Multitudinous: Scrap Quilts – January/February 2007

Postage Stamp Quilt, circa 1910. This quilt was made by Rosa Ana O’Riley Whitworth. Almost 8,000 tiny squares of shirtings, checks, and chambray were stitched together by Rosa Ana.
scrap quilts
by Sue Reich
Quiltmakers have always had a fascination with quilts containing multitudes of fabrics. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many quilters strove to outdo one another by using the most pieces, the tiniest scraps, or the greatest number of stitches. Newspapers fueled the fervor by reporting quiltmakers’ achievements.
Target Quilt, circa 1910: This quilt was discovered during a Texas quilt search in 1985. Made by Lorah Sasser Clark, it contains 42,000 folded triangles, stitched down at their base. Lorah started to work on it at age 16 and finished it fifteen years later.
Many quiltmaking fads swept the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Two popular quilt types from that era easily recognized by most quilters today are the crazy quilt, with its silks and fancy stitches, and the one-patch charm quilt, boasting no two fabrics alike.
These quilt genres, as well as a third, lesser-known style that used thousands of pieces, reflect a historical period of abundance and financial well-being. In addition to plenty of fabric quiltmakers had leisure time to pursue their projects.
Participants in the third style, blessed (or cursed) with highly competitive personalities, strove to outdo one another in sheer numbers of individual pieces used to make their quilts. These patchwork Olympians incorporated thousands of pieces into a single quilt.
Intrigued by the oddball nature of the quilts, newspapers across the country printed articles about the quiltmakers’ Herculean efforts.
News accounts kept tabs on the number of pieces (sometimes tens of thousands), their minuscule size, and, on occasion, even the number of stitches used. Some writers expressed amazement at the quilters’ achievements, some derided the activity as a waste of time, and some encouraged the stitchers to one-up each other.
Hexagon Quilt, 65½” x 82″. The hexagonal pieces in this quilt are each the size of a penny. Over 8,000 hexagons span generations from the 1870s-1920s.
These “multitudinous” scrap quilts were usually one patch quilts of postage stamp squares, mosaic hexagons, brick-shaped rectangles, flying geese units, oblongs, clamshells, or diamonds. They might be randomly designed or combined in nine patch sets, lights and dark, Trip Around the World, or other simple patterns.
The tiny pieces used in such quilts would probably be discarded by today’s quilter, but the “use up, waste not” attitudes of earlier times still prevailed in the late nineteenth century. Often, these very scrappy quilts reflect a multi generational fabric stash. Centennial prints from the 1870s are used with the indigos, clarets, conversation prints, and shirtings produced decades later.
As we all know, styles in fashion and quiltmaking come back around every so often. Perhaps we ought to be saving our tiniest leftover fabric pieces for a future revival of the “multitudinous” scrap quilt craze!
By industry and perserverance a woman can make a quilt from 21,963 pieces. Such a thing has been done in Georgia, after years of labor, and the quilt is as good in all respects as one made from one piece in a single day.
–Morning Oregonian, Portland, Oregon, August 9, 1875
Another silly Ohio woman has just completed a quilt containing five thousand pieces. A woman who would spend her time over such worthless nonsense, where there is so much useful and beautiful work to be done in the world, ought to be ashamed of herself.
–Zanesville Daily Courier, Zanesville, Ohio, November 11, 1877
An Iowa girl has made a quilt containing 10,049 separate pieces but she was so long in making it that she became an old maid, and now can only use the same for ornament, whereas she had she paid more attention to hunting a man and less to hunting “scraps” for the quilt, she might have had some use for the monument of patience.
–Fort Wayne Daily Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana, June 4, 1881
An inmate of the Old Ladies’ Home at Bath is spending her days in sewing and counting, sewing and counting. She is making a crazy quilt and so far has put fourteen million, nine hundred and five thousand, six hundred and five stitches into it.
Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Bangor, Maine, November 7, 1894
A Florida woman has made a bed quilt containing 16,000 pieces less than the size of a man’s thumb.
Denton Journal, Denton, Maryland, October 8, 1887

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