Thursday, June 30, 2022

Southern Spin: Block #4 Farmer's Fancy


Southern Spin: Block #4 
Farmer's Fancy by Denniele Bohannon

The Virginia project found many examples of this complex design
and were often told that the name was Farmer's Fancy....

A vernacular name not published before their book.
Another name they heard: Farmer's Delight.

The sketch on the cover of Robertson's 1948 book
showed a little extra piecing in the center circle.

The Block:

Farmer's Fancy by Becky Brown

See more pattern history at these posts:



Becky Collis's first four blocks

Don't forget to check in at our SouthernSpinQuilt Facebook
group to see what the intrepid piecers are up to.

Sunday, June 26, 2022



West Virginia Project
Eleanor Lough (1844-1924)

Bryan Ruppert's Facebook page

Crib quilt from the New York project

D.A.R. Museum

Jeffrey Evans Auction

Stella Rubin's inventory

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Theorem Paintings & Applique


Quilt seen in the North Carolina project. We'd guess Baltimore

It's always hard for us to imagine where quiltmakers 170 years ago got their patterns.

Princess Louise, Queen Victoria's artist daughter 
showing a needlework pattern to her sister, mid 19th century.
We have no trouble going back to the 1970s and the 1950s---
20th-century patterns are not a mystery. Commercial networks provided
more patterns than you could make in a lifetime.

1829 instructions telling us to buy patterns at any "fancy-shop."

But before inexpensively-produced illustrations published in large editions we are hazy about patterns and tend to think each quiltmaker was the artist who drew the pattern as well as stitched the applique. And we are wrong.

See a post on earlier methods of sharing patterns here:

Block in a Baltimore quilt from Stella Rubin's inventory

Many quiltmakers who produced the complex applique we see in Baltimore album quilts in the 1840s &'50s were quite experienced with using patterns through a fashion for what was called theorem painting.

Theorem painting of a fruit bowl

Fruit was common imagery in a sort of "paint by numbers" trend where various stencils are built up into a composition. A theorem is a mathematical statement built on layers of facts; perhaps the
name theorem painting means art based on layers of stencils.

Block from a Baltimore quilt pictured in Elly Sienkiewicz's Paper Cuts & Plenty

1820s theorem painting from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
collection at Colonial Williamsburg

Theorem painting was taught by many, offering refinement to a lady's attributes. 

Taught in art classes such as those of William Haydon
in Philadelphia in 1835...

and by seamstresses and milliners such as Miss E. Wilson in Wilmington,
Delaware in 1829.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller collection, Colonial Williamsburg

Surviving theorems make one wonder if these anonymous painters
took classes from the same teacher or had the same paper patterns.

Collection American Museum of Folk Art
(I flipped one of these to make them go the same direction.)

1833: "Theorem painting has come into disrepute, on account of the bad success of many persons."

Theorem from Linda Rose Antiques

A paragraph from my Encyclopedia of Applique book:

Today's artists do theorem reproduction paintings---something to look for if you can't afford an 1830s artwork.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Fool's Puzzle


Fool's Puzzle Design, mid-20th century.

BlockBase+ number 1466

The fool may be the person who tries to classify these patterns,
but for some of us, indexing provides no end of entertainment.
I've spent some time sorting pictures of designs made up of
the quarter circle in a square unit.

We can trace the name Fool's Puzzle and the design
back to the Ladies' Art Company which began selling patterns
through a catalog about 1890.

The Aunt Martha Company also sold a pattern in one
of their booklets in the 1930s.

Unlike its near relative, what we call a Drunkard's Path,
Fool's Puzzle does not easily intersect and form secondary
patterns when set side by side.

Update: Sue in the comments wanted to know the difference between a Fool's Puzzle and a Drunkard's Path above. Rotation of the corner squares. 

West Virginia project & the Quilt Index

A border of partial blocks.

Again from the West Virginia project, the Mays family.
An earlier color and set style, quilt about 1900.

What's the earliest Fool's Puzzle?

I haven't any date-inscribed examples but the
earliest by style and fabrics look to be after the Ladies Art
Company began selling the pattern abut 1890.

From Mary Barton's Iowa block collection &
the Quilt Index

Continuing popularity throughout the 20th century

Late 20th-century

I have not been alone in my indexing patterns. Variations on this square with a bite out of it have fascinated others.

Pepper Cory wrote a whole book on variations several years ago.
Here's a preview:


The pattern, like its relatives, seems to be more of a commercial innovation rather than a design handed around before 1880---a pre-magazine illustration.

Block with a pattern name attached "Fool's Puzzle"
from the New Hampshire Historical Society.

You may have noticed other names for the different shadings. Workbasket magazine called it Arkansas Troubles in their All State Quilt.

 Mary Washington Clarke heard it called I Wish You Well when she interviewed quilters for Kentucky Quilts And Their Makers.

12" Blocks: If design units are 3" square = 66" quilt
16" Blocks: 4" square = 88"

I don't know if I am foolish enough to actually plan to piece all those curves
but it would be a cool quilt.