An insight into various quilt patterns and their interesting names. For beginners, Quilt is a coverlet or blanket made of two layers of fabric with a layer of cotton, wool, feathers, or down in between, all stitched firmly together, usually in a decorative crisscross design.
Garden of Eden, Jacobs Ladder, Josephs Coat.
If these sound like terms from Scripture, you are correct in thinking that, however they are also names for quilt patterns.
One of the most fascinating aspects about quilt collecting, study and history is discovering the association between quilts and the lives of the women who made them. We see the connection quite clearly by the names that quilt makers have given their quilt patterns.
It seems that every aspect of a woman’s life was honored with a quilt pattern name at one time or another. There are names signifying home and family life as well as names for the environment that the quilt maker lived in. Patterns can be found with names commemorating national and political events, religious beliefs, and even war heroes were not excluded from having a quilt pattern named after them.
done on the earliest quilt pattern names and where they originated, has
not been overly successful.
The first known quilt pattern published in an American periodical was the honeycomb or hexagon pattern published by the Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1835. While we know that some early periodicals like Godey’s, featured patterns for quilt making they seldom gave names to these patterns, when describing a quilt or giving directions for making them. When they were named however, the names were usually descriptional, like the previously mentioned honeycomb (hexagons) pattern, and very often they were simply named “Patchwork”.
In the 1850’s Godey’s continued to publish quilt patterns for American quilt makers with a series of numbered but unnamed quilt patterns. Other mid century periodicals published patterns occasionally, and references to quilts and patterns appeared with increased frequency as the number of magazines increased in number.
In the 1880’s magazines began publishing articles on quilt making on a regular basis and featuring quilt pattern illustrations with more frequency and it was during this period that periodicals began selling patterns for quilts along with other needlework patterns to their readers. It was with the merchandising of these quilt patterns in these periodicals and subsequent quilt pattern mail order companies that we see quilt patterns illustrated and named with regularity. With an interest in increasing the number of women readers by offering columns of interest to them, these periodicals encouraged women to submit quilt patterns by designing new patterns or by sending in old family quilt patterns.
During the next 50 years the number of patterns in print increased greatly with publications featuring these quilt columns and illustrating patterns submitted by readers and supplying new patterns on a regular basis. In the 1920’s the art of making quilts was embraced by a new generation, and the quilting revival of the 1920’s-1930’s was underway. Periodicals employed designers with art backgrounds to run quilt pattern columns and design new patterns. These quilt designers added a new 20th Century sophistication to the repertoire of patterns available to the quilter. It was also during this period that a cottage industry was born, with women selling quilt patterns and kits from their own home based businesses. The number of patterns available multiplied with the abundance of periodicals, newspapers and cottage industries selling quilt patterns.
While we would like to think that every pattern has a name, there are still patterns that have no proper name, and amusingly, many patterns have more than one name. This can be frustrating to a quilt owner who wants a proper name for her quilt. There have been several quilt historians who have endeavored to index the thousands of known quilt patterns and they have done an exceptional job of it. This indexing has also illustrated the fact that many patterns have several known names, and often these names are unrelated. Florence Peto states, in her book American Quilts and Coverlets, 1949, “ It is not wise to be didactic about the nomenclature of quilt patterns.” Barbara Brackman agrees with this statement in her own “Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns”, where she states……”it is unwise to be didactic because the facts are very illusive. I now realize that not every pattern has a name, that there is no correct name for any design, and that some of the names we take for granted as authentic nineteenth century folklore actually have relatively short histories.”
Quilt pattern names reflect all aspects of life. Biblical names reflect the belief and conviction of the importance of a spiritual life, while more down to earth names like Hole in the Barn Door, reflect the environment that the quilt maker lived in. Quilt pattern names that reflect political issues are proof that women were interested in these issues, and that they were knowledgeable of current social events. While their voices may not have been heard at the time, their voices speak out from their work and remain for us to see today. Following are examples of the names quilt makers have given their patterns.
Biblical and Spiritual names include Job’s Tears, Hosanna, Palm Leaf, Bethlehem Star, Cathedral Window, Cross and Crown, Crown of Thorns, and those already mentioned Garden of Eden, Jacobs Ladder, and Josephs Coat, among many others.
Patterns that reflect pride in our nation and politics are, Abe Lincoln’s Log Cabin, Burgoyne Surrounded, Capital T and Goblet (both temperance quilts), Dolly Madison’s Star, Railroad Crossing, Harrison Rose, President’s Wreath, Columbia, Martha Washington Star, Fifty-Four Forty or Fight, and even a Daniel Boone quilt.
Names that reflect home life are Broken Dishes, Cake Stand, Basket, Attic Windows, Baby Blocks, Tumbling Blocks, Puss in the Corner, Chimney Sweep, Dove in the Window, and Dresden Plate.
Farm life is also included with names like Hole in the Barn Door, Shoo Fly, Anvil, Broken Wheel, Carpenter’s Wheel, Windmill, Hen and Chicks, Churn Dash, Corn and Beans, Melon Patch, and Rail Fence.
Patterns with romantic names are abundant with patterns called Hopes and Wishes, Double Wedding Ring, Grandmother’s Engagement Ring, Cupid’s Own, Lover’s Knot, and even Lover’s Quarrel.
Names that reflect the great out doors or gardening are Pine Tree, Autumn Leaves, Bears Paw, Maple Leaf, Birds in the Air, Blazing Star, Butterfly, Honey Bee, Clamshell, and Turkey Tracks. Almost every kind of flower is included with patterns like Tulips, Astor, Sunflower, Morning Glory and Black Eyed Susan.
life is reflected with these names, Freedom Quilt (given to a young man
when he reached 21), Neck Tie or Bow Tie, Bachelors Puzzle, Old Maids
Puzzle, Grandmothers Fan, and Baby Bunting.
Some patterns were named after cities or states, with patterns like Boston Pavement, St. Louis Star, California Rose, New York Beauty, Carolina Lily, Ohio Star, Washington Pavement, and Arkansas Traveler. Every state has at least one pattern, and many have several.
It’s not known exactly how many quilt patterns and names are in existence today. Barbara Brackman in her 1993 book, the “Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt patterns” features over 4000 different patterns. The same author in her book “Encyclopedia of Applique,” 1993, indexes another 1795 patterns.
Certainly the present quilting revival that began in the 1970’s (and is still going strong), with the great number of women and men teaching quiltmaking, writing books, and designing their own patterns will add greatly to the numbers. In addition, the new computer quilt design software, that enables the user to design blocks and quilts, will add significantly to the library of patterns available to today’s quilt maker. Looking back in 20 or more years it will be interesting to see what types of names quilt designers used during these years for their new quilt patterns.
Laurette Carroll is a quilt historian, quilt collector, quilt maker and designer, living in southern California.
from the collection of Laurette Carroll