Category Archives: vintage quilts

“It’s a Puzzlement!”

yul brynnerIf you are a lover of musical theater, you’ll recognize that line from The King and I, the stage musical and movie based on the experiences of Anna Leonowens, a young British widow who spent five years in Siam (now Thailand) in the 1860s teaching English language and culture to the wives and children of the king.

“It’s a puzzlement!” the king repeatedly exclaims, as he struggles to understand western ways.

I know how he feels. That phrase has been on my mind since my eagerly awaited copy of Dahlia Quilts and Projects arrived in the mail a few days ago. You’ll know from my last two posts that I ordered this book after swooning over my niece’s vintage star quilt during a visit to her home in Alabama over Thanksgiving.

As a reminder, here is a picture of one of the blocks . . .

floral star block 7

. . . and a picture of the entire quilt:

floral star quilt-001
I asked readers for help in determining the origin of the design and quickly learned that my mystery quilt is known as a Star Dahlia. One reader even provided a link to the book, published in 1995, which appears to be the only book available on star dahlia quilts.

Apparently if I lived in Pennsylvania instead of Oregon I would have been able to identify the block readily. Cheryl Benner and Rachel T. Pellman, authors of Dahlia Quilts and Projects, say the pattern has been a favorite of Lancaster County PA quilters for many years. The authors refer to the block as the Dahlia.

“The Dahlia pattern,” they write, “is based on a traditional geometric eight-point star, but it takes a distinct diversion from tradition by adding curved, puffy, gathered petals and a round center. These variations on the basic geometric design make the assembly of the patch more difficult. The compensation for that extra effort, however, is a stunning quilt in three dimensions.” The authors go on to say that their directions for making the blocks were written after consulting with several Lancaster County quilters who are competent makers of Dahlia quilts.

The book contains 10 projects, with many pages of templates and hand-drawn illustrations on how to stitch the components of the block together (by hand, please note). Here’s a look inside the book:

instrux in dahlia book
So — the source of my puzzlement? It is this: after reviewing all of the projects and measuring the templates for each project, the logic behind the authors’ “variations on a basic geometric design” continues to elude me.

At first glance the block looks like a basic 9-patch, made up of nine equally sized squares. Not so! There are two sizes of blocks used in the book. The measurements for the larger one call for the four corner squares to finish at 4⅜”. The middle section of the block appears to finish at 6⅛”, making the block’s finished size 14⅞”. Okay, that’s pretty close to 15″, although the instructions don’t state a finished size.

The measurements for the smaller block call for the four corner blocks to finish at 2½”. The middle section appears to finish at 3⅝”. That would produce a block that finishes at 8⅝”. Is your head starting to hurt, too? I’m one of those quilters who enjoys the challenge of figuring out the math involved but I’m not so sure about this one.

The only way I’m going to solve this “puzzlement” is to make a block — to cut out pieces according to the templates and actually put a sample block together. It will also help to dig out my protractor to determine the angle of the star points.

How I wish I could drop everything and attend to this right now! Alas, it will have to wait. Christmas is four short days away. I still have presents to buy and wrap, and the Dear Husband’s stocking is waiting to be filled. I should be dreaming of sugarplum fairies and dancing nutcrackers over the next few days but I have a feeling my head will be filled with dahlia petals and star points.

 

 

 

Posted in family, update, vintage quilts | 6 Comments

Mystery Solved

floral star block 2-001
This block is one of 30 12-inch blocks in a lovely 66″ x 82″ vintage quilt I had the pleasure of examining recently at the home of my niece in Alabama. I wasn’t familiar with the block and published this post a few days ago asking if any of my readers could identify it. Within hours I had my answer. More correctly, I had my answers (as in plural).

It turns out this block goes by a few different names. Thanks to Bill Volckening, who suggested Barbara Brackman’s 1993 book Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns as a source, I learned the names of two possible candidates: Star Dahlia and Kansas Sunflower. A quick search on my computer — ah, the power of the Internet! — was all it took to confirm that the block I asked about is indeed called Star Dahlia aka Amish Dahlia Star and also simply Dahlia. The Kansas Sunflower block is very similar, as is another block identified as Missouri Daisy.

Dahlia Quilts and Projects book coverA reader named Anne told me about a book called Dahlia Quilts and Projects by Cheryl Benner and Rachel T. Pellman that contains several patterns using the Star Dahlia block. Anne even provided a link on amazon.com, which I immediately checked. Needless to say, I promptly ordered the book. I can’t wait till it arrives in my mailbox!

A shout-out to readers Arden, Bill, Anne, and Kimberly for offering suggestions and helping solve the mystery of this beautiful block.

It’s on my “to do” list for 2016!

