Monday, March 4, 2013

A Piece of the Puzzle

How do people agree on the names of well-known quilt patterns such as New York Beauty? Much of the time, we learn by seeing and hearing things repeatedly- by recall and association. A quilt could appear in books, magazines, as a published pattern, and in shows.

Whenever a quilt is exhibited and receives a certain level of recognition, it's often not the last time we see it. The New York Beauty made by Martha B. Skelton of Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1987 is a great example. It's been all over the place. For a long time, I would come across pictures and think, where have I seen this before?

Skelton's quilt won first place in the Traditional Pieced pro category of the 1987 AQS Show and Contest. Her quilt is now part of the collection at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah. I've seen it on The Quilt Index, in books, and on the cover of "American Quiltmaking, 1970-2000" by Eleanor Levie.

An old AQS jigsaw puzzle featuring Skelton's quilt is one of my favorite pieces of New York Beauty ephemera. It is 18" x 24" in size, includes 550 pieces, and when you start putting it together, the pieces all look the same. It takes a while to get done, and it's a big sense of accomplishment, but I can only imagine the sense of accomplishment Martha Skelton must've had!

A jigsaw puzzle may seem like a small, insignificant thing, with very little bearing on quilt history. That may be so, but much more time is required to put together a jigsaw puzzle than to flip through a magazine or stop to admire a quilt in a show. Also, you don't have to be a quiltmaker to love puzzles. My mother isn't a quiltmaker, but if there's a puzzle out on the table she can't stay away. Mom already knew what a New York Beauty was before we started putting together the puzzle. Had she not known, she sure would've by the time we finished it. 


  1. I think you've encapsulated a very elusive process. What name sticks may have mostly to do with how many sources use it and how widely it's disseminated, I guess. Maybe there's also a factor of uniqueness of the name, does it call to mind just one pattern or several? And maybe also, was there a competing name for the block also well known? In that case, maybe neither name will dominate, or the identification will be regional. No answer from me, but a great topic to think about. Thanks.

  2. Point taken. I love both - quilts and jig saw puzzles.