Group of quilt blocks from about 1900
Most of these are from online auctions
Anyone who collects old quilts is familiar with these groups of assorted blocks and parts, different shapes and sizes. Today they are called orphan quilt blocks (No, they were not made by orphans!) but that term implies they are not part of a family or group.
They are not orphans
Wilene bought several sets in the 1980s and interviewed two Kansas women born around 1910 about the purpose of the blocks, for they did indeed have a purpose.
Lillie Mae Hutcherson Webb (1909-2002) remembered growing up in Missouri.
"When somebody would to to a friend's house and see a quilt that they liked, usually that person made a block, (sometimes) just out of anything just so they had the pattern and they'd make it up and send it to them or give it to them."
When interviewed in 1986 Lillie still had some of the pattern blocks
Blocks perhaps from the teens from an online auction
"Just out of anything just so they had the pattern"
Lillie told Wilene:
"These less-exacting blocks do not necessarily indicate a lack of sewing skills. When recording or sharing a pattern even the most skilled seamstress might sometimes quickly 'throw together' a block without regard to fabric colors, contrasts or workmanship simply to give the idea of the pattern."
"She had the [fabric] patterns basted to each block with several stitches of thread." To make a block in the pattern she removed the cloth pieces and made cardboard or buckram patterns.
Ruth Finley showed some "mill-net" patterns that belonged to her mother.
The stiff fabric was much like buckram.
Oma's mother was a Californian, San Bernadino born, so these memories must have been of a California pattern collection.
This practice continued into the mid-20th century.
How many of the irregular fabric patterns wound up in sampler quilt tops,
which Wilene has termed Pattern Quilts?
It was also reprinted in 1994 in Quiltmaking in America: Beyond the Myths (Editor Laurel Horton.)
For another perspective on all those blocks see this post: