March 29, 2011

A Little Quilt History

"Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts" from the collection of Joanna S. Rose is now on exhibit in NYC. One of the beauties the American Folk Art Museum is using to advertise the show is a stunning circular optical illusion quilt.

I remembered seeing such a quilt in Cyril I. Nelson's 1985 Quilt Engagement Calendar published by E.P. Dutton, and I was sure Ms. Rose had purchased that quilt for her collection. The text below the photo of the quilt in the calendar (last week of September if you have it) notes that a second quilt, almost identical and "obviously by the same hand" came to light a week after the Dutton quilt was photographed. It's probably safe to say that quilt is the one in the exhibit! The red and white circular piecing and the 4 corners on the calendar quilt are identical to the Joanna S. Rose quilt. The calendar quilt does not have the curlicues at the N-S-E-W positions and the very center is white rather than red. Fraternal twins - maybe the quiltmaker wanted to see if the quilt looked different with a different center? And did she prefer the one with or without the curlicues?

I remembered the year of the Dutton calendar and the red and white quilt, in particular, because I had purchased a quilt in 1984 that had similar op art piecing:

The circular center is 15" and consists of 468 pieces (!) with a button at the center. I think the center was pieced by one person and the quilt was finished by someone less skilled, although the Mariner's Compasses are very good. The Dutton quilt is dated c. 1920 but the fabrics in my quilt hark back to the late 1800s.

The blue fabric is all the same print. See where the dark color appears to have migrated and some of the white areas look green? That tinge is probably from oil left behind where fingers repeatedly touched the fabric. The day I bought the quilt, I had told the dealer he could leave it hanging up and I would come back later. As I was writing the check, at least 5 people ran their hands over the center area and expressed astonishment that it was really pieced. Who knows how many hands had tested the quiltmaker's skill? We decided then to take the quilt down!

If you go to the Red and White Quilts exhibit, I hope this story adds a little to your enjoyment. If, like us, you don't get to go :( you can scroll down on the Museum page (link at top of this post) and choose one or more of the digital & social media ways to see the show. :)


  1. The red and white optical illusion is one fascinating quilt! However, I think it would drive me buggy to look at it for any length of time! (PS Marti, spring has arrived in Polk County, Iowa, and the real thing will be driving us buggy pretty soon! It won't be too long after the bugs arrive that it will be time for the Iowa State Fair. How are you coming on your pattern book of the ceramic quilt blocks on the Richard O Jacobson Exhibtion Center? Will it be ready for the 2011 or 2012 AQS show in Des Moines? You know I am counting on seeing that book, Marti!) (Sorry, I have to post as anonymous since I haven't the slightest idea how to do a profile for this!)

  2. Enjoyed reading about your experience with these quilts. Exquisite! Thank you too for the Farmer's Wife Sampler translations. I'm printing them with a hope of starting the quilt sometime soon. I like using your templates--so nice for starting and stopping seams because of the way they are angled. Thank you.

  3. I so love that circular quilt from the show. I wasn't able to see the show, but there are many nice photos of it on flickr that have me drooling. I would love to make the quilt. I have a wedge ruler and am trying to figure out how to make it!

  4. Darn! I thought you had made the templates for us to copy this beauty!
    It was stunning in person.

    thanks for all you do Marti!

    Happy sewing