Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Cotton Boll or Anthemion

A crib quilt (40" x 36") for sale in an online auction last year.
It looks to be from the mid-20th century.

The pattern is distinctive,
I'd call it a Cotton Boll variation.
Here are two relatives.

Another online auction

A cut-down block found way out west (well Northwest) in the Minnesota Quilt Project

Applique enthusiasts are familiar with a more common Cotton Boll...

...Well-documented by the North Carolina project,
which mentioned four examples in their 1988 book.
No dots in this design.

Hinshaw family, Randolph County, North Carolina.

Temperance Neely Smoot (1810-1897)
Rowan County, North Carolina

Frances Donohue Johnson, Caswell County, North Carolina.
North Carolina Museum of History.

Since then a few more examples have been published.

Sarah White, Perquimans County, North Carolina
Quaker Quilts

It's #5.76 in my Encyclopedia of Applique.
The NC project heard it called Cotton Boll
and Chrysanthemum.

The distinctive design is based on four rotating
units, usually with crossed stems in the center.

From Julie Silber's inventory

Although I've got photos of variations.

None of the examples I've seen have date inscribed, but the estimated dates tend to be after 1860,
and most of the examples seem to be after 1880.

A mid-20th century version 

This one belongs to Kathy Sullivan who was one of the chief
documentors in the North Carolina project.
She's pointed out that the image is a classical decorative motif
known as an Anthemion.


A page of anthemia from Owen Jones's 
1856 index Grammar of Ornament

Anthemion is a 19th-century name for
a palm-like image found in ancient Greek
architecture and objects, particularly vases.

The word means flower in ancient Greek.

Classical references were commonplace in
19th-century American architecture
and one can imagine that quiltmakers
were quite familiar with the image.

Chair from the collection of the 
Victoria & Albert Museum

Those with a solid classical education might
know the name Anthemion, but one could
see how a North Carolinian might recognize it as a cotton boll.

Most of the cotton boll designs feature the four-way mirror image
symmetry so important in American applique patterns.

For more information about anthemia in American architecture see this site about design in Buffalo, New York:


  1. Anthemia or Cotton Bolls--I think these are all graceful and symmetrical interpretations. Thank you for bringing the examples to us.

  2. I'd love to see you explore the theme of Greek architectural motifs in quilt design. Pillar prints contain Corinthian and doric columns of course. What about egg and dart patterns (are there any?) and Greek key designs? Others?

  3. Is a log cabin design a variation of a Greek key?

    1. Good question. I wouldn't have thought so but you made me look at cotton bolls in a new way.