Sewing Heritage


Sewing surrounded me as a child. I mentioned the women in my life being adept and prolific needlewomen. what I didn’t mention is that my dad was just as adept. I distinctly remember our house being filled with goosedown feathers as he and my aunt sewed sleeping bags, parkas, booties for a winter backpacking trip. Recently he pulled out the sewing machine on which I learned to sew and sewed up some curtains for his new guest room.

Dad sewing
Dad sewing

He doesn’t have the best ergonomics, but he did a great job.

I have no idea where he got the quilt. He has never mentioned it to me and I have never seen it before. I should say that I didn’t make it. It looks pretty, though.

NSGW Quilt

Back in May, or perhaps the beginning of June, I went to Sutter Creek with DH for a Native Sons event. There was a wonderful parade in the town where people drove their minivans filled with costumed poodles, the local dance troupe danced along the town square and the Shriners drove go carts like crazy people all over the main street.

NSGW Quilt -Sutter Creek, California
NSGW Quilt -Sutter Creek, California

It was pretty warm, so we spent most of the time inside the Parlor building. As I was wandering around, I noticed an amazing crazy quilt! It is made of various ribbons along with velvets and other fancy fabrics, embroidery and event ribbons. It is framed and behind glass, so I couldn’t see all the details. From what I could see, it is in great shape and well protected.

NSGW Quilt - detail
NSGW Quilt – detail

The ribbons are NSGW ribbons, political ribbons and there is a judge’s ribbon for a California Admission Day Celebration in Stotckton (yellow). Some of the ribbons are dated in the 1880s and there is a definite Stockton theme, though other Parlor ribbons can also be seen.

Stealing Daisy’s Thunder

As usual, I was #podcastdeliquent, but was resolved to make some progress so I listened to some podcasts interspersed with the book, Jane Steele. I had to intersperse the podcasts, because the beginning of Jane Steele was so dark* that I was feeling depressed.

One of the podcasts to which I listened was Lazy Daisy Quilts (and Reads). She is the one who turned me on to Jane Steele. She has been working on Lady of the Lake quilt blocks. That is an old pattern. Since I didn’t see any photos on her show notes, I went and looked the block up in Jinny Beyer’s The Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns**.

Daisy's Lady of the Lake
Daisy’s Lady of the Lake

I was confused, because what I saw in the book didn’t jive with what I remembered of this block. I thought my memory was faulty. Still, what I saw was a cool block. Daisy was right when she said the block didn’t have a lot of other names, but it does have a few.

Lady of the Lake n.165-8, 165-9
Lady of the Lake n.165-8, 165-9

First, I saw a Flying Geese type block. I see that there are HSTs****, but they look like half mad Flying Geese. Beyer says about 165-8: “Lady of the Lake, Finley, 1929. See 201-2, 201-3 [these are the same, or very similar, blocks from different sources]. ‘Lady of the Lake, named after the poem by Sir Walter Scott,published in 1810… The Lady of the Lake quilt appeared in a surprisingly short time after the publication of the poem, the one shown here having been made in Vermont before 1820… it is one of the few that seems never to have been known by other names.’ Finley, 1929.***

Beyer says about 165-9: “Lady of the Lake, Aunt Martha series: The Quilt Fair Comes to You, ca.1933. Also known as: Pennsylvania Pineapple, Aunt Martha series: The Quilt Fair Comes to You, ca.1933.

Lady of the Lake n.191-8, 191-9
Lady of the Lake n.191-8, 191-9

Multiple listings were given in Beyer’s book, so I went on to the next one. These look like an evolution from the Cake Stand block, though I don’t know which came first, so I can’t say which evolved from which, if they did.

The above are more like Daisy’s block and more like what I was thinking Lady of the Lake looked like. Beyer writes about 191-8 “Double Sawtooth, Nancy Page, Birmingham News, Jul 16, 1940.” No AKA.

Beyer writes about 191-9 “Lady of the Lake, Ladies Art Company, 1987. Also known as: Hills of Vermont, Nancy Page, Birmingham News, Aug 9, 1938.”

Lady of the Lake n.322-5
Lady of the Lake n.322-5

There is a final reference in Beyer’s book, n.322-5 and it is also named Lady of the Lake. Beyer writes “Lady of the Lake, Nancy Cabot, Chicago Tribune, Jun 17, 1933. Also known as: Galahad’s Shield, Nancy Cabot, Chicago Tribune, Oct 23, 1937.” I find it interesting that the alternative name also references the Arthur legend.

