Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Vintage Flower Baskets

If you are a regular reader of our blog, you know that Kara and I (Teri) love to comb through antique stores, searching for treasures—usually of the textile type. Several months ago, we both found a quilt to add to our collections. Kara's was a crazy quilt, which she wrote about in A Crazy Treasure. Mine was this vintage basket embroidery quilt. Or actually, it is two quilts. Two HALF quilts, to be precise!

When we first encountered this quilt, we picked up one of the pieces to study the embroidered flower baskets, and noted that the quilt seemed to be an odd size. The tag said, "Pair of twin quilts." Clearly, neither one was as big as a twin. Upon closer scrutiny, it appeared that, perhaps, these were two halves of a full-sized quilt! 

Our minds were racing. Why would anyone cut a quilt in half?! What was the story of this quilt? Surely, it has a fascinating one, though we will likely never learn it. But it's price was reasonable, and so it came home with me. The first thing Kara and I did was test our theory to see if indeed it was one quilt in two pieces. 

We tried to arrange it this way, below left, with the rose baskets at the top and bottom, with a simple square in the middle. But there was no way that we could get the outlines of the squares to match, below, right.  We wondered if we had been hasty in our conclusion-jumping.


Then we realized that if there were rectangles with two flower baskets on each side, that design would likely continue to the top and bottom. So we flipped the halves to "connect" it between the rose basket squares. And guess what? It was a perfect fit!

The rectangles that create the border of the quilt

Not only does the design match perfectly, but the quilting also matches.

If you flip the edges to look at the back, you can see where the back was pieced, about an inch from the edge of the piece on the left, which might be an unlikely place to piece the backing fabric, although possible in thrifty times.

I searched for this pattern to see what I could find out about it. It reminds me of a kit or printed pattern, as I have seen similarly styled baskets on vintage linens. However, though I was able to find some designs and patterns that were similar, dating around the 1920s–30s, I was unable to find this exact pattern. (If any of you have seen these particular baskets, I'd love for you to share them with me!)

Center basket of roses

Smaller baskets of flowers surrounding the rose basket in the center blocks, and in the border rectangles as well. 

All of these baskets in the center of the quilt have orange flowers, except one—
the upper left corner basket has the coral flowers.

Every time I look at this quilt, I see something new. Because the color changes are subtle, I didn't notice the differences throughout the quilt at first. A few design observations:
  • The baskets in the upper center square that surround the rose basket are coral, while the ones in the lower center square are rust. The basket flowers and the individual flowers in those center blocks are orange. 
  • The baskets in the border rectangles are usually bright pink. On the sides of the quilt, the basket flowers are typically orange, but the individual flowers are coral. On the top and bottom rectangles, the basket flowers are usually coral, with bright pink individual flowers.
  • The embroiderer used three strands of floss throughout the quilt, using these stitches: stem, chain, zigzag chain, lazy daisies, and French knots. The background is a coarsely woven muslin.
  • The method of pattern transfer is unclear; I was able to find no markings of any kind beneath the stitches, which makes me doubt that it was a kit.
There are interesting exceptions to each of the design elements above, most likely due to running out of a thread color. It almost looks like the stitcher grabbed whatever color thread was nearest. A few examples are below.

This top corner had pink individual flowers, but the pink floss must have been "misplaced": after a few petals in pink, left of basket, she switched to the rust color for those little flower bunches.

Here, however, all the petals are coral, except for five pink petals.

On this border basket, the pink basket was combined with rust.

And this is the only border basket with a rust basket. And BOTH orange and coral flowers!

And one more point to note: did your eagle eyes detect a difference in the color of the backgrounds? One is a bit brighter white than the other, and the dingier half has quite a few stains on it (see photo above.) Clearly, one half of the quilt was used more than the other, if that one was even used at all.

The half on the right is clearly brighter white.

There is so much to see in this quilt, and so many clues to its story. It is a relatively simple design, yet clearly a lot of work and love was put into these stitches. The embroidery and hand quilting are consistent and skilled. But . . .

why would anyone ever cut a quilt in half?!?!?!?

I'm going to leave you hanging. (Sorry! Sort of...) Please stop back tomorrow, and we will share a few of our thoughts, and ask for some of your ideas. 

See you tomorrow! 👋


  1. What a super find! I have actually seen quilts cut in half when a family cannot decide who the quilt should go to. I have seen it twice in person, but there is a story about one in the Tennessee documentation book by Bets Ramsey and Merikay Waldvogel. I'll try to find it.

    1. I would much rather have a family member keep the whole quilt than to cut such a precious piece of stitchery!! Thanks for looking for that TN story, Wendy.

    2. Teri and Kara, it was indeed in the Quilts of Tennessee; Images of Domestic Life Prior to 1930 by Bets Ramsey and Merikay Waldvogel. It was published in 1986 but you might be able to find it online. If not, I will ask Merikay if she would mind if I copied the story for you and I could send it out.

  2. Perhaps two little girls were very lucky to receive these 'matching' quilts?
    Maybe a girl had made it for her marriage bed & they quickly had enough of trying to share the blankets & get a good night's sleep!
    The work is so lovely, but the liberal color use makes me wonder if the maker might have been like my grandma. She enjoyed the making, did exquisite work, but intended the things to be used, not just treasured. She expected hand embroidered, hand quilted quilts given to family to become worn out over years of use. She was delighted when I cut the embroidered band off a worn out pillowcase she had made decades ago - to patch a big tear in a favorite kitchen towel! That strip of embroidery still looks great, though the towel is now wearing thin! Patricia Husch G+

    1. Thank you for sharing, Patricia! I guess you'll soon be finding a new "home" for that embroidered band. 😃