Thursday, September 3, 2020

Mysterious Quilt: Southern?

Quilt made in the mid 1960s according to maker

Over at the QuiltHistorySouth Facebook group we've been looking closely at Southern quilts, focusing on style, technique and pattern characteristics that help us identify a Southern aesthetic. We can use this quilt from my collection for an example of one that seems to fit a lot of the stylistic criteria.

  • Free-cut triangles arranged into blocks of varying sizes and pattern.
  • Variable contrast in which each block follows a different contrast formula with some patchwork almost disappearing due to lack of contrast in color and print pattern.
  • A Make-do choice of fabrics, scraps from home sewing, including corduroys, double knits and coarse wovens as well as conventional cotton (or cotton blend) solids and prints.
Free cut piecing
Using pieces either as they came (say factory cutaways)
or cutting with no templates or measuring.

Variable Contrast

Variable contrast in a mid-20th-century Southern quilt from Teddy Pruett's collection. More accurate piecing but similar attitude about each block following a dark/light shading that has nothing to do with the next block. Similar wide border and utilitarian straight line quilting.

Make-do Choice of Fabrics
Scrapbags from the 1960-1980 period were full of novel fibers, weaves and colors.

I'd have to say that with all its style characteristics we are
looking at a Southern quilt.

But I happen to know the quilt was made by a young woman from
New York City who moved west in her youth to Cincinnati and then to Kansas City.
The quilt was made in the Kansas City suburbs.
By me.

When I was in my late teens my mother was sick and my Irish-German grandmother from New York City was living with us. I assumed grandmothers made quilts. Here was my opportunity to learn, thought I. I was a kid (then 19) who really yearned to sew textiles but nobody in my mother's family had ever had that urge before.

Anna McNally was raised in Brooklyn

Grandma just looked at me blankly. I never saw her (who had 13 children) do any handwork, but she was not averse to giving me advice. My how-to book was Carrie Hall's who advised using scraps from the clothing scrap bag.

I chose this because I liked the name Robbing Peter to Pay Paul, not because I thought it
was a good first patchwork design.

I free cut squares and triangles, picked a pattern from Hall (too ambitious), cut away and pieced. Blocks were of course not the same size so I just lopped some off and set it together with no thought of balance. 

It didn't matter that the blocks are not the same size.
You piece them in strips and then cut off the long ends
(or not.)

I actually bought fabric I'd guess for two borders. I quilted it in my lap with a back stitch and 6 strand blue & green embroidery thread. Was that fun! Must have taken three years; I think I finished it in 1967 and used it for decades. All those strange fabrics frayed out and it got wonkier with washing.

Now I tell you all this because I do not know why my quilt made in the Kansas City suburbs by a girl from New York would look just like a Southern quilt. Then I remembered I went to grade school in Cincinnati Ohio, just across the river from Kentucky where several of my school friends had grandmas who sent them quilts. My best friend had several wonderful quilts on her bed (I envied her no end) and I bet those Kentucky quilts looked just like this.

A version of the genre

I guess my first couple of quilts were Southern quilts
whether I knew it or not.

A mid-20th-century Kentucky quilt

QuiltHistorySouth Facebook group. Ask to join. Post pictures of  Southern quilts.


  1. Today's blog is the BOMB! I totally loved it and read it twice. Loved the commentary and the photos. It reminds us all of how we came to quilting and hopefully skills improved for ALL of us with practice and LESSONS. QUILT ON! I plan to reread this one several times today. Thank you especially for telling us about your quilt start.

  2. I love your Southern quilt! Great story!

  3. Proof that what may seem obvious (“of course it is a southern quilt”) still benefits from more research to get the real story. And I am impressed that you have kept this quilt for all these years.

  4. So not a southern quilt, but a southern-at-heart quilt is what you made? I love it, so full of character. I used to go to a quilt show/sale that was about half vintage/antique quilts and while the near perfect showpieces were gorgeous, it was usually the ones mismatched points/blocks and use what you have fabrics that drew my full attention.

