We’ve been trying for some time to gather more information about an unusual applique quilt pattern we’ve found in this area – and only in this area. Oddly, though the pattern is uncommon, we’ve found a relatively large number of them in several variations.
This particular quilt is composed usually of two different but related applique blocks. Related in that they both feature the French fleur-de-lis as part of the design, one block with four and the other with eight around the central flower. The block with four fleurs-de-lis augments each with a daisy and a tulip, while the one with eight includes ovals of reverse applique within the “snowflake” design.
There are a number of more common applique quilt patterns, the typical Rose of Sharon and its variations along with Prince’s Feather, Pomegranate, and Carolina Lily – most of these found all over the northeast and often beyond. But though we’ve handled hundreds of quilts and seen many more, the only ones that we’ve seen with this pattern have been from right here, from estates either in Northern Berks or Northwestern Lehigh County, PA; adjoining areas of Pennsylvania “Dutch” farm country.
One example was featured in a Berks County historical society quilt show, and is shown on the cover of the magazine featuring that show.
We know the owner of that quilt, and it is the only one of the group whose maker and date are known. It was made in Virginville, Berks Co. PA in 1900. Obviously, there are variations on the theme, and this one features a center block different from the other two.
Other variations are, of course, the color of the background fabric, the border treatment, size, and other fabric variations. The 1900 date seems to us to be a little later than we might expect; indeed we believe most of the others we’ve seen probably date just a little earlier, but of course could have been made in 1900 or later from earlier fabric. Regarding the background color, we note that we’ve seen only one with a plain white background, the one shown at the beginning of this post. This one we found at auction in Lehigh County:
This one also features that different center block along with the fleurs-de-lis.
Another, that we saw in another dealer’s online catalog also features that center block, as well as the zigzag inner border, common to all our examples so far. This one, we were told by the dealer, is also from Berks County, and features a brown on white print for its background fabric. We know of no other applique quilt pattern that so often uses a background other than white.
We found another variation in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln:
This one features a dogtooth inner border, and uses an orange pinstripe fabric for the background. The center attributes the quilt as “possibly made in Lancaster County, PA”, though we hope that our findings serve to correct that notion.
Of all the different backgrounds, perhaps our favorite is the one in double “Lancaster” blue with its vibrant color contrasts. Oddly enough this is the variation we’ve seen and owned most often, 2 different quilts as well as 2 quilt tops. This example features a straight line red inner border, and instead of a solid back has bars of alternating yellow and double pink calicos.
We could say that we haven’t seen any example of a quilt using either of the two different applique blocks without the other, but that wouldn’t be precisely true. We haven’t seen a full sized one, but this crib quilt, using only one applique, features one of our two patterns. This one also hails from Berks County.
We find the occurrence of these unusual quilts as an interesting phenomenon in the history of quilting; apparently a highly localized traditional pattern that, at least in our findings so far, is exclusive to a very small geographic area. Though they vary slightly in pattern, somewhat in size, and greatly in fabric choices, they share the two fleur-de-lis blocks, fabrics from the 4th quarter 19th century and locale.
We have to surmise that the pattern, once originated, was shared among friends in a quilting circle, maybe through church affiliation, family ties or grange membership, or by some other vehicle. It’s easy to understand how an experienced needleworker might have been drawn to this pattern and wanted to duplicate it. We hope to continue to find examples of this unusual pairing of applique blocks – hopefully anyone knowing the whereabouts, provenance or date of any will let us know. It would be especially intriguing to find one that originated elsewhere, or outside the end of the 19th century time period; though a single example among the number that we’ve seen would not necessarily change our attribution of local origins of the pattern.