Discover Vintage America - DECEMBER 2015

Rose of Sharon and Whig Rose

A rose by any other name...

Be it Rose of Sharon, Whig Rose, Democrat Rose, Ohio Rose, California Rose, English Rose, or Flower of Paradise, early quilters were inspired by the Bible, romance, politics, and nature, to create this most popular group of appliqu� patterns.

Rose of Sharon Quilt detail, circa 1850. (Starley Collection)

Natural design

The Rose of Sharon flower (Hibiscus) inspired quilters to create many red and green appliqu� quilts. Some quilters were familiar with the plant while others were inspired by the name to create their own "rose" designs. A large circular flower surrounded by smaller scale roses and stems was the starting point for an infinite variety of designs. Rose of Sharon and Whig Rose are the most common names and are used interchangeably but the Whig Rose usually includes four leaf shapes around the center rose, which are not found on the Rose of Sharon.

Biblical and romantic inspiration

Rose of Sharon also refers to the Bible verse which quilt historian Ruth Finley in 1929, called the "most passionately exalted love lyric of all time":

"I am the Rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste." (Song of Solomon 2:1-3)

Finley noted: "The accepted tradition of early American womanhood is one of suppressed emotions. Austere, efficient, kind but cold, have our grandmothers been labeled. But it takes only a little delving into the life of the times, only a little reading between the lines of yellowed letters and diaries, only a little interpretation of ways that now seem merely quaint, to reveal depths of tenderness and heights of feeling."

In 1979, Canadian scholar Ruth McKendry similarly observed, "These were the women who made the Rose of Sharon for their marriage beds, revealing the passion that lay beneath those stern countenances and starched bosoms. These were women whose quilts were poems of love in themselves." It is charming to find that many of these brides' quilts were embellished with heart quilting and adorned with lovebirds.

Whig Rose crib quilt, circa 1850. (Starley Collection)



Other women were inspired to vote with their needles in a time when they were not allowed access to the voting booth. In the mid-1800s during the heyday of these patterns, there was a running dispute about the pattern name. Finley noted: "There was the 'Whig Rose', the 'Democrat Rose', the 'Harrison Rose' and a 'Mexican Rose', so much alike, in fact, at one time a controversy was waged to determine to which political camp this general rose design originally belonged. The Whigs claimed it, and the Democrats claimed it, and the dispute never was settled." However as the Whig Rose and the Rose of Sharon are the most used, it appears the Whigs and King Solomon are the victors as are all who are able to view and/or own these wonderful floral delights.

Collecting note

Rose of Sharon or Whig Rose quilts tend to be "best quilts" made for special occasions with the best workmanship and so were often put aside and not used and so they can still be found in good condition. There are many beautiful antique examples available today and they command high prices befitting their classification as works of art.

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at�Send your comments and quilt questions to