Scarlet Sampler: A Labor of Love

Scarlet Sampler quilt

An experience when you learn a lot, feel a sense of accomplishment and take pride in the outcome—but wouldn’t care to repeat? That’s what Scarlet Sampler was for me — Diane Harris

Scarlet Sampler QuiltNebraska State Quilt Guild has a track record: more than 30 years of statewide gatherings, cherished traditions and worthy causes. The group’s annual raffle quilt is one of those. Its unveiling is always a highlight of QuiltNebraska, the group’s yearly three-day event. The raffle quilt has potential to raise nearly $5,000 for NSQG, and nearly always does.

In the late summer of 2015, then-president-elect Janet Wilson gathered a team of five people for the 2017 NSQG raffle quilt project. Nebraska was to celebrate her 150th birthday in 2017, and we moved easily toward the idea of honoring our state’s history and heritage with the design.

A sampler was a way to represent a long list of diverse ideas in a traditional piece that would have broad appeal. We discussed what Nebraska elements should be represented. I wondered if we could somehow incorporate the number 150. Would that many quilt blocks be possible?

Soon I started sketching. To accommodate so many, some of the blocks would need to be tiny, just 2 by 2 inches. I sketched and erased, tried again, reworked and rearranged until it came together. The process took several months, during which we began making blocks.

Scarlet Sampler - sewing machine detail

Most of the designs represent something about Nebraska. Willa Cather, Mari Sandoz, and Bess Streeter Aldrich are prominent Nebraska authors we recognized on the quilt. Chimney Rock, the Nebraska Sandhills and Arbor Day are honored, too. And of course, we remembered Nebraska football—with a small, stylized red N that you have to hunt for.

Scarlet Sampler - landmark detailPerhaps the most well-known historic quilt ever made in Nebraska is Grace Snyder’s Flower Basket Petit Point, based on a china pattern and pieced with 85,789 patches. Eight triangles joined to make a block less than 1-inch square. It is a remarkable work of art, now in the permanent collection of the state historical society. I wanted Grace’s quilt to be seen in ours, so I designed embroidery based on her basket. The new block is called Petit Point Redwork, and I hope Grace Snyder would be pleased.

Scarlet Sampler - block detailOther blocks represent our ties to the Union, the faith of our ancestors, sand cherries, livestock, agriculture and Native Americans. Our windy weather, our hills, and valleys and our sky full of stars are all there. If you look, you’ll see our bounty and our industry, our people, our places and our pride. Even the beloved Sandhill cranes are honored—the triangles in the border represent their immense numbers.

I put just 149 blocks onto the front of the quilt, with a nice surprise on the back: a large Nebraska Windmill block as #150. This design by E. S. “Bud” Dunklau won the Lincoln Quilters’ Guild’s Nebraska Block Contest in 1977 and became the state’s official quilt block. It was the perfect ending to our Nebraska sewjourn.

I grew to love my home state more than ever as I researched Nebraska history with renewed interest and discovered treasures I didn’t know of before. I gained a fresh sense of home and heritage and an appreciation for what makes it special beyond words. There is no place like Nebraska.*

Diane Harris is a quiltmaker, designer and speaker, and a past editor for Quiltmaker, McCall’s Quilting and Quilters Newsletter. Learn more at

Just the Facts, Ma’am

In addition to Diane Harris and Janet Wilson, the team included Keri Wheeler, Debra Bauerle, and Glenda Herz.

Scarlet Sampler was quilted by award-winning longarm professional Kris Vierra.

The quilt measures 81″x 99″.

Read more about this raffle quilt project on our dedicated blog:

If you look hard you can find tiny scissor motifs in the backing fabric, a lovely traditional print with scrolls, swirls, and fleur-de-lis.

The winning raffle ticket belonged to Deborah Hickman, a quilter from Omaha. Scarlet Sampler went to a very good home!

* Did you know that Nebraska is home to the largest publicly held quilt collection in the world? The International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln is one of Nebraska’s crown jewels. Learn more at, and make plans to visit soon.

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