Thursday, November 3, 2016

Appliqued Squirrel Borders

Quilt date-inscribed 1841 (quilt 1)
A squirrel and a peacock

 I found pictures of four quilts from the early 1840s with squirrels in the border corners.

Quilt date-inscribed 1843 (quilt 2)
Same squirrel.

Same squirrel, same peacock, 1841 (Quilt # 3)

A little additional reverse applique. (Quilt #4)
Similar block too.

Same quiltmaker?
One might think so but 
three of them are signed and dated by different women.

Pictures of the quilts:

Quilt #1
signed Eliza Conklin, dated 1841.
Private collection.

Quilt #2 signed Eleanor Robison 1843, sold by Old Hope Antiques.

 Quilt #3 by Sally Conklin, 1841.
James Collection. International Quilt Study Center and Museum.

Quilt #4 is from the Quilt Index,
Documented in the North Carolina project. 
No signature. Attributed to New York by the family.
Red and green applique.

Three cross-stitch signatures to match the color in the prints.

"Eliza Conklin  Claverac[k] June the 14 1841" (#1)

"Elenor A Robifon
Auguft 8th 1843" (#2)
(Elenor was old fashioned enough to use an F instead of an S)

One might think the red quilts are the same quilt in different photos but there are two:
one signed Sally Conklin (#3) and one signed Eliza Conklin (#1)

They are distinguishable in photos mainly due to the damage to the Turkey red print. Eliza's is worn more across the center where it was probably folded. Sally's has a large area of fabric loss in a sashing strip that Eliza's doesn't have. Sally's looks to be in slightly better shape than Eliza's.

IQSC explains Turkey red's "Inherent Vice" in an online exhibit featuring this quilt.

The Conklin family has been trying to figure out who these Conklins are.
Helen Middleton writes on a genealogy board:
"I have Eliza's Conklin's quilt which is the exact pattern (Oakleaf pattern with squirrel border) dated June 24, 1841, Claverack... I am not sure of Eliza's lineage. When I first started to research Eliza and Sally's quilts (both dated 1841) I thought for sure they had to be sister quilts. I thought I had found the family: Eliza and Sally Conklin, daughters of Benjamin and Mercy (Comfort) Conklin. However, my original premise did not hold up. I found a reference that Eliza (born Jan. 25, 1811) married William Monington Thomas and had a child named Sallie M. Thomas, born May 1831...."
She is running into a lot of dead ends.
I am letting the family figure out these mysteries of genealogy. 

My question: Where did the patterns come from?

#1 and # 2
Three of the quilts show similar two-color blocks, a variation of Encyclopedia of Applique #17,
what is generally called an Oak Leaf and Reel.
What makes them unusual is the little tulip flower at the top and sides.

Quilt #4 is missing the flower but has the leaves.

The similar borders are what make them remarkable.
The squirrels.....

The peacocks with top knots...

#2--some with a little added embroidery.

#4 has peacocks but different vegetation

Well yatta, yatta, yatta, you might say. There are many sets of similar quilts.

Why is it important? It's the dates.1841 and 1843 are the early years of classic American applique style (two color, calico print, block-style, conventional applique with botanical appliqued borders). It's not just that these quilts are so similar, it's that few quilts that look like this survive with those early 1840 dates on them.


We can compare them to some very different styles dated in the same years.

Quilt for Mr. & Mrs. Dandy dated 1841 from Bordentown, New Jersey

Quilt by Charlotte Gillingham Hancock dated 1842-1843,
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Quilt signed ELH, 1839
Shelburne Museum Collection

Quilt from the Larison family, dated 1841,
Hunterdon County, New Jersey
International Quilt Study Center and Museum.

Quilt by Abby Palmer, Maine, dated 1841
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

A Conklin genealogy thread:

How did the squirrel quilts come to look so different from the other quilts at the time? And so the same?


  1. What a wonderful group of "shady-tails"! (That's the translation of the Greek "skiouros.") The squirrel is my college fraternity mascot and I'm always alert to squirrel-sightings. Thanks for today's post!

  2. Love those squirrel & peacock borders! Beautiful quilts! Thank you!!

  3. I love those squirrels must have been popular at that time

  4. Love the history findings and photos. thanks for sharing Barbara.

  5. As a grandmother who makes quilts I would just caution that the name on these very similar quilts is likely not the maker's name but the owner/recipient's name. I would be looking for another person, a mother, aunt or grandmother of these women as the maker. Also in the 19th C it seemed more important to mark household items with the owner's name rather than the maker's. What a delight they are, I haven't seen these squirrels with the Princess Feather tails before.

  6. I was thinking the same thing as Suzanne and wondering if it might not be the case that these quilts originated similar to the "Mary Simon-style" Baltimore Album quilts -- that there was one maker who sold the precut motifs or basted blocks to people to finish or have finished for their own quilts. Love the idea of the squirrel border teamed with Oak and Reel blocks, says "Fall" to me.

  7. I always wonder why they used peacocks on so many of the old quilts.
    Also the dogs.