(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 29, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Patchwork, the craft of sewing together fabric pieces into a larger design, was a necessity in pioneer America where new fabric was scarce. Sewing scraps into quilts allowed thrifty women to use up every bit of fabric from worn out clothing or linens. Quilt-making also provided a woman with an outlet for her creative energies as she pieced together colors and patterns to make her own unique artwork. For many, sewing in front of the fire must have been a welcome respite from the more physically demanding tasks of the farm wife. A woman might bestow a lovingly-made quilt as a wedding gift, or as a remembrance for family members setting out to new territory. For the pioneer woman, a quilt might be one of her few precious reminders of a sister, mother or grandmother left behind.
How Quilts Got Their Names
Quilt pattern names came from the women who made them, and reflected their homes, gardens, domestic chores and religious beliefs. Many quilt pattern names also revealed political events and social movements. Quilt patterns were no doubt passed on from one generation to the next and one woman to the next. But as families moved, their environments and circumstances changed, as can be seen in the names of quilts. That is why one quilt pattern can have so many names, and sometimes one name is applied to several different patterns.
Flower-Themed Quilt Patterns
Flower Basket is one of many different quilts featuring baskets. To make a patchwork Flower Basket quilt, the quilter used a large upside-down triangle on a base of two smaller triangles to make the basket, and a pyramid of smaller triangles to represent the flowers. She might also use the technique of applique, in which smaller pieces of fabric are sewn on top of fabric to form a design. View a Flower Basket utilizing applique and patchwork here.
Rose of Sharon
The biblically-named Rose of Sharon quilt not only celebrated a favorite flower, but had spiritual meaning as well. These appliqued quilts were often made in a pink/green or red/green color scheme. The design can vary, but often features a scalloped wreath with an arrangement of buds and leaves. View a traditional pink and white Rose of Sharon quilt here.
The Shoo-fly quilt pattern, a simple geometric design made of half-square triangles, takes its name from a plant, according to the Quilting in America website. Nicandra physalodes, commonly called shoofly plant or apple of Peru, is a member of the nightshade family. Juice from its poisonous leaves and roots was mixed with milk to lure and kill flies, hence the name. The pattern name might also derive from an Amish dessert called shoo-fly. Its main ingredient, molasses, no doubt attracted flies.
Grandmother's Flower Garden
One of the most beloved quilt patterns ever, Grandmother’s Flower Garden was a nostalgic name given to an old pattern which regained popularity during the quilting revival of the early 20th century. Essentially a hexagonal mosaic, Grandmother’s Flower Garden can be crafted in an endless variety of colors. Its early American predecessor was called Honeycomb or Hexagon.
The tulip was a popular quilt motif. Tulip quilts are often boldly colored, made up of identical blocks consisting of either large appliqued tulips or patchwork tulips which feature the flower’s characteristic five pointed petals.You can see an appliqued tulip quilt believed to date to the 1850s here.
Sunflowers, which would have been a common sight greeting women traveling westward in covered wagons, became the subject of many quilts. Sunflower, also called Kansas Sunflower, was a variation of another intricate quilt pattern called Mariner’s Compass.
Other flower-themed quilt patterns include Lilies of the Field, Mountain Rose, Ohio Rose, Whig Rose, Oklahoma Dogwood, Peony and Bridal Wreath.
Tree-Themed Quilt Patterns
The Maple Leaf pattern, often made in simple red on white, is an example of the “nine-patch” quilting method, in which pieces of nine squares are arranged to make a design.
Autumn Leaf is a medallion design with concentric rings of vines bearing many small leaves of different colors. This pattern was popularized during the 1930s and ‘40s, after it was displayed in a Sears-sponsored quilt contest at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. At left is a close-up of some appliqued leaves. View details of the Autumn Leaf pattern here.
Tree of Life
The Tree of Life pattern was one of many quilts with a biblical theme. The tree might appear in the center of a medallion quilt, with the corners and border adorned with branches and leaves, or might be symmetrically formed of quilt blocks. At left is a small section of the entire quilt, which dates to the 1870-1880s.
Pine Tree is a classic geometric pattern, variations of which remain popular to this day. In green and white, it makes a lovely Christmas quilt. At left is a modern interpretation of the pine tree pattern; you can see a traditional geometric patchwork pine tree pattern here.
The Oak Leaf pattern, also called Oak Leaf and Reel, combines patchwork with applique. Red and white fabric was often used to make this pattern. View the entire quilt here.
Encyclopedia of Classic Quilt Patterns; Oxmoor House, 2001.
Nebraska State Historical Society: Quilts A to Z
Quilting In America: Past, Present and Future
Fabrics.Net: Quilt Pattern Names
Patterns From History: The Story of Colonial Revival Quilt Patterns
Flower Basket and Oak Leaf by qusic
Rose of Sharon by thewomen'smuseum
Shoo-Fly by Brittney Michelle
Tulip by Sweet Mummy
Sunflower by Northeast Kansas Library System
Tree of Life by TheKarenD
Maple Leaf by jeansophie
Appliqued Leaf by zutaten
Pine Tree by The Eyes Have It
The Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt was made by my mom Faye ♥