My Sweet Sister Emma

November, 2017

My Sweet Sister Emma

Martha Ann Warfield Knowles and Henrietta Graff Thomas

Darby, Pennsylvania
Ardis and Robert James Collection, 1997.007.0697

Solid and pieced blocks alternate, and white squares at the centers and corners of each nine-patch create a secondary diagonal pattern. Despite an overall pieced pattern, the quilt’s conception as a center medallion is evident in the way that accent colors (red, blue, green, pink, etc.) are symmetrically positioned in successive frames. Made of eight nine-patch blocks, there are 113 blocks with names or signatures inscribed on them.

A cross-stitched inscription on the back of this quilt reads, “From M.A. Knowles. To her Sweet Sister Emma. Darby — 1843.”

Martha Ann Warfield Knowles made the quilt for her sister Emma Knowles Sheppard—likely as part of the dowry for her 1846 marriage—with help from their aunt Henrietta Graff Thomas. A team of volunteers known as the genealogical task force has researched the makers and the names of other signers on the quilt. Each block is signed by family and church members, and a number of blocks include biblical inscriptions.

Curator of Collections Carolyn Ducey shares more about this quilt’s composition and significance in this video:

The quilt appears in the exhibition Block by Block: American Quilts in the Industrial Age, which was guest curated by Janice Frisch and closes November 30.