My little spiral into research led me away from the original questions, which was what Daisy’s blocks looked like. She was kind enough to send me the photo above so I could see.












*I did end up liking Jane Steele and would recommend you read it. Read Jane Eyre first. Though it is not necessary, Jane Steele refers often to the content of Jane Eyre. I enjoyed Jane Eyre and thought it was one of the better, and less confusing, of the classics.

**If you still haven’t purchased The Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns, you really need to do so. It is such a great resources for inspiration and history. Go buy it NOW!

***While patterns may have been created much earlier, the references in Beyer’s book refers to the first time she was able to find a published reference.

****BTW, if you plan to make this block, check out the Triangle Technique to make eight at a time.

Off the Beaten Path: Roses

Nanny's Crochet Rose
Nanny’s Crochet Rose

I was at Craft Night last night when my SILs showed me a piece by their grandmother (DH’s grandmother also). They had gone through her bag of crochet, which SIL#2 has had since she died. They wanted to make something out of the pieces for our niece who is getting married in April.

We have, or had, a doily that was similar made by my great grandmother (Grama Johnson). I showed my mom and she thinks the cream portion is tatted and the rose and leaves are crocheted. I don’t tat or crochet so I have no idea. I have seen tatting and the outer cream work does look like tatting.

Of course, I did a web search to see what I could find. Lots of Etsy patterns that were not relevant. I did find Picmia, which has lots of flowers. What I would really like to see is an index of patterns by technique.

I thought that Workbasket, an older magazine that I believe is out of print might have been a source of the pattern. I found a pay per view resource. It has a free history of the magazine. This is clearly a labor of love, however I found it a little difficult to navigate. I also found an index of Tatting patterns from Workbasket. I didn’t find the pattern for the piece above.

In my web travels, I found some interesting sites. Needlenthread has online resources that include historic needlework sites, coloring pages and vintage pattern sites. The resources appear mostly to be about embroidery.

This is the sort of reference project into which, as a librarian, I could sink my teeth. Too bad nobody pays me for this.

Let me know if you have seen such a thing. I have a couple of vintage books I can look at and will do that later.

Researching Block Names

Frances' Grecian Cross
Frances’ Grecian Cross

Recently Frances posted on Twitter about the name of a block. She posted the picture of a quilt. I didn’t see the thread until several people had chimed in and Nonnie had tried to draft the block. There are three tools I use to find the names of blocks:

  1. Barbara Brackman’s book, Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns, published by the American Quilter’s Society, 1993. I have the reprinted edition. This book is out of print, so you should buy it where ever you see a good used copy.
  2. The Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns by Jinny Beyer, published by Breckling Press 2009. I wrote a review of it, which you can find in a post from 2013.
  3. Blockbase, an electronic version of the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.

Brackman’s book is the original scholarly block dictionary. It was not the first block dictionary, but it was the first book, that I know of, that attempted to organize blocks into families/type and note their origin.

Beyer’s book went much farther, but, clearly, built off Brackman’s book. There are more references to sources, more drafting information and more of an attempt to group blocks in the Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns.

Grecian Cross Notecard
Grecian Cross Notecard

BlockBase is a wonderful tool for actually drafting blocks and printing templates or rotary cutting directions. However, not all of the information from the Brackman book is included in BlockBase. Many of the blocks have only the Brackman number rather than all of the names. I make an effort to amend the notecards in BlockBase as I come across new or additional information that would improve retrieval. For example, a very common name of the block above is Grecian Cross. This name was listed in the Brackman book, but was not in BlockBase, so I added it.

It is helpful to know something about drafting to use any of these tools. By ‘drafting,’ I mean knowing the basic structure of blocks, e.g. is the basic structure a 4 patch or a 9 patch? The reason this is important is that if you only have a picture of the block, it cuts down on the number of blocks you need to look through if you know the basic structure.

Sadly, using patterns all the time does not foster the understanding of the basic structure of blocks, because the quiltmaker only needs to follow the directions of the designer/patternmaker.

Knowing a block’s structure is also helpful in designing quilts of your own. You may not want to mix 9 patch structured blocks with 4 patch structured blocks as the seam lines won’t always line up nicely. Or you may want to look a a variety of different 16 patch blocks so that you can design a quilt with an interesting secondary pattern.

