June 20, 2024


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Hand Quilting Patterns on Antique Quilts

3 min read

Which hand quilted patterns were stitched into American quilts made in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Nine common patterns seen by this quilt historian are described here.

1. Clamshell is one of the earliest patterns. They were stitched allover the top on whole cloth and patchwork quilts or as the background between other quilting patterns.
2. Feathers were most common on pre-Civil War fancy and elaborate quilts which were used on special occasions, or given as a gift. The feather was not shaped like a bird’s long pointed feathers; they were short like a flower petal, and rounded at the end. Feathered designs were stitched in a variety of motifs such as a garland, wreath, pineapple, and heart. Feathered designs were commonly used on red and green appliqué quilts made in the middle years of the 19th century and on Colonial Revival style appliqué quilts made in the 20th Century before the second World War.

3. Hanging diamonds were squares on point, often used in conjunction with feathered patterns. They could be large or small in size. They were stitched around appliquéd pieces to hold the batting on place and fill in the background areas of the quilt. After the Civil War the size of the handing diamond increased and it became the sole quilting pattern on some patchwork quilts. Larger size diamonds are found on vintage quilts.

4. Another common choice for an all over pattern patchwork and utilitarian quilts is
a square grid. As the allover pattern, the squares were large to larger in size. As the background pattern, they were smaller depending on the patchwork or appliquéd pattern. Here again, a special quilt received smaller grids, which filled the empty areas to hold the batting and layers together well.

5&6. Cables and chevrons were stitched into borders and sashing strips. Cables were connected curved “S” shapes running vertically down a border or sashing. Chevron’s were straight lines forming “V’s” filling the width of the border in a zigzag shape. One, two, and three lines decreasing in size formed the cables and chevrons. Both century’s quilt makers used these two patterns.

7. Single and Double parallel lines were usually quilted on the diagonal across the entire quilt or just in the borders. Pre-Civil War quilts could have triple parallel lines, stitched close together in the background areas around appliqués and in the borders. In the late nineteenth century, women also quilted lines across the appliquéd pieces. Single and double lines, spaced further apart than earlier quilts, were stitched in vintage era quilts.

8. Fan quilting is also called elbow quilting because the quilter used the reach from her elbow to her fingers to make the arch or fan shape. Methodist Fan and Baptist Fan have been popular names for the fan too, because it was fast and easy pattern for a group of church women to stitch around a large quilting frame. In England the fan is called waves. The pattern was common later in the last quarter of the 19th and first half of 20th century quilts, and especially popular in the Southern and southern Midwestern states. The fan was mostly used on everyday quilts.

9. The one-quarter inch inside the seam stitching was sometimes referred to as “quilting by the piece” or “in the piece” reflecting exactly how it appeared. This pattern was used occasionally from the mid-nineteenth century on, never being a common pattern until the late 20th century.

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