Saturday, June 4, 2011

I Was Just Thinkin'....

This month, I started thinking about how many quilts we see "come and go" across time. We spot one at a quilt show whose beauty and creativity knocks our socks off... and then we are on to spot the next one. Sometimes it pays to take a look backwards and remind ourselves of what we've seen that inspired us -- and why! I decided to take a walk down memory lane by showing you some photos of old quilts. These quilts have stood the test of time -- but I want to look at them through the lens of what made them great... and keeps them great. Join me!

Probably the most unusual thing about this quilt (from today's perspective) is that it is basically brown and blue with a touch of pink. There's nothing odd about a brown and blue quilt - but the intricacy of the designs, all jumbled together, dazzles the eye.

Here's a close-up of the interior border -- you can see the colors a bit better here, along with the repetitive motifs: 6-pointed stars and hexagons, flowers and butterflies, hearts and flowerpots... And, again, it's not the colors or the motifs; it's the dazzling array of all the motifs and contrasting colors, together in the same quilt. It's amazing!

In the red and white quilt, below, the piecing is phenomenal. Think about it: quiltmakers of a hundred or more years ago were working with simple tools; they had cardboard templates for the piecing, which was often done entirely by hand. It's a wonder that a block of this complexity could be made so well. This quiltmaker added a unique floral border which softens the hard edges of the geometric blocks. How many of us would have the patience to tackle a quilt like this without a rotary cutter and ruler? Similarly, here's another quilt that was made before the advent of rotary cutters. The Carolina Lily is seen in many early quilts - but today's quilt makers often avoid this block because of the many set-in seams. It is a block that deserves to be tried, though -- it offers many different setting opportunities to quilters.
The Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt below was made entirely of silk. It is so fragile today that it was displayed on a wedge-shaped platform surface. Age could not steal its beauty -- it was made in 1860 and was entirely hand-pieced and hand-quilted.

Here's a doozy, below. There is nothing terribly unusual about it... except that it's hard to figure out how the quiltmaker made it: there are 9-patches, there are lots of half-squre triangles... but did the quiltmaker assemble this in block sets? Where are the dividing lines between them? Did she have some unusual combinations of squares and half-square triangles? Or did she assemble this row by row, picking up the next piece, as required, in each row. Hmmm. Sometimes it's really difficult to figure out how things were done a long time ago!

These old Log Cabin quilts that use stripes and solids in pair relationships always seem to catch my eye. I've not seen but a handful of these quilts that have been made in the last 50 years -- but I've got such a quilt on my "someday, I'll make this" list!
This photo gives you a better view of those color-matched strips in each block. I should also note that today's quilters don't usually use solids as much as quilters of yesteryear did -- but we should just think about it once a while. Maybe someday we'll surprise ourselves with our creative use of them!

The following red and green quilt is fun because the princess feather blocks are so angular, and have flowers between four of the feathers -- and added to this are the quirky birds in the border.

Here's a close-up of those birds. They are absolutely delightful! You can catch glimpses of the cheddar which was popular during a portion of the 1800s.

Talk about a challenge... could you dare to begin making the quilt below without paper foundations? Oh my goodness - I cringe at the thought! But think about this: this quilter did not have a fabric store or an internet or a book of quilt patterns that she could use to make her pattern. She likely drew out the pieces by herself and hand-pieced and hand-quilted the entire quilt. Such effort makes my quilts seem like such paltry offerings!

And here are some cherries -- but notice the coxcomb flowers in the border. You'll see more of those motifs in another photo. This quilt is just lovely -- and someday, I'll probably be making one much like it, full of red and green cherries.

You can see the coxcomb flowers better in this close-up. Keep an eye out for another quilt with coxcomb flowers in it....

Patriotism was ever-present in the early years of our nation. Eagles were everywhere, along with flag and star motifs. Here's a favorite old quilt -- I love the glorious eagles in this quilt, along with the single vase on each side that spreads flowers across the length of each border. This quilter had such imagination!

And here's a close-up of the eagle -- and the roses with their fluted interiors.

The grandeur of the above quilt is quite a contrast with this next quilt -- with its very simple but lovely rose trees. I'm working on my own rose tree quilt and should have it done soon.

Here is another quite different block - it resembles the rose tree, but it is actually a tree of flowers set in a blue vase. It is unusal - and attractive.

And here is yet another red and green quilt with berries, flowers, vines, and vases. The coxcomb flowers in the blocks are very reminiscent of the coxcomb flowers in the border of the Cherry quilt, above.

And here is yet one more red and green quilt. What is unusual about it is that the vases and flowers on three of the borders face inward -- while the vases and flowers on the top border face left and right. What do you think the quilter was thinking? Was it made that way to accommodate pillows... or what? We may never know.

Now here is what you might really call a quirky quilt! Filled with stars, there is barely a spot for your eye to rest! But oh my, the colors and the arrangement of designs makes your eye dance across the face of the quilt! I believe that quilts like this are hard to make today because too often we are trained to create resting spots for the eye, and to certainly match our fabrics more carefully! But it is clear that the delight in this quiltmaker's eye abounds. Compare the last quilt to this one, now. There are plenty of places for the eye to rest... and the mind! The Princess Feather is a lovely block - and the only thing that keeps me from finishing the Princess Feather quilt I started 7 or 8 years ago is the fact that I cannot decide on the "right" border treatment for the blocks. That obviously didn't stop this quilter!

Can you figure out the difference between the last two quilts and this one? The small-star border on this one amuses me - since the other borders all have medium-sized stars. Go figure! But there is plenty of space for the eye to rest, for sure. And of the three quilts, none suffer from lack of interest.
This quilt takes the prize, though, for no resting spot for the eye. It just goes to show... every rule is made to be broken! I love the bright colors in these blocks -- and the fact that every block has a different center block. Wow!
That's all for this month. I didn't include anything that I've been working on this month because everything that my hands have been into are just a little further along, but not finished. Next month, hopefully you'll see something FINISHED!

Until we meet again, happy quilting!

Sue Garman

(c) 2011 Susan H. Garman


  1. What a lovely collection - thanks for the show. I have just finished making a copy of the first quilt and despite all that work I still love it!

  2. Thank you for getting me THINKING. The skills of these women are truly remarkable when you think of the lack of tools that were around at the time.

    I think- time and patience was the order of the day.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing these lovely quilts. My heart sings when I see the quilts from this era and I love to make replicas of some. If only I had more time LOL.
    I'm just about to start your design Friends of Baltimore and want to thank you for such a masterpiece.
    Hugs Jan Mac

  4. I saw most of these at chicago last year, just love viewing the older masterpieces! cw

  5. Sue, when we think of the quiltmakers of the past, we imagine them making utility quilts to keep their families warm. These quilts show that they liked to enjoy the process of making quilts; they wanted some whimsey in their lives. These quilts are fun-and they can still make us smile, even while we learn from them.

  6. Thank you for showing us these quilts. It is always great to look back in time (or linen cupboards) to find the treasures made with love and talent of other generations. I especially liked the cherry and coxcomb flower quilt. I am going to search out that pattern. Thanks again

  7. What a wonderful quilt show you produced. Your observations and comments were awesome. What a quilt education you have given us. Thank you.

    Ardis in Oregon

  8. Thank you for sharing these amazing quilts. If we just knew what they were thinking when they made them, oh how wonderful that would be.

  9. Wonderful work in carrying on the traditions. A trip last weekend to the New England Quilt Museum was inspiring for hand quilting. The Lowell Quilt show this weekend confirmed that hand quilting is a very distinctive and rare thing these days.