Patches From the Past
Scraps of Fabric, Sewing & Quilting History

Patriotic, Political and Commemorative Quilts

~ the bumper stickers of the 19th century ~

Although women weren't allowed to vote until 1920 they could always make quilts that reflected their patriotism and political beliefs. Many patriotic quilts were pictorial appliqué quilts. In early America eagles were a popular motif in appliqué and in quilting. Later the Civil War inspired both Union and Secession quilts. Union enthusiasts favored red, white and blue quilts with stars and stripes. Secession quilts often included a circle of seven stars to representing the Confederate states. As Americans moved westward quilters celebrated the establishment of each state with quilts. The Centennial celebration in 1876 was another big occasion for making commemorative quilts.

find  this book at amazon.comAn individual quilt block may have many names depending on time and location. Burgoyne Surrounded quilts may have been named in memory of the defeat of Major General Burgoyne by George Washington. The heated campaign for Harrison and Tyler in 1840 inspired the quilt name Tippecanoe & Tyler Too. Some block names refer to the Underground Railroad and the Civil War. Names like Underground Railroad and Birds in Flight might have represented the slave's flight for freedom. Often familiar blocks were renamed for political reasons. For example the Pine Tree has also been called the Temperance Tree. The Sherman's March and Lincoln’s Platform blocks are actually the same block with different names.

Even the fabric business got in on patriotic and political themes. As early as the last part of the 1700s European textile manufacturers printed fabric featuring George Washington. These prints were then sold in America. Hard cider and log cabins were printed on fabric in reference to William Harrison's 1840 campaign for president. We know of two calicos that were printed in Civil War themes. Several commemorative prints including flags and the dates 1776 - 1876 were produced for America's first Centennial celebration.

The Centennial of 1876 inspired a resurgence of quilt making including the making of patriotic quilts. More recently quilts have been made for various causes like the giant AIDS Memorial Quilt first displayed in 1987. In the article Quilted Reactions to Desert Storm we find that quilts were made both in support and opposition to the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq.

On a lighter note is the popularity of a Scottie dog motif in fabric and applique that we see from the 1930s and 40s. This fabric became especially beloved because people so enjoyed the news about Franklin Roosevelt's little dog. I'm not sure that everyone making a these quilts supported the president or if they just loved the the image of this charming pet.

A more recent quilt can be seen at, "July 1942: United We Stand: The Flag In World War II". The making of quilts to represent our patriotism and beliefs has occurred throughout American history and will continue well into the future.

© 2001 Judy Anne Johnson Breneman (Do not reproduce this article without permission from the author.)

For more information go to
Patriotic Quilts Through Time
by Kimberly Wulfert, PhD

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