Discover Vintage America - JANUARY 2018

Quaker friendship quilts – 1840s signature albums

Early signature quilts were most commonly made to preserve bonds of friendship, faith, and family. Signature quilt blocks often herald "Friendship" or note they are made "For My Friend" or as "A Token of Friendship".

Rolling Stone Friendship block, shows hands with word Friendship, c. 1850, Pennsylvania. (Starley Quilt Collection)

We researchers hear angels singing when we discover quilts that are true genealogical documents like my Quaker quilt that states it is "Enoch & Mary Worrall's Quilt 1850," and lists the "Children of Enoch & Mary Worrall," both living and deceased. This quilt shows many relationships in the Worrall and Mary Hoopes families as well as friends and neighbors.

This star quilt was made by Quakers or members of the Society of Friends in Chester County, PA, near Philadelphia. Of note is a poem extolling friendship on a married couple's block: "Friendship is the joy of reason, Dearer far than that of love".

Not surprisingly, the Friends were early adopters of the signature quilt and lived in the epicenter of the friendship quilt phenomena, the Delaware Valley area – particularly Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. Their penchant for documentation in church meeting records and on quilts is a great boon to researching their quilts and finding relationships between people on a particular quilt and between groups of quilts.

Mary Worrall Parry quilt, left, dated 1845. Right, Enoch and Mary Worrall quilt. (Erickson and Starley Collection)

One of the pleasures of collecting and researching these quilts is traveling back in time and reuniting quilts that have been separated for more than 150 years. I found my first related quilt soon after acquiring the Enoch Worrall quilt and wondering why a star quilt had two oak reel blocks.

Luckily, the Chester County, PA quilt documentation book, Layers, featured a Worrall family quilt on its cover. It was an Oak Reel made for Enoch and Mary's daughter Mary Worrall (Davis). Both are bound with the same dotted fabric and feature many of the same people. Clearly a couple of the daughter's leftover reel blocks were handy when they were making the star quilt a few years later and finishing up the reel quilt. After solving the "reel mystery" which was first posed in a 1985 article about Quaker quilts in The Quilt Digest and connecting two immediate family quilts, I was enthralled with signature quilt and genealogy research.

Oak Reel block dated 1846, Enoch and Mary Worrall quilt, dated 1850. (Starley Quilt Collection)

Last year I was able to reunite two Worrall cousin quilts. The two families are doubly related as their great grandparents were both Worrall brothers who married Taylor sisters. Fellow quilt scholar Cathy E. owns the dated 1845 quilt made for Mary Worrall Parry (Lukens), daughter of Edith (Worrall) Parry. Edith is the extended cousin of Enoch Worrall.

Since linking these two quilts we have found at least a dozen interrelated quilts made by this group of Quakers. The quilts range from simple star patterns to very intricate designs. We've found several detailed paper cut appliqué medallions that are almost carbon copies of Cathy's treasure, including the Noble quilt housed at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. And we've just learned about another one that we are tracking down at this time in Washington.

I hope that anyone with 1840s and 1850s signature quilts will feel free to contact me to share names and exchange information. I'm especially interested in ones from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and New York. And stay tuned as more quilt connections are revealed.


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 utahquiltappraiser.blogspot.com. Send your comments and quilt questions to SandraStarley@outlook.com

Covering Quilts Archive past columns