At first glance, the quilted scraps seen at left seem rather mundane. But, if you read the handwritten note attached to them, you may start to see them in a different light. It reads “The corners cut out of Mother’s quilt she had when married May 16th 1820.” T-shaped quilts experienced great popularity in New England in the early 1800s. I speak from personal experience when I say that having those two bottom corners cut out makes it much easier to put the quilt onto a four-poster bed. (See our previous post on a T-shaped quilt in the National Heritage Museum’s collection; I’ve included the image of that quilt here to help refresh your memory.)
Have you ever wondered what happened to those cut-out corners? I’ve come across some quilts where the cutouts were well thought out in advance and the corners must have been cut and discarded (or put into the scrap basket) as the quilter worked. But, other quilts clearly show that the maker stitched the entire piece and then cut out the quilted corners before binding the quilt's edges, as these scraps demonstrate. The wholecloth fabric of the top – a red-and-white printed fruit basket design, which would have been quite fashionable in 1820 – is sandwiched with batting and a muslin backing fabric and then quilted in a scallop pattern. One edge of each piece is finished with a knife-edge binding, while the other three sides are raw.
This is the only example I’ve seen where the cut out pieces were saved and passed down through the family. Sadly, the quilt itself has been lost. A family descendant donated these pieces to the Museum in 1983. The “Mother” in the note was Hannah Morgan Russell (1799-1879), who married Stephen William Little (b. 1795) of Newbury, Massachusetts, on May 16, 1820. Stephen was a farmer. The couple had ten children, but five died in childhood and their daughter, Susan, passed away in 1859 at the young age of 29.
To see more quilts from our collection, please visit our website and do an online collection search. If you know of other cut-out corners that were saved, do tell us about them in a comment below!
Pair of Quilt Fragments, 1820, Newbury, Massachusetts, National Heritage Museum Collection, gift of Mrs. Joseph E. Belcher, 83.44.3a-b. Photograph by David Bohl.
T-Shaped Quilt with Masonic Handkerchief, ca. 1817, probably New England, National Heritage Museum Collection, Special Projects Fund, Supreme Council, 33º, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., 2008.002.1. Photograph by David Bohl.
Reference: George Thomas Little, The Descendants of George Little, who came to Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1640. Auburn, Maine: The Author, 1882.