    I giggled at Grandma's blank stare on quilt making. I have no idea if one Grandma did any sort of needlework or sewing as she died when I was very young and Dad never mentioned any. My other Grandma could crochet, but I don't remember that she even owned a sewing machine. I have no clue where Mom got her sewing and needlework interest. I suspect part was the need to repair Dad's work clothes as I doubt they could have afforded to keep replacing them (he was a farmer).

  5. My ancestors had a small farm outside Cincinnati, having come to OH from Virginia; my SIL's family is from KY--all those ladies made perfectly pristine appliqued quilts with the tiniest most exacting stitches you can imagine. Not a hint of wonky or make do, not a scrap to be seen. I do not think you can roundup an area and say wonky unschooled quilts [which yours was, and much as I love them] are indigenous to a certain area, esp S OH/ N KY. But of course you are the expert, I know.

  6. Loved the story and of your grandmother. Why do novices always go for the ambitious blocks first? Probably because they are prettier than plain squares! My grandmother (who was brilliant at anything she made with her hands - green fingers too!) made a quilted cover for my dolls pram but it never registered with me - too young to care I guess. I actually didn't like dolls, I had teddies and my pram was a wagon train with me as the horse pulling it, so I guess the bedding wasn't really used as such! Such a shame!

  7. @ Kerry - not only because they are prettier, but sometimes it's because we don't know they are supposed to be harder. I swear I had less trouble with a hexagon quilt, forging ahead in ignorant bliss about those bias edges, than I have on some "simple" blocks with no bias edges. Most likely because I'm thinking "straight lines, what could go wrong?" and it does.

  8. What a wonderful story! I love hearing how this quilting bug grabbed on and took root. I'm just glad it stuck to you. Thanks for another great post.

  9. @ JustGail - there is that too. My first quilt (erm, still unfinished - the million ways how not to make a quilt) I designed a star, cut out pieces, hand sewed - Y seams too! In at the deep end, unpicked a chunky fabric that was making things skewiffy and replaced with the same colour but cotton instead. Ohio stars all around the centre medallion. Had to make inserts so decided on different stars at the top and bottom. I still have to do the borders but it isn't bad really. I hate to think what would have happened if I started using the sewing machine - double learning curve! That machine is a more recent thing! I certainly found out it was hard! But pleased that I persevered - even if I haven't finished it! LOL

  10. Great article! And I can relate to your experience. At 18 I started a Lemoyne Star. I didn't know a thing about seam allowances or easing or grain lines. As a result the blocks got put together in whatever order they came. Ended up cutting off the extra which wouldn't line up! Quilted by hand and we used it on the bed for many years until it completely wore out. I do, however, agree with Lizzy D.'s post about the danger of assigning "wonky" quilts to a particular area or heritage, even though we find so many in the South. After all, this one is a prime example! But I have seen many, many exquisitely stitched examples from the South, too.

  11. Love this story of you and your family. Your quilt is a wonderful Southern New Yorker.

  12. Great timing, Barbara, on the "reveal" in this post! This quilt could have had a spot in "Out of Control" at the Iowa Quilt Museum. You are too, too modest!

  13. Love this post, adn your story of your first quilt. We all have to start somewhere, and look where your somewhere has brought you!

    Am so happy to testify about a great spell caster that helped me when all hope was lost for me to unite with my ex-girlfriend that I love so much. I had a girlfriend that love me so much but something terrible happen to our relationship one afternoon when her friend that was always trying to get to me was trying to force me to make love to her just because she was been jealous of her friend that i was dating and on the scene my girlfriend just walk in and she thought we had something special doing together, i tried to explain things to her that her friend always do this whenever she is not with me and i always refuse her but i never told her because i did not want the both of them to be enemies to each other but she never believed me. She broke up with me and I tried times without numbers to make her believe me but she never believed me until one day i heard about the DR. EMU and I emailed him and he replied to me so kindly and helped me get back my lovely relationship that was already gone for two months.
    Email him at: Emutemple@gmail.com  
    Call or Whats-app him: +2347012841542