Elegant Geometry

Elegant Geometry

Elegant Geometry: American and British Mosaic Patchwork

The early history of the United States is intimately linked to the United Kingdom by family relationships and through patterns of immigration and trade. In fact, many settlers aspired to replicate British culture in the New World. Women brought their traditional sewing methods along with their needles, pins, thread, and cloth and then taught each new generation. The work of these American and British women surrounds you, and it shows how patchwork traditions have developed and changed over three centuries and across thousands of miles.

Mosaic patchwork is a technique in which pieces of fabric are wrapped and basted over paper templates and then whipstitched together. The technique’s popularity waxed and waned as the taste for silk, wool, and cotton fabrics fell in and out of fashion. The development, spread, and eventual decline of the method reflects the social and cultural shifts in women’s lives on both sides of the Atlantic.

We invite you to examine the precision and complexity of the mosaic patchwork technique in Elegant Geometry and to appreciate the quiet artistry and modest ingenuity that have influenced past and present American and British patchwork traditions

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Works in the Exhibition

Works in the Exhibition

Anna Ruggles
Probably made in the United Kingdom, dated 1796 and 1840
Mosaic patchwork technique; co on, 90.75” x 88.5” International Quilt Study Center, 2008.040.0140, Byron and Sarah Rhodes Dillow Collection

We can only guess which hexagon rosette contained Anna Ruggles’ (1776-1842) favorite pattern. She appears to have enjoyed fabric, and she made full use of the variety of patterns that were found on printed cottons in the 1790s. By careful fussy cutting (selective cutting of a printed fabric design), she was able to create interesting kaleidoscopic effects in the single hexagon rosettes although she wasted a great deal of fabric in the process.

Despite her obvious sewing skills, Anna appears to have created a design challenge when she surrounded the double rosettes in the center with a ring of single rosettes. This prevented the single rosettes from aligning symmetrically along the vertical axis. Her stair-stepped outer border is a beautiful resolution.

Anna Ruggles, born in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom, married John Noxon. Their granddaughter, Harriet Noxon, was born in 1840, though whether she is the Harriet Toppen mentioned in the inscription is uncertain. The inscription, dated 1840, added more than forty years after Anna made the quilt, suggests that the quilt was a signicant gift.

Maker Unknown
Probably made in the United Kingdom 1820-1840, dated 1734
Mosaic patchwork technique, embroidery, appliqué; co on and co on-silk mixture; wool and silk embroidery thread, 93” x 92.5” International Quilt Study Center, 2006.014.0001, Purchase made pos- sible through the James Foundation Acquisition Fund

The embroidered center panel of this coverlet may commemorate an event that occurred one hundred years before the coverlet was finished. Next to the simple flower and bird designs, the embroiderer stitched “Ann Stevenson 1734” in silk. A British record notes that Ann Waddington married John Stevenson in 1734. If this record re- lates to the Ann named here, the embroidery may commemorate their wedding.
Several factors were considered in dating this coverlet. Families often saved significant pieces of embroidery and incorporated them into later needlework projects. The pieced and plain printed cotton borders date from the 1820s and 1830s. The technique used to print the distinctive, rainbow stripe pattern on triangles near the coverlet’s center was first developed for printed wallpaper in 1822, and introduced to cotton printing in 1824.The mosaic patchwork technique is con ned to single hexagon rosettes around the center panel. Perhaps the needlewoman found the method too time-consuming, but wanted to include some geometric shapes.

Maker Unknown
Probably made in the United Kingdom 1810-1830
Mosaic patchwork technique; cotton, 108” x 106”
International Quilt Study Center, 2006.056.0002, Gift of Clyde E. and Joan B. Shorey

The collection of cotton prints in this coverlet—the large number of print patterns in different colorways together with many similar print designs—probably were not drawn only from a needlewoman’s scrap bag. The maker may have purchased much of the fabric from merchants who at this time sold small pieces of cloth specifically for patchwork.

The coverlet contains many prints that show the new fabric printing techniques and dye processes being developed during the early decades of the nineteenth century. A number of the single color prints on white show the use of stipple engraved and eccentric engraved printing rollers (see Lane’s Net fragment above). The colorful fabrics incorporating blue, red, green, and yellow are called Lapis prints, named for the medium blue semi-precious stone, lapis lazuli.

The coverlet is finished with a knife edge, also known as a butted edge in the United Kingdom. In this typical British binding method, the maker folds the bedcover’s top and backing seam allowances to the inside and sews the folded edges together.


Mary Staveley

Made in East Yorkshire, United Kingdom, dated 1833

Whip-stitched and embroidery; cotton, 99” x 82.5”

International Quilt Study Center, 2006.031.0001, Purchase made possible through the James Foundation Acquisition Fund.


