Sunday, July 27, 2014

Eagle Thoughts

One of the things that has kept me interested in quilting for the past 25 years is the relationship between quilts and history.  Not only do quilts have their own history, but they also reflect the life and times of the women who made them.

As I began to think about what type of eagle quilt I would make, I also started to wonder about the history and symbolism of eagle quilts.

I have been going through my quilt library, searching out eagle quilts with an eye for history and design.  One of my favorite resources is All Flags Flying, by Robert Bishop and Carter Houck.
The book was published in 1986 in conjunction with the Great American Quilt Contest.  The first half of the book is devoted to antique patriotic quilts while the second half features patriotic quilts that were created for a quilting contest sponsored by Scotchgard.  If you're interested in the backstory of the eagle quilts you've seen on Pinterest, many of them are here.
This eagle quilt is from the Shelburne Museum and is attributed to Lydia Stafford, who was thought to have made it during the first half of the 1800s.  According to the text in the book, there are other quilts similar to this one, so it is possible there was actually a pattern for the quilt.
Fast forward 150 years or so, and another generation of quilters are inspired by Lydia Stafford's quilt!  "Warrior Eagle" was made by Jean Pearson Stanclift and the pattern appears in Barbara Brackman's book, Civil War Women.

The eagle quilts that fascinate me the most are the four block quilts with mirror image eagles.  Barbara Brackman discusses them in a blog entry entitled Eagles and Eccentricities.   I am amazed by all the variations in the pattern - each quilter seemed to adapt the idea to her own tastes, interests and skills.  I created a Pinterest board dedicated to cataloging as many of the four block eagle quilts as possible.
My current favorite is from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.  I read about this particular version in All Flags Flying, where the description piqued my imagination:  "the eagles wear crowns and apparently smoke cigars".  The online catalog description of the quilt is not quite so fanciful!  
Quilters are still interested in making this pattern.  Karen is planning to make a version published by Barbara Brackman.  I found another version in one of my books, America's Heritage Quilts, from Better Homes and Gardens.  The "Eagles Union Quilt" is attributed to Sarah Winters, Pennsylvania, circa 1876. 

I think I have found my eagle quilt inspiration - now I just need to decide how I will personalize my quilt!




  1. Hi Angie, loved this post, thanks for your research and such interesting information.

  2. these are great books for any history and quilt lover.

  3. I agree with you that quilts reflect the life and times of the women who made them. It makes me wonder what the future generations will think of us when they look at our garments!!


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