Inspired By

The everyday experiences of 19th century women are reflected in the colloquial names of their patterns, as well as the representational motifs that adorned their finished quilts. They used appliqué to imitate nature with stylized flowers, leaves, and vines, while pattern names like Broken Dishes, Puss in the Corner, Shoo Fly, and Hole in the Barn Door reflect daily life on the farm. Quilt-making reached fad status in the second half of the 19th century as Americans shaped a national identity distinct from their ancestors. This era has been called the most visually inventive time period in the history of quilting; almost all of the quilt styles popular today were conceived between 1870 and 1910. Inspiration for quilt designs came from diverse sources including fashionable furniture and decorative arts, popular inventions, and cultural exchanges made possible by the proliferation of international publications and expositions. 

Pieced quilt
Made by Rose family dressmaker
ca. 1880Little Rock (Pulaski County)
66 x 64 in.
Collection of Historic Arkansas Museum
Gift of Peg Newton Smith
Accession No: 2003.4.115

America’s infatuation with “Oriental” art began in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where some nine million people visited the Japanese Pavilion. The asymmetrical designs introduced there influenced the spectrum of American decorative arts, but especially appealed to textile designs, in the form of the “crazy quilt” pattern. Cuts of velvety soft earth tones and shiny silks were seamed together with brightly colored embroidery stitches. Eastern motifs like fans and figures in kimonos were popular, as well as other Victorian symbols such as butterflies, daisies, and peacock feathers.

This quilt belonged to the prominent Rose family of Little Rock. Their dressmaker made beautiful use of the formal garments she had sewn for the family’s special occasions. Over the years, members of the Rose family gazed at the quilt and recalled “Ellen’s debut dress,” “Emma’s trousseau gown,” and other fine remnants from which the crazy quilt was made. Certain embellishments make this quilt a sentimental family scrapbook of sorts, such as the initials “U.M.” for Uriah Milton Rose (1834-1913), the family’s figurehead and founder of Rose Law Firm.

Pieced and appliquéd quilt
Elizabeth Anne Washington Rogers
ca. 1860
Arkadelphia (Clark County)
77 x 83.5 in.Collection of Historic Arkansas Museum
Gala Fund Purchase
Accession No: 91.90.1

Symbols of ancient Greek life were revived in American furniture, ceramics, and other decorative arts during the 18th and 19th centuries. During this period, Greek symbols became associated with classical artistic achievement and democratic ideals. In Greek mythology, Apollo is the god of sun, music, poetry and art. One of his instruments is the lyre, whose harp-like quality symbolizes harmony and heavenly peace.

More commonly seen in furniture and vases, the lyre motif is somewhat rare in quilts. But because of its popularity, it comes as no surprise that this symbol would also surface in the textile arts. This Arkansas quilter chose to embellish her quilt’s nine lyres with appliquéd tulips and roses of her own design. Like so many Americans of her time, Rogers embraced the classical ideals of peace and harmony when furnishing her home.

Whig's Defeat or Democratic Victory
Pieced and appliqued quilt
Marian Aikman Trayler
ca. 1850
Izard County
79.25 x 67.5 in.
Collection of Historic Arkansas Museum
Gift of Dula Mariah Wood Hook
Accession No: 95.76 

The genius of Mariah Aikman Trayler’s quilt lies in her use of negative space. Upon closer examination, it is evident that Trayler began her quilt with 10 individually pieced squares (plus two half-squares), each consisting of blue-and-white diamond borders, and four pink petals augmenting the corners. Each pieced square was then appliquéd to the quilt top, to form an overall circular design. Trayler quilted the whitework with the finest and most intricate stitches.