Accessibility & Fineness

Quilting is a democratic art, a creative skill that can be performed on any level to produce everything from utilitarian bedding to complex, ambitious works of art; since the founding of this country, Americans of every race, gender, religion, and socio-economic status made and used quilts. Before the Industrial Revolution, women were closely associated with the domestic production of textiles and needlework in this country. Whether she was taught to read or write, almost every young girl began to learn basic sewing techniques from her mother and older sisters by the time she was two or three years old, and she continued to use and improve upon those skills for the rest of her life. Four-and-nine patch quilts were simple enough for children and novices, while other patterns required the precise arrangement of thousands of pieces, a feat best suited for the most accomplished needleworker.

Nine Patch
Pieced quilt
Sarah Everett
Huntsville (Madison County)
64.5 x 92 in.
Collection of Historic Arkansas Museum
Loughborough Trust Purchase
Accession No: 80.17.1

The nine patch is the quintessential American quilt. This pieced pattern offered beginners and masters alike a design they could complete with satisfaction. Three-on-three squares, identical in size, are arranged in block formation and repeated. Still, even the simplest patchwork required the quilter to make a series of thoughtful choices, such as color, texture, the arrangement of squares, and scale of the blocks. That this basic arrangement of squares could produce an infinite variety of results is testimony to the nine patch’s universal appeal. Popular variations include the four patch and 16 patch.To make her quilt, Sarah Everett alternated between square cut-outs of three cotton fabrics she had readily available, in brown and madder rose wool, and a blue and white fabric which may have been woven by hand. While hers is not the prettiest or finest of quilts, its pleasing but prudent quality speaks to the 19th century frontier spirit, and the accessibility of this functional art form.

Rocky Mountain Road
Pieced quilt with stuffed work or trapunto
Elizabeth Rogers Manning and Martha Manning
ca. 1860
Arkadelphia (Clark County)
100 x 98 in.
Collection of Historic Arkansas Museum
Gala Fund Purchase
Accession No: 92.5.3

A pattern of many names, this quilt tells the story of westward migration in antebellum America. Known variously as “New York Beauty,” “Crown of Thorns,” “Indian Summer,” and “Rail through the Mountains,” this pattern evolved to become “Rocky Mountain Road” as Americans reached the western states. It is a wonderful example of how pattern names changed to fit the new experiences of antebellum America. Whatever name it was given, this pattern put even the most experienced quilter’s skill and patience to the test. Thousands of tiny triangles were painstakingly cut to needle-fine points, and arranged, piece by piece, to form an overall saw-tooth design. Bold, contrasting colors give a dramatic effect, as well as the added stuffed work or trapunto vines in the whitework, which acts as a foil to the geometry of the pieced work.