 

 

 

Posted in family, update, vintage quilts | 1 Comment

A Beautiful Mystery

Have you ever seen a block like this before?

floral star block 1-001
It’s one of 30 blocks in this vintage quilt:

floral star quilt-001
The quilt belongs to Rexalee, my niece by marriage. It came to her after her mother died over a decade ago but Rexalee doesn’t know who made it. It may have belonged to her great aunt or her grandfather’s second wife, both of whom died in the 1970s. It was probably made in Michigan. Other than that, its provenance is a mystery. A beautiful mystery.

My husband and I just got back from a wonderful visit with Rexalee, her husband, and their extended family. The quilt was hanging on a quilt rack in the guest room of their new home on Dauphin Island, Alabama. I had an opportunity to examine the quilt in detail and photograph it in natural light.

Except for the binding, which was attached by machine, the entire quilt was pieced and quilted by hand. At first I thought the petals and center of each flower were appliquéd on top of an already pieced eight-pointed star, but no: the petals and stars were joined with seams. The inner edges of the petals (where they meet the circle in the center of the flower) were gathered and, to my surprise, so were the inner edges of the star points. Unusual, no?

Here’s a close-up:

floral star block center detail
Judging by the fabrics, I’m guessing this quilt was made in the 1930s, possibly 1940s. Each of the stars is made of a different print, with the petals and center of each flower made of solids. Although the round circles in the center of each block come in a variety of colors, the petals are either yellow or orange, unifying this very scrappy quilt.

The floral prints in the star fabric are fabulous! Some have a very modern vibe. Take a look:

floral star block 7-001

floral star block 2-001

floral star block 4-001

floral star block 5-001

floral star block 8-001

floral star block 9-001

floral star block 6-001
And here’s a bit of a rogue block: a lively check instead of a floral print:

floral star block 3-001
Actually, there’s another rogue block:

floral star quilt rogue block

Did the quiltmaker run out of fabric or did she add a star point of a different fabric to make the quilt less than perfect? Even the petals look like they were made from two fabrics.

The finished size of 66″ x 82″ is another oddity. The blocks are 12″ finished. The side borders are 3″ while the top and bottom borders are 5″. Was this a conscious decision on the part of the quiltmaker or did she simply not have enough fabric on hand to make borders of equal size? (No quick trips to the nearest local quilt shop for her.)

You can see from the next photo that the batting is very thin. When I held it up to the light I could see dark flecks in the cotton batting. They could be bits of leaf or boll (the husk around the cotton blossom).

floral star quilt draped-001

I wish now I had taken pictures of every single block. The fabrics are so interesting, and I see something new with every viewing.

floral star quilt folded-001

One thing’s for sure: I want to duplicate this block. I’ll puzzle it out on my own unless there’s a pattern out there somewhere.

Can anyone help solve this beautiful mystery?

 

 

 

Posted in family, update, vintage quilts | 24 Comments

Something Old, Something New

2015-08-11 17.35.48
A friend of a friend is downsizing, looking to sell some of the quilts she inherited years ago and no longer has room to store. She is not a quilter, but her mother, grandmother, and greatgrandmother made quilts and also picked them up at garage sales and antique stores. She is keeping the ones that are near and dear to her but has dozens of quilts and coverlets that she is willing to part with. And they are, as the saying goes, priced to sell.

Now, I am not a quilt collector but something about this situation compelled me to take a trip across town last week to look at the quilts. I fell in love with the very first one I saw. That’s the one you see above, my “something old, something new.”

Isn’t it a beauty? It measures 86″ square, making it queen size. Except for some stains, it’s in perfect condition. It’s hand pieced and appliquéd, machine pieced, and hand quilted. The blocks are 11″ square, with a feathered wreath quilted in the plain blocks and outline quilting and leaves in the basket blocks. The borders are quilted in a cable design.

Sadly, we don’t know who made this quilt. My guess is that it was made in the 1930s or 40s, possibly the 50s, perhaps from a kit. The embroidery and appliqué are expertly done, and the quilting is uniform, about eight stitches to the inch. The edges are scalloped and bound with bias binding.

This may be my favorite block:

blueberry basket

But oh, look at this one:

berry basket

And this one:

fruit basket
And this one:

2015-08-11 19.44.49
Do you suppose the fruits pictured below are pomegranates? I love the  pink and purple embroidery at the tops of the fruit:

pomegranate basket
Each of the 25 basket blocks is filled with fruit. Bananas and pears and apples. Lemons and limes and grapes. Even some fruits I don’t quite recognize. Each basket “filled” by an expert needleworker who clearly loved her craft.

I am so happy and grateful that this vintage quilt has come into my possession. I promise to love, honor, and obey — oh wait, wrong vow. I promise to love and honor this quilt for the rest of my days, as a tribute to the maker and to quiltmakers all over the world who create treasured keepsakes with needle and thread, putting love and care into every single stitch.

 

 

 

Posted in update, vintage quilts | 11 Comments