Discover Vintage America - SEPTEMBER 2018

More quilt mysteries – Where is the rest of my quilt?

As my faithful readers know, I adore antique signature quilts, the earlier the better, so I found it impossible to resist this crib-sized signature quilt dated 1841 and 1842. The year 1840 is the very beginning of the signature quilt phenomena and this is my oldest signature quilt.

Maryland Signature Quilt, 51" x 51" (Starley quilt collection)

The quilt is a bit puzzling as it has two different bindings, which is uncommon. Two edges are sewn by hand with the top fabric turned over to the back (a standard method of the time period.) The other two edges have a tape binding that is hand- basted BUT attached by sewing machine. The machine stitching is very unusual since the quilt squares, and likely the quilt, predate the first United States' sewing machine by several years.

So clearly, something happened to the quilt after it was made in the 1840s. Had the two edges simply been finished at a later date? Possibly, but not likely. Or was there edge wear or damage that was cut off? The quilt is in very good condition so again not probable. Therefore, another possibility (the most likely one) is that the quilt was originally much larger and was cut into four pieces and the two raw edges were bound by machine. That raises another question – why was it cut down or cut into several sections?

Detail of Maryland Signature Quilt (Starley quilt collection)

There is a history of quilts being cut into pieces for a variety of reasons. They were mainly cut to share with family, i.e., two daughters, one quilt (a bit like Solomon and the baby). Unfortunately, there is also a history of cutting quilts in the 1980s and 1990s when doll-and child-sized crib quilts were selling at a high premium. Four crib quilts would bring much more than the one bed-sized quilt. Unscrupulous dealers would "cut down" the quilts, rebind the edges, and sell them as doll or crib quilts. That is why finding the two different bindings (especially the machine-sewn one) set off alarm bells. One always has to be careful with small quilts to not be fooled. I purchased this one knowing it probably had been altered but wanting to research even part of such an early signature quilt.

The quilt has 16 Grandmother's Pride blocks, each with a different signature. Several have dates (1841 and 1842) and possible locations and include several in Carroll and Frederick County, MD, as well as Baltimore and New York. The blocks are pieced with 1830's fabrics done in the old printing method of block/stamp printing. Most of the signatures are simple, but Evalina Shaw created a lovely block, one of my all-time favorite signature blocks. I love the swag with music notes and "Peace to the Mind", tassels, lyre, flower basket, flowers, etc. There is so much detail in just a two-inch square.

Evalina Shaw's block, dated December 1841 (Starley quilt collection)

Frederick and Carroll counties are on the Mason-Dixon Line next to Pennsylvania, near Gettysburg. Evalina and her sister both signed the quilt and lived in both states at different times. Research is ongoing. It is impossible to know if the quilt was cut down from a full bed-sized quilt to make four quilts for four family members or cut into "crib quilts" in the 1980s.

Maybe someday, I will find more of it – one can dream!

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

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