These tools are not only good for looking up block names, but are also good to learn to understand the structure of blocks, get inspiration for new quilts and see how the authors have colored the quilts. You really need these books, if you have any serious interest in quiltmaking beyond buying fabric and making quilts.

You might notice that blocks have different names. People took blocks and republished them under different names or added a line here or divided a square there and deemed it a new block. This phenomenon is still happening today and it is something of which we just need to keep track.



Snowball Wreath Redux

Longtime readers may remember my post about the Snowball Wreath block, a block originally published in the Kansas City Star in the 1930s as a Laura Wheeler design. It is number 1515 in Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns with the name “Snowball Wreath.”

This came up again when Kelly found a newspaper clipping of the block on eBay and let me know about it. Since the block came up again, I did a Google search to see if any quilts had come up with this pattern. Lo and behold, Barbara Brackman had done a post on the block in 2009. I don’t read her blog regularly, though I should, and missed this post.

She talked about photos she had received of a quilt from Alabama. She recognized the block immediately as the Snowball Wreath. If you go to her blog, you can see that the quilt is actually made from blocks of that pattern!

It doesn’t look like the maker actually pieced the quilt from the pattern. It is hard to tell from a photo, but I think the ‘wreath’ part of the block was appliqued on to muslin.

Brackman gives information on getting the pattern and asks people to write in if they try the block or know of a quilt made up in the pattern.

The 2009 post is followed up with a January 2010 post with results of the query. In the post she talks about Vivian making the block and the changes she made to the pattern to make it pieceable.

Vivian actually made a top from the block pattern, after buying BlockBase just to get the pattern! She started talking about it right after BB posted about it on her blog.

Snowball Wreath Quilt Index
Snowball Wreath Quilt Index

I also found a reference to it in the Quilt Index. You can see a lot of the old newspaper patterns in the Quilt Index as well as examples of quilts and blocks. It is a worthy cause to which to donate.

ScrapHappy, who writes the soscrappy blog also tried the Snowball Wreath pattern and posted about it on her blog. she made it in miniature using paper piecing. This appears to be from some kind of BOM or group project from a shop called Sentimental Stitches. I came across a PDF with a pattern in my Google travels.

Flourishing Palms made a version of the block in 2011, though it is slightly different than the original. She calls the fabrics ugly, though I don’t think they are ugly. Again, to each his own. The interesting thing is that she wasn’t aware of my post or Barbara Brackman’s. She just flipped to it in Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns book. Odd and interesting!

Helen, from the Being, Nothingness and 1000 Quilt Blocks blog, wrote in another blog post, also from 2011, the block is shown with a bunch of others after a discussion of Existentialism! the goal of this blog was to create 1,000 quilt blocks and read 600 pages of Satre in one year. I don’t think she made her deadline, but she is still plugging away on both. It is interesting to read the Satre bits and then look at quilt blocks. The first post of the blog describes the project a bit and, on the Gallery page, she writes “… in my quest to complete all the quilt blocks in Maggi McCormick Gordon’s 1000 Great Quilt Blocks.” I want to do this kind of project some time. The Tula Pink City Sampler could be a warm-up for a larger project. Barbara Brackman’s book or Jinny Beyer’s book? Either would be a retirement project.

I have to say that this block still fascinates me and I might try another version.

History of the Janome Company

I was referred to this site from somewhere and found the brief history of the company that makes my machine to be really interesting. I especially like the “Eye of the Snake” part.

I also know, now, why I was so confused when I bought my machine about whether I had a New Home or a Janome – that was they year they officially changed the name! Yes, I have had my machine for 15 years.

Finally, the article gives a little teaser about what is to come in Janome machines.

clipped from
150 Years Of Janome Sewing
Craftsmanship Born In The Days Of Horse And Buggy Leads The Way In The Computer Age
In 1860 technology was on the verge of opening up huge new possibilities to the American way of life. Already, a new kind of high speed sailing ship called the clipper could cross the Atlantic in less than 14 days. An instantaneous form of communication called the telegraph was about to cross the U.S. continent. And an amazing device called the home sewing machine was allowing Americans to sew clothes for their families at a huge savings in time–a shirt that took 14 hours to sew by hand could be sewn by machine in 1.5 hours.
Because the shape of these bobbins reminded people of a snake’s eye, the company was given the new name of Janome, which means “eye of the snake” in Japanese.
  blog it

