One Hundred Years In The Making

Nine Patch BlocksI have wondered about the unknown woman who hand-stitched these Nine Patch blocks during the turn of the last century. Did the woman live in a rural area, or in town? How old was she? How many blocks was she going to make? How large was this quilt going to be?

When I saw the 32 Nine Patch blocks in Williamsburg Virginia, I was immediately drawn to the cadet blue and mourning black cotton fabrics. As I sorted through the group of blocks, I saw a wonderful variety of shirting prints, checks, stripes, and plaids. All of the blocks were sewn well and the blocks were square. Also, the fabrics had not deteriorated or faded. I noted that several blocks had claret printed cottons and even a solid pink cotton was found in one block. I dated these blocks to have been made at the turn of the last century, somwhere between 1880 and 1910.

After I bought the blocks, I had to admit to myself that I did not need another quilt project. But somehow these 32 Nine Patch blocks spoke out to me, wanting me to use them in a quilt…..

Since there were enough Nine Patch blocks to make a crib-size quilt, I decided to try locating extra yardage of mourning black cotton fabric from the same era. Having additional authentic fabric would allow for a border (and maybe sashing) for the quilt. Imagine my delight when I located 2 one-yard pieces of mourning black prints!! The yardage gave me enough fabric to set the Nine Patch blocks on point with alternate blocks of black mourning fabric. And there would be enough remaining fabric to piece a binding together.

Mourning Nine Patch Quilt TopOnce the blocks were up on the design wall, the apparent randomness was anything but random. The four cadet blue blocks were decidedly the inside corner blocks. The four blocks made without any mourning black prints became the corners for the border.

One of the mourning print fabrics I had purchased was used for the plain setting blocks. The other mourning print was used for the borders.

I am now hand-quilting this Nine Patch quilt. I purchased the blocks in 1996 and had them for 10 years before I began my project. Ironically, the quilt will be completed after an entire century has passed.

One hundred years in the making.

As my needle and thread stitch through the layers making this quilt, I think of the woman who hand-stitched these Nine Patch blocks a century ago. Would she be pleased that her blocks eventually became a quilt? Even if the project is 100 years in the making, I can only hope that she is content with this collaboration.


Clues in the Calico by Barbara Brackman (McLean, VA: EPM, 1989).
Dating Fabrics: A Color Guide 1800-1960 by Eileen J. Trestain (Paducah, KY: American Quilter’s Society, 1998).

3 Responses to “One Hundred Years In The Making”

  1. Jana Says:

    Hello! I enjoyed reading your article, as I, too, came up a stash of 9-patch block with mourning fabric in each block. There were also several 4-patches that were never sewn into 9-patches as well as some individual squares of fabric. All the piecing is hand-sewn.

    I have been reluctant to do anything with the fabric as I do not want to destroy the integrity of the quilter or the fabric! The Antiques Roadshow is coming to my town tomorrow, and my plan is to take the blocks and fabric to see what the appraiser thinks.

    I love it that you put yours to use! Perhaps that is just the encouragement I needed.

  2. Martha Gray Says:

    I’m sure the woman who made your blocks would be so happy to see what you have created — it’s beautiful. I also make quilts from vintage quilt pieces, tops and blocks, and I hope when I am gone, someone else will finish my quilts for me. It’s a comforting thought.

  3. Ati Says:

    Hi, I have enjoyed looking and reading your blog, many, many pages! I loved the antique crazy quilt details, I am a CQ-er myself. But also this article about the old blocks you made into a quilt. I am sure the original maker would be very pleased that they became a quilt after so many years.

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