April 17, 2013

Pattern: Quilts at the Brooklyn Museum

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul Quilt, ca. 1850; cotton

It's wonderful to realize that traditional quilting patterns have been used for over a century and a half, with each quilter adding their unique variations; if you google any of the pattern titles, you'll see how widely the quilts can vary within each pattern. The Brooklyn Museum currently has a wonderful show of quilts from their collection: "Workt by Hand": Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts. I photographed several examples at the show; I can't guarantee the accuracy of the color, since it was quite dark in the galleries, but the images will give you a good idea. Please click on the images to enlarge them to see more detail. I am particularly interested in the red and white quilt above, with its design of overlapping circles, which remind me of the drawings I've been doing based on a similar idea; here the circles are in a row, four circles around one, while the design I've been using has six circles around one.

Hexagon Quilt, Sweden, ca. 1880; cotton.

A multitude of small hexagons form circular designs, each sharing white hexagons with its neighbors.

Delectable Mountains Quilt, ca. 1850; cotton.

What a delightful name for a quilt pattern, and so odd. So I looked it up and it turns out that the title comes from John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress; they are one of the rest havens. From this quilting website I found this quote:
So they went up to the mountains, to behold the gardens and orchards, the vineyards and fountains of water; where also they drank, and washed themselves and did freely eat of the vineyards. 

Flying Geese Quilt, ca. 1847; printed cottons.

Triangles form the basis for several patterns: Delectable Mountains, Flying Geese....

Baskets Quilt, ca. 1860; cotton.

...and a more representational Baskets.

Log Cabin Quilt, Barn Raising Setting, ca. 1890; cotton.

Log Cabin uses long rectangles pieced together. This quilt is very dramatic with its dark diamond shaped pattern between the lighter colors.

Touching Stars Quilt, ca. 1850; cotton.

This quilt is a stunning array of diamond shapes put together to make a star, with large white diamonds as shapes between the stars.

This amazing quilt is dizzying in its complexity, and powerful in its imagery. Unfortunately, I forgot to photograph the wall label so can't give you any information on it. Even though it uses the same piecing of diamonds as the Touching Stars quilt, it is only one central star with octagons surrounding it. 

Here's a detail of the center of the quilt, so you can see how the shapes are pieced together.

Tumbling Blocks Quilt, 1865-70; made by Mrs. Victoria Royale Broadhead; silk, velvet, wool.

This was the only quilt I photographed whose maker was known; it won awards at two state fairs. The pattern plays with illusionism, as piles of blocks seem to sit atop one another in endless succession. To make the illusion, diamond shapes are pieced together....I couldn't figure it out, but found the key to the pattern here. I will never be a quilter, but some of these design ideas might find their way into my textiles one day.


  1. Thank you for that delectable quote from Pilgrim's Progress. I never made the connection.
    I fell into quilting many years ago when I was bedridden for a great length of time. I found some fun fabric, many pieces, and needed to play with it; quilting was the apparent solution. SInce those days my work has evolved in France to something more abstract and experimental-mmm perhaps I mean improvised and less predictably repetitious. The delightful effects of the quilting itself, the fabric puckered and playing in the light is my favorite aspect of this form, and has much to do with what I love about your work which offers the eye a colorful geometrical playground of textures dancing in the light.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with quilting, Amanda. It really is a wonderful medium and I know that a lot of artists are doing very interesting things with it.

  2. Great title in that first example. Will send this along to Swedish friends in Mora who are actively involved in quilting, but modern interpretations.

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Julie. It was interesting to me that in a collection that was mostly American, here was a Swedish quilt.