Quilt History/Pattern Site

I linked to this site from somewhere else and found it to be interesting. I see that the owner, Judy, has posted some history of quilt blocks, with references. This makes my librarian heart sing!

women sharing patterns

Free Quilt Patterns
From History

Here you will find quilt patterns like the ones that women shared with each other in days gone by. I’ve used Electric Quilt 6 software to design these free patterns for you. With each one you will discover a bit of history that will give you a sense of what the pattern meant to quilters of the past.
  blog it

Snowball Wreath

Per a conversation on the AQSG list, I am posting a couple of photos of an old Laura Wheeler block called Snowball Wreath.

Notice the crazy shapes the newspaper printed for piecing (lower right). Could anyone actually make a quilt from those kinds of pieces? I would really love to see a 1930s or 1940s (or whenever this pattern was printed) quilt from this pattern.This is my attempt. I appliqued the circles on after piecing them.

Snowball Wreath
Snowball Wreath


JZS Snowball Wreath
JZS Snowball Wreath

I issued an informal challenge on a list and Julie made the one above.

The challenge required people to draft their own templates and I found that to be quite a challenge, because 1) I only had the information on the newspaper clipping image. I don’t have the actual newspaper; 2) the block is not made from a grid that I could figure out; and 3) the circles did not exactly line up.

It was a fun and challenging puzzle, one in which I am still interested.

Flowering Snowball (was Cross Block)

I am a researcher at heart. After Sarah started my mind spinning quickly, Leslie just added to the melee in my head about the real name of the Cross Block. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I started rummaging around in Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns and the Kansas City Star books to see if I could find the block. I hadn’t gotten very far when I decided to e-mail the AQSG list and see what they had to say. They found both blocks (mine and Leslie’s grandma’s) right away.

According to Barbara Brackman my block is called Flowering Snowball (#3081 in the numbering system of BB’s book). It is from Aunt Kate and has the reference 7/65 next to it. Accordng to BB, Aunt Kate’s Quilting Bee was published between July 1962 and July 1967. In is part of Pattern Category #16: Nine X.

The block that Sarah found and Leslie’s grandma made are Raleigh from Hearth and Home OR Tennesse Circles from Prairie Farmer, Bk.1, 1931 (#3083). There is another one (#3084) that is exactly like Raleigh from Hearth and Home with slightly fatter proportions called The Royal (Ladies Art Company #282) OR Grecian Cross from Rural New Yorker 5/23/31 OR [ta da!] Royal Cross from Carrie Hall.

I saw this picture of ladies working on a Cross Block/Flowering Snowball quilt. It is really the only piture of this block in a quilt on the web, though there is a ClubEQ project that includes the Flowering Snowball (Cross Block) block in it.

I am thrilled and I’d like to know more, but thanks for starting me on the journey!

Kansas City Star Blocks

Several years ago I bought a book from the Central Oklahoma Quilters Guild. It is volume three of a multi-volume set of Kansas City Star blocks. I looked through it recently and was reminded that the blocks make me drool with possibilities. Of course, the blocks would have to be redrafted for piecing. I have to say that the women who made some of the blocks when the blocks were first published were no sewing wimps. Many of the blocks have inset seams, irregular shapes, very thin triangles, etc. In that vein, I began thinking about the newspaper clipping of a Laura Wheeler block (newspaper clipping) and tried to remake it.

Snowball Wreath Pattern
Snowball Wreath Pattern

I didn’t use the templates given in the newspaper clipping, because I only had a picture of the newspaper clipping and not the original clipping. Also, the shapes of the pieces were crazy – at least for my level of skill in piecing! I am pleased with the way my block came out, even though I used different techniques (piecing combined with applique’ than the original block.

Snowball Wreath by Jaye
Snowball Wreath by Jaye

I would like to try again different ways, using different fabrics. I don’t think I got the spacing quite right. There is something not quite right about the newspaper clipping when compared with the actual fabric sample I made. I don’t think it is an easy task to look at a picture of a newspaper clipping and then create it in fabric, but it was a puzzle that I couldn’t put away.

I feel the same way about some of the Kansas City Star blocks. It would be a great project to try and remake them all. What a lot of blocks that would be. Some of them would be fine, but some would be quite challenging.