How to quilt a patchwork quilt just like Civil War–era quilts

Birthday QuiltWe know we have just a few (ha!) fans of reproduction quilts out there—so today we’ve got something special to share with you!

If you’ve ever wondered how to choose a quilting design for your reproduction quilts, one that’s authentic to the era, Julie Hendricksen is the perfect person to ask. She’s made a career out of her passion for antique quilts as an author, fabric designer for Windham Fabrics, and owner of JJ Stitches quilt shop in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Julie and her antique and antique-inspired quilts were even featured in a two-part episode of PBS’s Sewing With Nancy last year. So yeah, the perfect person to ask!

With hundreds of antique quilts in her collection—scrap quilts from the turn of the nineteenth century being her favorite—Julie’s had ample opportunity to research the quilting designs that quilters from the late 1800s chose. And in her book Preserving History, she shares her years of expertise with you.

Quilts from Preserving History
Quilts from
Preserving History

There are two main categories of quilting that Julie delves into in Preserving History: crosshatching and marked motifs. In this excerpt from the book, Julie covers crosshatching—a simple motif that produces striking results.

Quilting a Reproduction Quilt: Crosshatching

Julie HendricksenThese days, many of us send our quilts off to be quilted by a professional long-arm quilter rather than handling the quilting ourselves. But if you want your quilt that’s pieced using reproduction fabrics to look authentic to the antique one it’s modeled after, what type of quilting design do you choose?

Part of the fun of looking at vintage quilts is not only to examine the prints and colors and the plan or whimsy with which they’ve been combined, but to also have a close-up look at how these dearly loved and oft-used quilts were quilted.

Crosshatching (lines going in two opposite directions, forming intersecting lines) was a popular quilting style in the 1800s and remains so today. One thing you’ll notice about quilts from long ago is that the quilter probably didn’t bother marking her quilting lines, nor did she have tools such as spacer bars or rulers at her disposal like we have for our machines today. Crosshatched lines were “eyeballed,” stitching from one corner of the block to another. Sometimes things got a little wobblier as the crosshatch was continued into the border, because there were no more patchwork lines to use as a guide, as in the 1930s Checkerboard quilt below. Does that mean the quilt was any less special or loved or warm? Certainly not!

Checkerboard quilt - crosshatching quilting
1930s Checkerboard quilt

When blocks were set straight, the crosshatching typically was done diagonally, from corner to corner of blocks. This means the stitches were sewn along the bias of the fabric, which is the easiest direction to go when hand quilting. Sewing along the grainline is quite a bit harder.

Conversely, when blocks were set on point (diagonally), the crosshatching was still done along the bias of the fabric, but the resulting grid looks like it’s worked vertically and horizontally across the quilt, as in this Triangles in a Row quilt.

Triangles in a Row quilt
Close-up: Triangles in a Row

Crosshatching doesn’t have to be done in squares. Quiltmakers adapted it to match the style of the quilt. Below, two different versions are shown. The first is diamond crosshatching, which is formed by following the lines of the Thousand Pyramid triangles. (The pattern for this quilt is in my first book, Remembering the Past.)

Thousand Pyramid quilt
Thousand Pyramid quilt: diamond crosshatching

Another example is on the 1890s Baskets quilt below. The crosshatch is a combination of parallel diagonal lines intersecting with parallel vertical lines. It creates a nice effect, especially in the plain alternate blocks where the crosshatching shows up quite well.

1890s Baskets quilt
1890s Baskets quilt

If you plan to machine or hand quilt your project with crosshatching, an easy way to mark the lines is with painter’s tape. It comes in many widths, you can reposition it several times before you need a new piece, and it’s not so sticky as to leave a residue on your quilt. Crosshatching isn’t the easiest technique for a long-arm quilter, however. It involves a lot of ruler work and stopping and starting as the quilt is rolled forward or backward. While its look is all about simplicity, the price tag for this type of quilting may not be!

In Preserving History, Julie also covers marked quilting motifs in antique quilts, when classic designs like pumpkin seeds, cables, and Baptist Fans were all the rage. Learn more about authentic marked motifs from the Civil War era in Preserving History.

Examples of marked quilting motifs
Examples of marked quilting motifs from
Preserving History

Books by Julie HendricksennWant to learn more from Julie about Civil War quilts? Pick up her books Preserving History and Remembering the Past. When you buy either book, you’ll be able to instantly download the eBook for free. Buy both and we’ll pick up your shipping tab in the US and Canada!

How do you quilt your reproduction quilts: with crosshatching or marked motifs? Tell us in the comments!







