October, 2017


Maker unknown

Circa 1880-1900
Probably made in Florida
Silk; hand-quilting, embroidery and applique
Ardis and Robert James Collection, 1997.007.0360

Resembling a crazy quilt, this rare coffin cover is ornately embroidered with motifs of scrolls, florals, grapes and curving shapes. Like other crazy quilts made during the Victorian Era, it is made of velvets, silks and satin.

For more information on this and other crazy quilts, view the online exhibition for A Fairyland of Fabrics: The Victorian Crazy Quilt, which appeared at Quilt House in 2009.

There is a long tradition of draping coffins in fabric. In Ancient Rome, a “pallium,” or man’s cloak, was spread over his coffin when it was carried from his home to the cemetery. By the Middle Ages, pallium had become a rectangular “pall” used to cover a coffin as it lay in a Christian church. 

In the United States, there is a regional tradition of handmade embroidered casket covers in Appalachia. In “Piece of My Soul,” Cuesta Benberry notes that African American families have a tradition of creating quilts to cover coffins. These are then passed down through family members and used on numerous occasions.

This quilt will be featured in The Haunting of Quilt House, a pop-up exhibit to celebrate Halloween, October 27-29 in the Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Work Room. The seven quilts featured in “The Haunting of Quilt House” cover a spectrum of quiltmaking styles—appliqué, piecing and embroidery—and span three centuries.