Mary Staveley whipstitched her fabric patches together without paper templates, an indication that some women had moved away from the time consuming mosaic patchwork method by this time. The embroidered center panel provides a clue for speculation about the quilt’s origins. Hannah Wilson (1805- 1883) married George Bullock, a shoemaker and postmaster, and lived at Wetwang, East Yorkshire. Possibly she ran a small school where she taught needlework. The embroidered inscription was a popular choice for samplers and reflects the ethic of obedience and diligence that prevailed at this time.

Possibly made by a member of Cockey family 
Possibly made in Maryland, United States, 1830-1850 
Mosaic patchwork technique; cotton, 100” x 99.5” International Quilt Study Center, 1997.007.0687, Ardis and Robert James Collection. 

Today, a quilt with an allover pattern of double hexagon rosettes surrounded by a line of solid white hexagons is often called a Grandmother’s Flower Garden, but that name is an early twentieth-century invention. 

In 1826, John Paul Cockey, a doctor from Frederick, Maryland, married Eliza Kelso, daughter of John Kelso, a Baltimore merchant. They had one child in 1830 whom they christened Elizabeth. Perhaps Eliza made this quilt. 

Maker unknown
Probably made in Massachusetts, United States, 1820-1840
Mosaic patchwork technique; cotton, 91.5” x 88”
International Quilt Study Center, 1997.007.0930, Ardis and Robert James Collection.

The careful placement of colors and contrasting values of light and dark fabrics, not the hexagon shape, gave this coverlet an inventive composition. The formality of the large central hexagon shape, surrounded by a field of pink and framed by stripes of rosettes along two sides, created the effect of a garden bursting with color.

Whole Cloth, Printed Patchwork 
Maker unknown 
Probably made in the United States, 1840-1860 
Cotton, 80.75” x 64.75” International Quilt Study Center, 2008.040.0051, Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection. 

The top of this quilt was made from what today we call “cheater cloth.” There was a fashion for patchwork designs on printed cotton in the mid-1800s. Most designs contain patchwork block patterns, but the inclusion of a design that copies a mosaic patchwork layout of single hexagon rosettes suggests that needle-women still valued the pattern. 

The bottom corners of this quilt were notched to accommodate the posts at the foot of a bed. The unique circular cutouts make this quilt unusual. Most American notched quilts, almost all from New England, have either deep 90-degree square cutouts or simple 45-degree slits. This distinctive cutouts and the narrow width of the quilt suggest that the maker constructed the quilt to cover only the top of a bed. 

Star, Signature 
Rebecca Scattergood Savery (1770-1855)
Probably made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, dated 1844 
Mosaic patchwork technique; cotton, 118.5” x 114” International Quilt Study Center, 1997.007.0118, Ardis and Robert James Collection. 

Rebecca Scattergood married Thomas Savery in 1791. Both were members of the Society of Friends, the Quakers. Quakers from Philadelphia and other parts of the Delaware Valley that forms the Pennsylvania and New Jersey border had strong connections to Britain through the London Yearly Meeting, which was the international center of Quaker religious life. Quaker women from the Valley frequently made mosaic patchwork quilts into the mid-nineteenth century. The close cultural exchange between Friends on either side of the Atlantic may have helped sustain this British mosaic patchwork technique. 

The six-pointed mosaic patchwork stars contain inked inscriptions of names; some also have delightful ink drawings. With the exception of the Saverys, the names inscribed on the quilt have been traced to Quakers who lived on the east side of the Delaware River in New Jersey. The quilt must have been completed sometime after April 6, 1844, since Rebecca’s grandson William H. Savery, who is named on a block on the edge of the quilt, was born on that day. Perhaps Rebecca stitched the quilt as a tribute to Cyrus Cadwallader, whose name is on the central patch, and who, at the age of eighty-one, was the oldest person to be named. 

Rebecca Savery is known to have made at least six quilts; she inscribed three of them with names and dates. The IQSCM owns two of these; this one and one other made in 1845. The third is housed at the American Folk Art Museum.

Original, Medallion 
Maker unknown
Probably made in New Hampshire, United States, 1860-1880 
Mosaic patchwork technique and appliqué; cotton, 88.5” x 81.5” International Quilt Study Center, 1997.007.0818, Ardis and Robert James Collection. 

The complex design of overlapping red diamond motifs within the center rectangle of this coverlet contrasts with the appliquéd motifs within the border. Also, she hand stitched the border to the center panel and then machine stitched a backing to the center only. These clues suggest that the maker stitched the coverlet in two stages. 

The mosaic patchwork stitching in this coverlet is not as fine as other quilts and coverlets in this exhibition. As other sewing techniques—particularly with sewing machines—became more popular during the second half of the 1800s and as women had fewer teachers and examples of fine hand stitching techniques to imitate, the quality of hand sewing declined. 

