Harlequin Quilt 1800-1820

For books, like with everything else, I try to control how much I own. I don’t have a huge stash. I don’t buy extra gadgets and notions. My quilting books all live in one small bookcase. But even with pretty good impulse control, one of my biggest weaknesses is for quilt history. And one of the best books ever for quilting history is American Quilts: The Democratic Art, 1780-2007, by Robert Shaw.

I page through this book now and then, sometimes reading the text carefully, and sometimes just looking at the lush photos of important American quilts. One page I always stop at has the picture of a striking work of art. Its graphic simplicity looks quite modern, though it was made in the early 1800s.

Harlequin Medallion Quilt. Part of the collections of the American Folk Art Museum.

This link takes you to more information about the quilt. (And if you love historical quilts as I do, here is a link to the museum’s collection of quilts and coverlets.)

The description notes the artist is unknown (label your quilts!) but the quilt dates from 1800-1820. It’s made from a glazed wool known as calimanco.

It is constructed in the center-medallion format that was popular before about 1840 but anticipates the elaborate pieced patterns of later quilts. Its bold, geometric composition of large triangular pieces in bright, saturated colors appears very contemporary, belying the still commonly held notion that early American homes were devoid of color. In fact, this type of bedcover often displays beautiful shades achieved with natural dyes.

I thought a lot about this phrase: “It is constructed in the center-medallion format…” If I were to make the quilt, I would make hourglass blocks, so the notion of it being a medallion quilt confused me a little. I think the distinguishing feature is that from a design standpoint, it is not simply one block (or two), repeated. All sixteen blocks are needed to create the center graphic impact.

I wondered about making a quilt like this, not as an exact replica but as a representation. I’ve never made a quilt from someone else’s pattern. And though I take inspiration from others all the time, I try not to copy. Still, this one is tempting…

I drew it in EQ7 in two different sizes. EQ7 is powerful software and my skills are pretty modest. While I could probably make a more exacting copy, this is my version.

EQ7 calculates needed yardage, so whether I made this in the 54″ version or the 90″ version, I can determine requirements.

Speaking of fabric, calimanco isn’t as easy to find as it used to be. And to update it some with modern cottons, Marcia Derse‘s incredible, rich designs would be my choice for fabric.

Where do you find your inspirations? Have you ever copied a quilt, including colors, by someone else? If so, was it contemporary or historical?


18 thoughts on “Harlequin Quilt 1800-1820

  1. audrey

    I love that quilt, have looked at it often! And yes, I have copied an antique quilt that I saw in Quiltmania years ago. It was a no-name medallion quilt from 1860-70 that I fell in love with. I didn’t copy it exactly, just used it as my ‘base’. It’s one of my favorite quilts I’ve ever finished.:)

  2. ipatchandquilt

    Thank you for visiting my blog… And I got a bit curious, so I am visiting yours too! I recognize the antique quilt. It is on the front of one of my quilt books: “Quilts, masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum”, written by Elizabeth V. Warren and a forward by Martha Stewart. Sadly this book does not have much text. Is there a book you would recogment about quilts and their history?

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      Oh, yes, the book mentioned at the top of the post is excellent. It is rich in text, very well written. It does only cover American quilts, so doesn’t delve into the longer history much.

      Thank you so much for visiting.

  3. cauchy09

    oh, i love love love old quilts. and i choose not to judge them but rather enjoy them for what they are. i can see the medallion approach. i think they saw the hourglasses as a single square center unit and then the borders are mounted around it. thanks for sharing!

  4. pamelajeannestudio

    I have collected quite a few books full of antique quilts. At one time, I really wanted to reproduce some of them. But with about 30 UFOs already waiting for me, it’s not likely to happen. Nevertheless, they are all quite inspiring.

  5. katyquilts

    I love this book too and this quilt is lovely. Funny how everything old, is new again!. I would not have immediately thought of this as a medallion either. I would love to make this and have a riot with the quilting!

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      We went for a hike today and stopped at a quilt shop on the way home. I planned to buy for it! But the shop was closed, so it will wait for another day.

      Let me know if you get started on this too. It would be fun to compare notes.

  6. Jim in IA

    I like your version of this quilt. You’ve kept the asymmetry of top and bottom very nicely. If you end up making this, I want it on our wall over the stairs.

  7. The Novice Gardener

    I wonder why it wasn’t completely symmetrical. The colors, I mean, on that first row of the hourglasses?

    And, got it, I will label everything I make. Who knows? You might be considered an artist once you’re dead, but not while alive to claim credit. 🙂

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      Sometimes that kind of thing was a deliberate design decision. More often it was substituting because of running out of fabric. With this quilt, there’s no way to tell which was the driver.

      Thanks for taking a look! I hope you have a beautiful Sunday.


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