A unique sisterhood bound the earliest of American quilts. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, most young women learned a rudimentary degree of needlework skills from the older women in her family. The occasional but relished quilting bee or frolic offered the isolated farm woman a chance to socialize with her peers and exchange ideas about patterns and techniques. At these merry gatherings, women assisted a neighbor with the final stage of binding her quilt’s three layers: top, batting, and back.Friendship and album-style quilts enlisted multiple people—friends, church members, civic club members—to work a single quilt together over an extended time. Such collectively created works were typically made over a series of day-long sessions at a hosting member’s house (with plenty of opportunities for socializing and meals provided), and the final finished piece perhaps sold at a charitable fundraiser or presented as a gift to a loved one departing from the community.

Log Cabin
Pieced quilt
Clara Baker
ca. 1950
North Little Rock (Pulaski County)
78 x 63 in.
Collection of the Historic Arkansas Museum
Gift of Rebekah Teague
Accession No: 2004.68

Clara Baker was affectionately called "Mother Baker” by those who knew her. Born on a cotton farm near Memphis around 1917, she was part of a great migration of African Americans who left the poverty and hardship of the Mississippi Delta after World War I. Baker was fond of bold, bright colors and made use of fabric remnants she had at her disposal, from hospital sheets to old articles of clothing. She was a resourceful woman who sewed her own clothes, and was accustomed to getting by on very little. It was her habit to offer her quilts to those who visited her at her home in North Little Rock.

Also known as “britches” quilts, Baker’s quilt falls into a category of utilitarian quilts made by poor white and African American women of clothing and blanket remnants during the first half of the 20th century. Despite the use of well-worn fabrics like corduroy, polyester, and seersucker, Baker’s quilt expresses her creativity, resourcefulness, and love for color.

Pieced quilt
Made by members of the Women’s Home Missionary Society of Cabot
Lonoke County
79.25 x 79.25 in.
Collection of Historic Arkansas Museum
Gift of Carolyn Park
Accession No: 2012.032

Members of a missionary society in Cabot (today’s First United Methodist Church), probably made this quilt to raise money for their new church building. Signature quilts like this one often generated funds through the donation of money by each individual named on the blocks, and in the final sale, or raffling of the quilt. More than 1,000 names record a large network of the people and organizations who touched the lives of this early 20th-century Arkansas community.

Mrs. Vise, a descendent of one of the quilt’s makers, recalled that her father, who wrote with “such a pretty hand,” first applied the names to the quilt in pencil or chalk, over which her mother and other skilled members embroidered by hand. Vise recalled, “I remember my grandmother fussing about the way some of the members did their stitches—not making them small enough, you know, and of course some of the knotted ends shouldn’t have been left to show.”