Maker unknown 
Probably made in the United States, 1830-1850 
Mosaic patchwork technique, seamed patchwork, and appliqué; cotton, 91” x 91” International Quilt Study Center, 2008.040.0019, Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection. 

Chintz appliqué and mosaic patchwork bedcovers were both popular styles in the early 1800s. Chintz appliqué’s popularity was due in part to its ability to make expensive fabrics stretch further. Conversely, mosaic patchwork’s luxury was its abundant use of expensive fabric consumed in the many seam allowances that were turned to the back. 

By the second quarter of the nineteenth century, the mosaic patchwork technique was less popular and often only was used for portions of a bedcover. This coverlet’s maker chose a chintz appliqué motif for her center medallion surrounded with pieced and solid borders seamed with the running stitch. She used the mosaic patchwork technique only for the trios of hexagons, which were appliquéd onto rectangular background pieces before they were incorporated into the borders. 

Original, Hexagon 
Maker unknown 
Possibly made in the United Kingdom, dated 1853 
Mosaic patchwork technique; cotton, 97” x 81” International Quilt Study Center, 2006.043.0143, Ardis and Robert James Collection. 

An unknown needlewoman chose an all-over hexagon pattern to create images of flowers and baskets together with a verse from a late seventeenth-century British hymn. The hexagon letters that dominate the coverlet, spell out an adaptation of the third verse of the hymn, “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night,” written in 1695 by Thomas Ken (1637-1711). “Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed; Teach me to die that so I may with joy behold the judgment day.” Such pious sentiments were frequently expressed in needlework during this period and reflect the importance of religion in mid-Victorian society. 

Many women have used their sewing as a way to promote their beliefs and attitudes. American women made numerous quilts to promote the temperance movement in the late 1800s, patriotic quilts during World War II, and the NAMES Project AIDS quilt begun in the 1980s. 

Diamond, Hexagon setting 
Maker unknown 
Probably made in Kentucky, United States, 1860-1880 
Mosaic patchwork technique; wool, 84” x 66” International Quilt Study Center, 2006.043.0095, Ardis and Robert James Collection. 

In 1850, during the height of the fashion for ‘fancy work’, “Godey’s Lady’s Book” published a patchwork pattern that used the diamond shape. This pattern was not named in Godey’s, but was later called Tumbling Blocks or Baby Blocks in other publications. 

By selecting wool fabrics in dark, medium, and light values, the maker was able to achieve a three-dimensional optical effect. With further clever selection of fabrics by color and value, the maker built the blocks into larger hexagon shapes. 

The maker appliquéd the patchwork onto a dark red background and hand quilted the borders. The multitude of thick seam allowances on the back of the patchwork center probably proved too difficult to quilt. Consequently, the maker hand-tied the quilt at the corners as well as the center of the larger hexagon shapes. 

Maker unknown 
Possibly made in Ohio, United States, 1860-1880 
Mosaic patchwork technique; silk, 81” x 71” International Quilt Study Center, 1997.007.0437, Ardis and Robert James Collection. 

This small, luxurious silk quilt is typical of “fancy work” that was popular in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. The maker fussy cut patterned silks to enhance the elegance of her design. Fancy work was not practical for daily use in the bedroom, but was often displayed in more public rooms such as the parlor, a room in Victorian homes set aside for receiving guests. 

Women’s publications highlighted a fashion for fancy work and provided patterns for silk and velvet patchwork as part of this trend. The American magazine, “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” published a series of mosaic patchwork patterns in the 1850s that were sourced from British publications. The patterns were re-published later by two rival American magazines, “Graham’s Magazine” and “Peterson’s Magazine.” 

Maker unknown 
Possibly made in Kentucky, United States, 1860-1880 
Mosaic patchwork technique; wool, 80.5” x 66” International Quilt Study Center, 1997.007.0598, Ardis and Robert James Collection. 

This maker created her “fancy work” style patchwork quilt using brightly-colored wool fabrics that were popular during the second half of the nineteenth century. Her approach to quilting and appliqué are puzzling, however. She appears to have evenly stitched double rows of machine quilting across the entire piece. Actually, she only machine quilted through all layers in the red border; she had machine stitched over the hexagon field before she machine appliquéd it to the red background. 

Works in the Exhibition

Gallery Photos

Gallery Photos
Gallery Photos
This exhibition was made possible through funding from the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. The Nebraska Arts Council, a state agency, has supported this exhibition through its matching grants program funded by the Nebraska Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. Visit www.artscouncil.nebraska.gov for more information.
Event Date
Saturday, May 28, 2011 to Sunday, January 8, 2012