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Quilting in
Orange County

Quilts in our Collection

Star pattern quilt, 88” x 90”, hand stitched by Elizabeth Vincent Berry (1803-1888) in 1861.  Elizabeth was the wife of architect John Berry.

Pinwheel pattern quilt, 89” x 99”, hand stitched by Fannie Anderson Ratliffe, (1836-1934) sometime between 1850 and 1910.

Crazy quilt, 23” x 23”, feather embroidery stitches, maker and date unknown.  Circa 1880.

Crazy quilt, 58” x 78”, made in Iowa as wedding present for Mrs. Violet E. Wurfel's mother, between 1890 and 1901.

Quilt with white background, blue and red diamond shapes, 90” x 94”, made by Sarah Catherine Malone Norris (1859-1944), mother of Iona Graham Norris Dorrity (1893-1986), date unknown.

Crazy quilt, 59” x 84”, feather embroidery stitches, made in 1883.  Librarian and devoted benefactor of the Orange County Public Library, Rebecca Wall (1898-1986), donated this quilt to the museum.  It belonged to her mother, Annie Collins Cameron.  Annie had been engaged to a Virginian. Before they could wed, the young man became ill with tuberculosis.  Annie, his sister, and his mother made the quilt according to his suggestions of what to put on each square, such as flowers, strawberries, dates of his birth and graduation from UVA, his initials, and the fraternity pin he had given to Annie.  After he died, the young man’s mother gave the quilt to Annie.  She later married William Lewis Wall of Durham.

Log cabin, and courthouse steps quilt with saw tooth border, 70” x 89”, hand woven lining, made by Mary A. Holden Hodge (1878-1929), in 1900.

Patriotic quilt, 82” x 70”, made in 1945 during WW II by the aunt of Marion Clark to honor the men from this area who were serving in our armed forces. Names of men included in quilt: Bill Merritt, James Duncan, Sidney Ray, Phil Hardee, Marion Clark, Jr., Emmit Partin, Melvin Ellington, Frank Liner, Bynum Crabtree, "Diddle" Petty, Eugene Clark, Archie Creef, Chief Jeffcott, Lt. Thompson, Ollie Clark, William Clark, Raymond Perry, J.D. Wright, Preston Hogan, Roger Thrift, Walter Clark, Jr., Kenneth Clark, Charles Campbell, W.R. Campbell, Rudy Hardee, Raymond Lewis, Nelson ___, James ___, Ralph Cheek, Bobby Hardee, Carl Hogan, Elbert Hardee, Sidney Stovall, Julian Braxton, Ernest Mann, Edward Mann, Porter Lea, Jr., T.C. Lindsay, "Scottie" Scott, Gordan Liner, Jack Johnson, Howard Hobby.

Dresden Plate Applique quilt square on unbleached muslin backing, 14” x 14”, made by an unknown member of the Hillsborough Crafters, a quilting organization that operated in Hillsborough, NC (1973-2003),

between 1973 and 1983.

A Brief History of Quilts

A quilt is a cloth 'sandwich 'with a top which is usually the decorated part, a back, and a filler in the middle.

The quilt, as we know it in America, was originally strictly a functional article, created to providing warm covers for beds as well as hangings for doors and windows to keep out the cold and not as carefully constructed heirlooms.  During the early years of European colonization, women were busy spinning, weaving, and sewing clothes for their family.  Consequently, they had little time for artistic quilting.

Only in later years, when fabrics were more readily available and affordable, did the artistic type of quilting become widespread.

In the 150 years between 1750 and 1900, thousands of quilts were pieced and patched.  These quilts can be divided into three different types:

Pieced or patchwork Quilts

The most common type of quilt are patchwork because they were less expensive to make.  Pieces of fabric were sewn together to make the quilt top and then attached to the bottom fabric.  They earned the name “patchwork” because they were often made with fabric scraps.


Plain or Whole Cloth Quilts

This type of quilt was especially popular during the early 1800s. This type of quilt was made of single pieces of material on the top and back, and the decoration is obtained by means of padded or corded quilting, often in elaborate designs.


Applique Quilts

This style used a top piece of fabric and smaller pieces of contrasting fabrics were applied or stitched onto the larger piece.  Only the wealthy could afford the expensive imported fabric and had the leisure time for this type of quilt making that displayed the fine needlework of the maker.  Applique quilting reached its climax in popularity about 1850.


Freedom Quilts *(more information below)

Enslaved women would often incorporate codes into their quilting and display the quilts as signals to other enslaved people that they should begin to pack for the journey (Wagon Wheel), dress up (Shoofly), and get ready to escape (Tumbling Blocks).  Quilts were also used to alert fugitive slaves to food (Bear's Paw), the way north (Star) and danger (Log Cabin).  Because quilts were such an American tradition, they could be hung on porches or displayed on fences without attracting attention.*See notes below


Crazy Quilts

This style became popular after the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Displays in the Japanese pavilion inspired the American women to emulate the aesthetics in the patterns and stitching of their quilts.  Crazy quilting rapidly became a national fashion amongst urban, upper-class women, who used the wide variety of fabrics that the newly industrialized 19th century textile industry offered to piece together single quilts from hundreds of different fabrics. Long after the style had fallen out of fashion amongst urban women, it continued in rural areas and small towns, whose quilters adopted the patterns of the urban quilts but employed sturdier, more practical fabrics, and dropped the earlier quilts' ornate embroidery and embellishment.


Patriotic Quilts

During WWI, women were urged to make quilts to save woven blankets for the men fighting overseas.  WWII saw quilting as a way to raise funds for the Red Cross with the creation of signature quilts.  The signature quilt was created by selling community store owners and citizens the opportunity to have their name embroidered on a quilt for a small fee.  The completed quilt would then be raffled off to some lucky winner and the proceeds were used by the Red Cross to support their efforts in the war.

Source:     accessed 7/12/20


The phrase “Freedom Quilt” is also used to represent quilts given to young men as they reach adulthood. The concept of “code quilts” providing information for those escaping on the Underground Rail Road is controversial among historians, oral historians, and folklorists.

The following links are offered as suggested reading on this topic:

Quilts in North Carolina

“North Carolina’s quilts are as diverse as its people and its geography. Quilt making during the state’s long history evolved from a leisure pastime of privileged women, to an activity of women of the yeoman business, and professional classes, to a necessity adopted by poorer women. . . .

The history of North Carolina quilts has been determined in a large part by the availability of fabrics in the state. The factors that determined settlement patterns, trade, and economics grow also determined the kinds of textiles available to quilters in each region.”

North Carolina Quilts, Edited by Ruth Haislip Roberson. The University of North Carolina Press, 1988

Suggested Reading:

  • North Carolina Quilts Edited by Ruth Haislip Roberson. The University of North Carolina Press, 1988

  • The Quilt I.D. Book by Judy Rehmel, Prentice Hall Press, 1986

  • Quilts in America by Patsy & Myron Orlofsky, Abbeville Press 1974

Suggested Websites:

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