“Through the years, quilts have become documents of history. They are the products of their society, influenced by the culture, and the environment of the people who made them. The history of America can be seen in the history of quilts.” – National Park Service
House quilt blocks have a way of bringing American history into modern homes. They offer a sense of nostalgia, even if the quilter or receiver of the quilt isn’t aware of the story surrounding them. Like many quilt blocks that quilters work with on a regular basis, House quilt blocks have seen a metamorphosis of sorts since the quilt block’s conception in the latter part of the 1800s. With the movement west, spurred on by the Homestead Act of 1862, the prospect of a new start and ownership of land inspired many women to document their lives and the prosperity of their western towns. Building a better life meant providing children with an education via schoolhouses and the townspeople with various other public buildings. The National Park Service discusses how the process was recorded in fabric, “The Schoolhouse block was often a variation of a house or church pattern. Most featured a side view of the building and were either pieced or appliquéd. Depending on the skill of the quilter and time available to her, crosses in the windowpanes and outlines of the doors could be added.”
It’s fun to see how House quilt blocks have changed over time. The House block in Coming Home is created in a similar style to the traditional Schoolhouse quilt block, while the House block in Won’t You Be My Neighbor looks totally different and works up quicker.
You can see tradition shining through the House quilt blocks in the Cabin Runner below. These blocks resemble the original Schoolhouse block that was created by the westward-bound pioneers. The houses in the Thimbleberries project by Lynette Jensen (right) are met with a little whimsy – country flowers divide the houses to create space in the design, giving the impression of a neighborhood, rather than standalone houses.
Did you realize that House quilt blocks have such a poignant past? The history of this quilt block resinates with me, triggering a sadness for the many lives that were lost during the tumultuous movement west. Some pioneers prepared for months and even years for a journey with unknown consequences! Ultimately, I feel a resounding pride for the quilting community and its efforts to keep this great story alive with the continuation of this quilt block. Let’s continue to quilt American history, Quilters!