Patriotic Quilts

References to patriotism, both national and sectional, abound in quilts made by Americans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The emblem associated with many of these patriotic quilts is the star, probably most often intended as a reference to the stars found on the U.S. flag or the battle flag of the Confederacy (popularly known as the Stars and Bars). 

 

The mid-nineteenth-century Patriotic Quilt features 16 squares, each centered with a segmented circle with its wedges made of red, green, and a yellow patterned fabric. This color combination was particularly fashionable in the nineteenth-century South. Each star shape at the circles’ center was identified with a paper label that named a state of the Union, many (but not all) of them Southern states. Possibly it was intended that these labels would be replaced by an embroidered designation as a finishing step. Like the Mount Ida Wedding Quilt , this quilt also references the immense popularity of printed cotton fabrics in the nineteenth century. The border is predominantly red fabric with exotic floral forms in green, blue, and yellow. This type of pattern is generically called Palampore after designs originally created in India, and made highly popular by the export trade of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in both Europe and America.

 

Mary Maxtion of Boligee, Greene County, Alabama calls her quilt Patriotic Stars referencing its red, white, and blue color palette. While at first glance it appears that the repeated star pattern is symmetrical, on closer inspection she has inserted devices such as the extra bars at the bottom of the first row to even out its length. She also breaks up the symmetry by incorporating two blocks in which there is a red star on a blue background. Such practices are common among African-American quilt makers who tend to infuse a greater sense of optical excitement into their designs by interrupting symmetry and the use of saturated colors.

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