Grandmother’s Flower Garden: A perennial favorite
Even before I became a quilter, there was one traditional quilt pattern that I recognized and knew the name of—it was the Grandmother’s Flower Garden. Completely made of hexagons, the center was usually yellow, surrounded by a row of six solid-colored hexagons, and then surrounded by a ring of pretty flour sack prints that matched the solid. Back in the ’70s and ‘80s you would often see this iconic quilt in thrift stores or antique shops. Sometimes you were lucky enough to find one that wasn’t finished and you could catch a glimpse of the bits of newspaper poking out of the back.
Today, finding those antique quilts isn’t as easy, but hexagon quilts are experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Why is that? What is the history of this block and why has it remained so popular with quilters? While some quilters may consider hand sewing a four-letter word, the “slow-sewing” movement is just as popular now as it ever was and English Paper Piecing (EPP) is a perfectly portable project.
The history of pieced hexagon quilts
While our minds drift to the 1930’s when we think of the Grandmother’s Flower Garden pattern, the pieced hexagon quilt goes back much further, to the 18th century in England to be exact. According to the Illinois State Museum, the oldest hexagon template ever found dates to 1770 and was discovered in England 1. The earliest published pattern for the traditional hexagon dates to an 1835 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book magazine, which offered full instructions for English Paper Piecing 2. This simple geometric shape offers many design possibilities for quilters, so it is no wonder it became such a well-liked pattern by the 1830’s and had an American revival in the 1930’s. Quilters enjoyed turning this humble six-sided shape into flowers, diamonds, and elaborate medallion style quilts.
Today, hexagon quilts can be as simple as a one-patch charm style quilt, or as elaborate as the Millefiori and La Passacaglia Quilt designs by Willyne Hammerstein of the Netherlands, and everything in between. It should be noted that the more intricate designs featuring multiple shapes and lots of fussy-cutting have been trending in Australia and Europe for many years. Today’s EPP designs often feature fussy-cut fabrics that accentuate the design. Doing this adds an extra layer of creativity to the process for the quilter and gives them the opportunity to make it their own.
While the hexagon is a simple shape with endless design pos¬sibilities, add in a few more geometric shapes with the same size sides and the magic starts to happen! Since you finish the edges prior to connecting the patches, it is somewhat foolproof for the maker. EPP gives even novice quilters the ability to design beautiful quilts on their own and achieve accurate results easily. It also offers that wonderful meditative sewing experience that lowers the blood pressure and relaxes the sewist.
Traditional quilt patterns that stand the test of time are not limited to Grandmother’s Flower Garden. It seems that when you give a quilter a hexagon (or a triangle, or a diamond, or a kite, or a clamshell…), they are going to make a quilt. And it’s been that way for 300 years.
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1. Illinois State Museum: Keeping us in Stitches: Quilters and Quilters: Pieced Quilts: Hexagon
2. Illinois State Museum: Keeping us in Stitches: Quilters and Quilters: Pieced Quilts: Hexagon
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