my favorite quilt

One of my ‘if I only had time’ handicrafts to learn is quilting. For never have even made a nine patch, I have quite a few quilts in my home. Most have been made by the talented and patient grannies that have blessed my life, though one of the ones on my bed (yes, I have more than one), I’m ashamed to admit, came from one of those mall quilt shops, that are cheaply made by even cheaper labour (it’s falling apart too).

My favorite style of patchwork quilts are the ones built over months or years of scraps of fabric. They are pieced together, as time permits, and whenever a dress was scrapped or the curtains replaced. They are quilts where the design is only understood within the context of a life lived by the quilter, as seasons pass and domestic demands change and intensify.

Here is my favorite quilt that comes from my partner’s grandmother, a farm wife and mother to ten children.

For a long time it hung on the wall behind my bed as a headboard (good for the winter months to block the chill from the wall) from a couple of tiki torches duct taped together, which, in retrospect, was a bit weird. (I can sew. But not so hot on the decorating.) This was certainly made with whatever fabric scraps were at hand. Some of the assembled squares were likely put together by another lady, who passed along their squares to grandma, and I’m guessing most of the material was recycled. Some of the fabrics appear only once, as a single 4 inch square.

My babies have spent hours looking at this quilt over my shoulder while I nursed them. They are endlessly fascinated by all the different patterns and textures. Smootch played eye-spy with it almost daily until we took it down in preparation of moving. The quilt is still a part of our daily lives, but now it is our backyard blanket. It’s a new perspective of this old favorite, and it’s nice that I can now show my children where their father’s name is embroidered on the back.

This quilt also has another aspect to it that fascinates me. It’s not that obvious when you first see it, but hanging on the wall, just over my pillow for years, was this set of squares:
Do you see what I see? What is a swastika doing on grandma’s quilt? We’ve all heard stories of quilts with codes, and the use of quilts to tell tales or show allegiance, and I am absolutely one hundred percent certain this quilt is not one of them. Perhaps this particular combo of fabrics is actually a popular design that I'm just unaware of, given I know almost nothing about quilting. But knowing this quilt - and the quilter - most likely this symbol is incidental to its serendipitous production. I’m sure. Really.

The swastika symbol has a long and rich history in many cultures. For the most part, today in this part of the world, the swastika is most strongly associated with Nazi Germany. Not necessarily the image I would of chose to go to sleep under every night, but having done enough research on swastikas to add a throng more possible meanings to it, I am sufficiently stuffed with swastika trivia to avoid the most gruesome link.

Still it’s there. And I wonder how many other inadvertent faux pas are out there in a medium built on patterns and geometry. I bet there is even a club somewhere dedicated to the more humorous or shocking quilt calamities.

If this club happens to exist, please contact me. I have another case for your files.


  1. :D

    It's unfortunate fabric placement. The pattern is called Rail fence and depending on fabrics, can look quite different.

    If you look above it and directly to the left, there are more blocks in the same pattern.

  2. Nice story, but yeah, I think you're reading wayyyyy too much into it. It's just how the squares are placed.

  3. I love quilts that are made with whatever was at hand. They are the most beautiful, in my humble opinion. thank you for sharing!

  4. 1. Your swastika is backwards from a nazi point of view. No worries. It is indeed Rail Fence.

    2. I am surprised you don't quilt. Really, if you can sew button bands on baby long sleeve shirts, you can do patchwork. I taught myself in 6th grade--the patchwork part. I hand tied my quilts at first, then hand quilted, and later learned to convert my basic sewing machine to machine quilt. But really--with everything you make, you must have a ton of scraps...

  5. See ? You knew someone would know what the not really a swastika design would be!

    I am using up all of UFO patches to make simple block quilts right now. I wonder who got me hooked on chopping half my fabric into 3" squares!? I blame you.

    Really. I do.

  6. I know what you mean about surprises like that, even though it is a rail fence design. I went to a friend's family ranch and painted on the beds were big swastikas and she had to remind me that it was a native american symbol for peace!

  7. bet your glad to hear that its not a swastika! i am loving this quilt- it is amazing! i am looking at making a vintage sheet/ fabric picnic rug, and this is perfect inspiration! i should have asked first, but i did blog about my love of this quilt, and posted the pic of it...hope you dont mind, but please let me know if you do, and i will remove it immediately (does it help if i say that no-one really reads my little blog anyway! hehe )

    PLEASE post more pics of this at some stage- it is just fantastic!

  8. Sarah, I have no remorse :D

    danielle, I'm honored! I shall probably blather on about my quilts at some later date. I really love them, and I've actually got some questions for quilters too.

  9. You should feel remorse. 3" blocks. THREE INCHES VEGBEE THREE INCHES. My kid is suddenly a very tall 2 year old and do you know how man 3" blocks it takes to make a full length skirt ?

    We suddenly have patchwork quilted everything. Patchwork burpcloths. Patchwork changing pads. Patchwork playmats and park blankets. I finally decided to switch it up and make 3" square soft blocks and the first thing the kids said? Hey, that looks like my skirt!

  10. Sandy - TasmaniaJune 24, 2009 at 2:56 PM

    We were offered a beautiful red and white quilt made by one of my husbands great aunts which pre-dated the Nazi party and was definitely designed around what we know as the swastika. Had to turn it down of course.
    Sad to see the end of a HWWD ... yes the energy is hard to sustain.

  11. The swastika was actually a pretty popular design for quilts (and was on a lot of other things as well) up until the Nazi party ruined it. And then (of course) the symbol fell out of favor... it's exceedingly hard to find a full swastika quilt now; I imagine a lot of them were probably destroyed outright. Historically, it's a symbol of luck (or auspiciousness or other good things) for a large batch of different cultures across several millennia.

    Here's an article about one in a museum in Colorado:

    And the other common (and much less reprehensible) variation, pieced out of triangles:

    And a unique design from off eBay:

    You've inherited an awesome quilt, in any case! :)

    Cheers ~