Broken Circle (New York Beauty)

May, 2009

Broken Circle (New York Beauty)

Maker unknown

Possibly made in Pennsylvania or Maryland
Jonathan Holstein Collection, 2003.003.0153

Reminiscent of the regular, jagged edges of motorized gears, the quarter-circle fans of this quilt echo one of the major themes of the era that were the focus of our book and exhibition, "American Quilts in the Modern Age, 1870-1940": mechanization and technological progress.

Block-style quilts such as this are symbols of the Modern Age in yet another way: their proliferation was largely due to the growing availability of inexpensive fabric and sewing machines after the Civil War. The long seams joining the blocks together were much more efficiently and quickly done on a machine than by hand.

The basic fan design of this block has long been a challenge to the expert piecer, whether working by hand or machine. When the block is sashed with complex pieced or appliquéd strips, it is known today as New York Beauty or Rocky Mountain; but this simpler version, a block isolated by broad blue bars, was called Broken Circle or Suspension Bridge in the 1933 Ladies Art Company catalog--a standard pattern source during the late 1800s and early to mid-1900s.