Quilt Patterns and Colors – the building blocks of handmade and patchwork quilts for sale.
Handmade and patchwork quilts, and in our case handmade Amish quilts, have been and continue to be acquired by museums and collectors of textiles throughout the United States. Patchwork quilts are widely exhibited and extensively written about. Towards the recognition and appreciation of Amish quilt patterns and color in handmade quilts, we have chosen some basic patterns for discussion and illustration.
The Log Cabin Quilt Pattern
The earliest examples of of Log Cabin blocks in the US are hand-pieced strips of fabric around a central square. One half of the strips are dark and the other half light. During the time of the Civil War, the term “Log Cabin” was coined and may have had a connection to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. However, similar Log Cabin-like designs are found in English quilts predating 1830. An interesting historical point pertains to folklore suggesting that the signals for stops along the Underground Railroad were indicated by Log Cabin quilts hanging on clotheslines, with the color of the central block indicating special instructions. Specific to Amish culture, a red center block symbolizes the hearth of home and a yellow center block indicates a welcoming light in the window.
The most interesting aspect of the Log Cabin quilt pattern is its capacity for manipulation into different patterns. The simple strips around a center block can be varied in size to create the curves seen in a Log Cabin in the Round Pattern. A quilter can also make diagonal cuts into the “log” strips, sew them back together and create stars as seen in the Colorado Log Cabin quilt pattern. Other variations include the Star Log Cabin and the Pineapple Log Cabin.
Star Quilt Patterns
Star patterns are popular among many cultures, so it’s no wonder we often see stars in Amish handmade quilts. The pattern names are as varied as the stars: Lone Star, Texas Star, Star of Bethlehem, Broken Star and Radiant Star are just a few quilt patterns containing stars. A star pattern quilt is typically constructed of hundreds (and in some case, thousands) of sewn-together diamond shaped pieces of fabric. Only the most masterful quilters have the skill to perfectly align the sides of the diamonds to create the star patterns. These difficult to make and much-prized patterns are in the permanent collections of museums including the Carnegie Museum and the Smithsonian.
In the case of Amish quilts, a star pattern contains a great deal of symbolism. A star represents good fortune, love, hope, harmony, energy, fertility and protection from fires. There are also finer design criteria pertaining to the number of points in a star, which also has significance. For example, eight points symbolizes abundance and good will.
Medallion Quilt Patterns
The Medallion quilt pattern originated as a teaching exercise for sewing and quilting projects. Initially comprised of various compass and star medallions, as the quilter’s skills improved the Medallion patterns became increasingly difficult. By the mid-1700’s simple Medallion quilt patterns had come a long way, becoming the preferred and most popular quilt pattern of the day. Today it remains a favored quilt pattern. A Medallion pattern can be created via an applique technique and via paper piecing, but the truly prized Medallion quilts are those that are pieced: fabric connected to fabric so that all pieces are within the same plane. A good example of a pieced Medallion quilt is the Jinny Beyer Moon Glow quilt.
Applique Quilt Patterns
As well as being among the most difficult and time consuming patterns to execute, applique quilt patterns are among the oldest. Applique quilts and blankets have been found dating back as far as 1066 in England (the oldest surviving is actually Egyptian and dates to 980 B.C.).
The word “applique” comes from the French and literally means “applied or fastened to”. Different cultures have used this technique for everything from family crests to depicting familiar flowers, animals and other items seen in daily life. In the case of Amish applique quilts, once decided upon, the design is freehand cut and then hand sewn, piece-by-piece, to a quilt face. The quilter then quilts around each element to give it height and texture.
A beautiful example of a quilt pattern with a rich history (and favored by quilters) is the Rose of Sharon Lily of the Valley quilt. The photo here illustrates how the edges of every element, no matter how tiny, are turned under, then appliqued onto the quilt face with even hand stitches.
Double Wedding Ring Quilt Patterns
Physical examples of double ring (or Double Wedding Ring) patterns in textiles can be found in museum collections dating as early as 1825. However, double interlocking circles, much like those seen in Double Wedding Ring quilt patterns, can be found on Roman cups dating back as far as the 4th century A.D. This unique and difficult to execute pattern also carries names as varied as Rainbow, Endless Chain, King Tut and Friendship Knot.
This pattern is comprised of arc shaped pieces of fabric that are either cut from one piece of fabric or many small pieces sewn together to create an arc. Quilters with a good eye for color typically place contrasting colors at the point where the arcs meet (as you can see in the photo). This combined with hand quilted detail give the rings depth and movement.
Whole Cloth Quilt Patterns
A Wholecloth quilt is also referred to as an Heirloom or white-on-white quilt and is quilted in varied patterns. A few popular Wholecloth patterns include the Feathered Pineapple, the Amish Star and the Queen Anne Star. Admirers of this style of quilt often assume that this traditional and desirable pattern originated in the United States during “pioneer” days. In truth, the origins of of Wholecloth quilt patterns go back further than you might think. Examples of prized Wholecloth quilts are found within all the royal houses as early as the 17th century. By the mid-1700’s the middle class was ordering Wholecloth quilts for their own homes. It was said that to own something that required such a high standard of workmanship was a sign of affluence. By the mid 18th century this pattern had worked its way to American shores using the “trapunto” technique.
In the Amish tradition, only the most accomplished hand quilters and pattern makers can create Wholecloth quilts. Wholecloth patterns typically take twice the time it takes to create a patchwork quit. Some require 1,000 or more yards of thread to complete the extensive hand quilting.
Block Quilt Patterns
Block pattern quilts are the purest and most prevalent of quilt patterns. When you think of traditional block patterns consider the variations: the Tumbling Blocks pattern, the many variations on a Nine Patch pattern, the Pinwheel pattern, the Snail Trail pattern, the Irish Chain and of course the numerous Patchwork quilts patterns we all know. Block patterns are deceptively difficult to make because the quilter must perfectly piece every aspect of every block in the pattern. It’s said that block patterns are popular among hand quilters because it leaves nice open spaces in which to show off the maker’s skillful hand quilting. Block patterns are popular among quilt lovers because the patterns lend themselves to a wide variety of color combinations and fabrics.
Our Postage Stamp is a great example of how a variation of color and fabric can create an interesting variation on a traditional Nine Patch quilt pattern.
Color and Pattern Significance
With respect to Amish tradition, we also want to provide a bit of information about color and pattern and the significance of both within Amish Arts. Color significance can include:
- Black for protection or binding of the elements.
- Blue for peace and spirituality
- Violet or purple for honoring sacred things and beliefs
- Green for growth, fertility and success
- White for purity
- Red or pink for the importance of family and community
- Yellow for unity within the family and mind/body wellness
Pattern significance can include:
- Central blocks in patterns indicate hearth or home
- Stars can represent many things including good fortune, love, hope, harmony, energy, fertility and projection from fires
- The number of points in a star can have significance including, eight points for abundance and good will
Hand quilted patterns also have meaning, which can include:
- Intertwined elements signify a happy home, harmony and long life
- Birds and rosettes (or floral elements) are for good luck
- Lilies suggest unending life
- Greens (vines and leaves) along with floral elements ensure the home is filled with life and vitality
- Scallops indicate smooth sailing in life
- Feathered elements are for hope, charity and personal faith
- A pineapple symbolizes warmth and hospitality and offers a welcome greeting to all.
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