
  • Silk Embroidered picture
  • Dozen linen handkerchiefs
  • Two pieces of linen needlework
  • Patchwork quilt, machine quilted
  • Charm quilt, machine worked
Anonymous woman at a machine after 1860

For those who are not familiar with a charm quilt the Sacramento Union described it well in their account of the fair's needlework:

"Charm quilt, Miss Hattie E. Sprague, 1,053 pieces, no two alike."

The description is exactly what we think of as a charm quilt 120 years later.

Detail of a charm quilt from the Pat Nickols collection
at the Mingei Museum, California

Many pieces, no two alike.
We assume Hattie's quilt was made of a single template, but have no idea what it actually looked like.



Charm quilts above are from the Pat Nickols collection.

I was hoping to find a picture of Hattie or her quilts but no such luck. I did find that she was California-born in 1858. Her parents Moses and Nancy Sprague came to Sacramento right after the gold rush and prospered as farmers, settling on land in "New Helvetia" the old Sutter land grant..

Hattie probably made her quilt at her father's Sacramento farm house,
which she eventually inherited. 
The address today would be the 2100 block of Fourth Avenue.

Four years after Hattie finished her charm quilt she married Hugh C. Jones in November, 1883. After being widowed she married Benjamin Franklin Walton, a Pennsylvanian who'd come to California in 1859. The second marriage took place in 1895.

During the early 20th century Hattie Walton went to court to obtain the family farm, which her mother's executors hoped to divert to other relatives. She won the land, which she sold to developers of Curtis Park in 1909.
She died on July 4, 1936. I could find no records of any descendants. 

Hexagon charm quilt

A whole lot of half-square triangles.
Very few quilters achieved the goal of no two pieces alike.


  1. Thanks for a wonderful post. I have become somewhat obsessed with charm quilts lately. I think after you make your first one, it becomes an obsession to make another with more pieces. My last one (made in the potholder method) had over 3,600 fabrics. I'll have to do more shopping to top that. No problem!

  2. Fun post! I especially enjoy California quilt history. And what a treasure trove those quilts are, so many zillion examples of fabrics! Smiling at Wendy: not enough fabrics ... more shopping ...

  3. So interesting! Thanks for the little bit of history and the wonderful quilt pictures :0)

  4. Couldn't help but notice the very, very tiny hand quilting stitches on the hexagon charm quilt. Amazing!!

  5. Interesting story. I love those old colors. A charm quilt of current fabrics would look very different!

  6. I love that those vintage gals used those sewing machines!

  7. I love to read the history around these quilts. Being a Brit, these stories are particularly fascinating to me. You must be very proud to have these ladies and their stories as part of your own heritage.

  8. I love reading the history you always posts about these quilts. I'm always amazed at all the info you find.

  9. Great job on researching and presenting Hattie's life! And the charm quilts are inspiring. I never thought I'd want to make one, but now I do. I think I have enough fabric to cover the side of a barn with a charm quilt. It could be an interesting challenge for your readers. Maybe not "can you make the one with the most pieces", maybe just "can you make one and send Barbara a photo".

  10. Loved this little history lesson, although it's easy to see you have put lots of time into the research. Good for Hattie to hold on to her property, a real feat in that day and age. My question is What is a Java canvas tidy? Any clues?

  11. I grew up in the Curtis Park neighborhood, in a beautiful 1910 craftsman home! here is a link to a very good book about the neighborhood. I recall the first chapter is about the owners of the land and their farm, before development. So there is a bit of history, and photos of Hattie and her family in the book! I cannot recall if the book tells of any descendants, but it's well worth the $18 price if you're interested in local histories and old-time America. Loved your post today! http://www.amazon.com/Sacramentos-Curtis-Park-Images-America/dp/0738530514/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1433529498&sr=8-1&keywords=curtis+park+ca
    Paula in Sacramento

  12. Another interesting post. The last picture with "a lot of triangles" is part of the Sandra Starley Antique Quilt Collection.

    It has wonderful conversation prints including the 1876 Centennial print in which 1776-1876 and Centennial are written horizontally and vertically to create a grid.

  13. This is so great. My Great-Great Grandparents were Moses and Nancy Sprague, so Hattie was my Great-Great Aunt. I just recently learned of the legal battle for the Sprague land. Now another piece of the puzzle. I am also a quilter, maybe it's hereditary! haven't done a charm quilt, but now perhaps I will. Thank you for this post.