Sunday, January 5, 2014

History of Quilting--Part 2: Four Popular American Quilt Blocks

In this segment we will look at four of the more popular quilt blocks used by quilters in America in the Nineteen to early Twentieth Century. We will also explore how these blocks were created.

Nine Patch

The Nine Patch quilt block appeared in the early 1800s and usually was created from sewing three strips together that comprised a balance of light and dark fabrics.  These strips were then cut into crosswise strips to form a row of blocks.  Another alternating strip of blocks (matching the first) was then sewn together and cut into row of blocks.  The first set of strips would be typically a dark fabric, then a light for contrast, then another dark.  The second set of strips would be the reverse of a light strip, then a dark in the center, then another light strip.  Once the strips were sewn and cut into strips of blocks they were then reassembled using an alternating pattern of dark, light, then dark then light, dark, then light.  Once sewn together into three rows of three blocks across the finished block would be nine blocks (patches) that formed a checker board pattern.

Reasons given for the development of the Nine Patch were it is one of the simplest and quickest quilts to sew. The Nine Patch was also a good way to use every small scrap of fabric available. This would typically be the first quilt block a child might learn to sew.

Some historians believe the Nine Patch quilt was used in the underground railroad as a way to signify a safe haven.  Quilts would be hung on clotheslines to signal to runaways they had reached the next stop on their journey.

Log Cabin

The Log Cabin quilt block is one of the most popular of all patchwork blocks.  This pattern represented home due to it's being fashioned out of a similar pattern used to created real log cabins. Generally the center of the block was done in red to symbolize the hearth of the home.

The name, Log Cabin, comes from the use of narrow strips of fabric (known as the logs) that are arranged around a center square.  The strips were straight cuts and a combination of strips the could utilize most fabric scraps.  It was a method of recycling fabric.

Log Cabin patterns were often worked in two color schemes--lights and darks.  They were then divied in the middle so that this represented the rising sun in the east and the setting sun in the west. This technique is sometimes called the Sunshine and Shadow pattern.

It is rumored that the Log Cabin quilts were created by supporters of the underground railroad as a way to provide codes the slave runaways or may have also signified a safe haven like the Nine Patch Quilt.


The Pinwheel quilt appeared in the nineteen century and was a move to a little more decorative block.  Like many other pieced quilts in this time it could be created from scraps of fabric from clothing or left over cloth from clothes making.  It was simply a square block cut from 2 our more fabrics then cut from one corner to another to create triangles.  The triangles were then sewn back together using one of each color then four finished blocks were rotated to create the fan blades of a pinwheel.

While quilts have served many purposes through the ages, in the nineteenth century they were primarily for practical purposes.  The beauty of the quilt was often not a consideration.  Quilts served as door and window coverings, bedding, and wall coverings.  They also sometimes were used to create a privacy wall or to block off areas of a cabin.  A quilt with a little more flare, like the pinwheel, was a welcome distraction.  Nineteenth century women typically did not have a lot of time to spend of creating new designs but the pinwheel would have been easy to create and sew.

Double Wedding Ring

In the early twentieth century women's tastes shifted away from dark colors. They began to prefer softer colors and pastels. This may have been in part due to the greige fabric created in textile mills to set of textile runs. This fabric was then used to make flour sacks which in turn was used for clothing and quilts.

The Double Wedding Ring pattern was perfect for these fabrics. By now women could either cut patterns from newspapers to then cut out quilt pieces or they could order patterns and whole kits from catalogues.  Pre-cut kits had finally made their way to the market but often these were expensive and not affordable to all. 

While the Double Wedding Ring is considered quite old, the first published pattern of this quilt did not appear until about 1928 in Capper's Weekly.  The pieces are small curved pieces pieced together to form two curved rows with a center ovalish shape and outer triangles that are curved on their insides.  The quilts were very labor intensive and often given as wedding gifts.

A Foundation for Modern Quilting

The four featured blocks are still very popular in the Twenty-First century and are used in both traditional and modern quilt techniques today.  Many variations of these four have been created to give a fresh look to older ideas.  Quilt of old were for more practical purposes than today however they are still works of art and involve lots of commitment and time to create on behalf of the quilter.


Quilt Discovery Experience:

Quilts of the 1800s, Debra Pachucki, eHow Contributor: 8653323_ quilts-1800s.html