Monday, October 18, 2010

...first time I heard the word "wonky"...

New York Beauty, c. 1940, Ohio
The first time I heard the word "wonky" it was being used to describe this show-stopping New York Beauty. I was showing quilts to the Columbia-Willamette Quilt Study Group in the summer of 2009, and when I pulled out this quilt, someone exclaimed "the quilting is so wonky!" I thought it was amusing, and the word stuck with me. 

This quilting always makes people wonder
Back in 2004 when I bought the quilt from a couple who sells old quilts in Texas, they told me it was from Ohio. It's a good thing I looked back at my notes. I'd been telling people it was from Texas - easy to believe because it's effect is big and bold even if it is a little wild. The sellers wanted to make sure I knew about the odd quilting. I got the impression it had kept others from buying the quilt, but not me. I bought it on the spot, and have never had any regrets about it.

You really have to see this quilt in detail to know why it was called wonky. In the top construction, most of the piecework is fairly good and well organized. Some pieces don't match up, such as the intersecting points in the eight-pointed diamond star cornerstones, but there are many sharp points and the overall effect is good. However, when you look closely at stitches in the diamond grid quilting, there seems to be no rhyme or reason.

As you follow each line of stitches, they conform fairly well to the overall quilting design, but the individual stitches change in size and direction. It is common for people to think this quilt was pieced by one person and quilted by another, but I'm not so sure. The piecing was done by machine, as was the double line red applique that crosses through the center of each block. It's possible that it was all done by one person who was just a little more adept with a machine than with the hand stitching. 

To me, the most surprising thing was finding the word wonky in the dictionary. I'd really thought it was just something quilt makers invented. Meanings include crooked or off-center, unstable or shaky, and even faulty! How funny!! I knew exactly what it meant the first time I heard it. Maybe it's not the most endearing term for some, but I embrace wonkiness. There's something very human about it.


  1. Bill-Although it's difficult to be sure from three pictures, the quilting pattern looks to Hanging Diamonds. A variety of cross-hatching made by horizontal lines crossed by 45-degree lines. As to origin, I would have said south of the Mason-Dixon with that triple sashing but to be sure, mid-westerners loved Hanging Diamonds and a southron gal would have likely done fans across it. As to the sloppy quiting: done by an older experienced quilter who wanted to get it on the bed, maybe someone whose eyesight was going. love the WWII color scheme--maybe Johnny was coming home?

  2. Yes, hanging diamonds, thank you! They aren't square like the grid diamonds, they're more elongated. 45 degree rather than 90 degree. I hadn't heard that triple sashing was a midwestern characteristic. Where can I read about that?

    When I think back to the time I found this quilt, I guess I've embraced wonkiness for a while. I've always viewed quilts more as works of art than anything else. For a long time, all that mattered was what the quilt would look like on a wall.

    I need to sit down with Sue Reich's book...hadn't realized this color scheme was considered WWII, but that makes sense. Patriotic is a word I've used to describe the quilt.

  3. it's a beauty and the quilting adds a lot of charm.

  4. The quilting is really the antithesis of today's machine quilting. Couldn't do that with a machine if you tried! That's why I feel it is a very human quilt.

  5. Several years ago I saw a collection (five I think) of privately owned quilts made by one family member with quilting which appeared much like the quilting in this quilt .... I thought it may have been done by someone trying to do stab stitch rather than running stitch. The quilt tops were quite well pieced in contrast to the quilting stitches .... one was a Double Wedding Ring.

    Judy B

  6. Very interesting. I need to learn what stab stitching and running stiches are, but I think I may have an idea.