29 Comments (leave a comment)

  • I have several quilt tops from the 20s and 30s. They apparently were pieced by my grandmother’s aunts. I have tied one, am currently tying another, but am thinking about machine quilting some of the others. The next one I was thinking about stitching lines parallel to the seams, about 1/4 inch away from the seams. I also find a coordinating fabric and add borders to protect the older fabrics. These are scrap quilts.

    —Cindy Fraher on March 8, 2017
  • I’ve only used crosshatching so far. I like the simplicity of it! I’d love to learn more about this genre of quilt and the possibilities for quilting it in authentic ways, though. I love the Baptist Fan motif and want to try that one someday when I have time to do it by hand…..

    —Terri Bailey on March 8, 2017
  • I usually hand quilt using crosshatch or shadowing 1/4 inch around the blocks.

    —Ondrea on March 8, 2017
  • I love the Baptist fans or if I do big stitch its just straight lines using the tape…either look great

    —Sue Phillips on March 8, 2017
  • I just finished the "civil War Love Letter Quilt" but have not quilted it yet….how would you do it??? I found your article fascinating because I love reproduction fabrics. I have a mid arm so I would like to quilt it on it or my regular machine. People have suggested I stitch in the ditch each square but I like your idea of crosshatching!!!!
    Thanks for any information!!!!

    Hi Joyce, I think Julie’s suggestion about painter’s tape would work just as well at the machine as it would for hand quilting. Maybe give it a try and see how it goes – thanks for your comment! –Jenny

    —Joyce on March 8, 2017
  • I often use variations on crosshatching for my repro quilts.

    Jeanne on March 8, 2017
  • I love using the Baptist Fan pattern and cross hatching too!

    Loris Mills on March 8, 2017
  • I use crosshatching a lot when I quilt. It is easy to do, I use painters tape to get reasonably straight lines. Sometimes I use a small stencil to do a small design in plain areas of fabric. I hand quilt most of my quilts and they look old and comfy!

    —Marsha B on March 8, 2017
  • Quilt as much as you can in the blank spaces and outline any blocks is how I do my hand quilting….luv your collection and need to get this book!

    —Joane on March 8, 2017
  • As a Long Arm quilter, I usually do a free style design, to complement the fabric. However, I also use rulers, and stencils, when I need to have more control of a design. I really let the quilt talk to me. I haven’t done alot of Reproductions,but want to try the Bishops Fan. Its beautiful design looks wonderful on quilt. I’m making more traditional quilts, and hope to master the grids, and cables. Thanks for this article, looks like good books to assist us with designs.

    —Gayle Schild on March 8, 2017
  • I quilt my civil war quilts with feathers. I have a Gammill w/ Statler and there are so many pretty patterns for civil war quilts. I do cross hatch sashings.

    —Frances Claassens on March 8, 2017
  • I love making quilts with reproduction fabrics. I guess I have never really thought about how to authentically quilt them. I have had the gal who does my long arm quilting help pick out a motif…..but this information will make me think more about how I should have them quilted!

    —Patty on March 8, 2017
  • I have the book Preserving History and just love it! Its given me oodles of ideas to help use up some of my civil war repro stash. Its a good thing to know about how most quilts were quilted in that era so that I can do the same with my quilt tops. Thanks for stating this information.

    Thanks Sue, we love hearing that you have the book and you love it! –Jenny

    —Sue F on March 8, 2017
  • I am a long-arm quilter and I love to do free motion quilting. One thing I really want to do and have not tried is cross hatching and the baptist fan just like my great grandmother did on the quilts that have been passed down to me.
    I love how the crosshatching looks on the thousand pyramid quilt and the basket quilt you show. Your book would be a great tool to decide on quilting when someone brings me reproduction quilts to be quilted.

    —jean M on March 8, 2017
  • I love crosshatching, but I often use both ideas.

    —Linda on March 8, 2017
  • sad to say, I quilt straight lines with my walking foot, but I love the nuances of these historical quilts. thanks, kathy in colo

    —kathy pfaltzgraff on March 8, 2017
  • I think the cross hatching looks perfect on these reproduction quilts.

    —carol on March 8, 2017
  • I hand quilt my quilts and how I do it depends on the pattern of the quilt. I am currently doing one somewhat like the upper pink one with frames of squares. The squares I am quilting by quilting in 1/4″ from the seam lines and in the plain areas (where the pink is) I marked rolling feathers which show beautifully on solid fabrics. I have used painter’s tape and even the quarter inch masking tape for the double or triple lines as shown in the basket quilt. I use a variety of techniques ; how ever the quilt speaks to me and I do research era appropriate patterns.

    —Carol on March 9, 2017
  • I am not a particular fan of the overly quilted quilts one sees in judged shows. Crosshatching is my favorite style of quilting on my home machine. I also alternate vertical and horizontal line quilting in open space blocks.

    —Frank F on March 10, 2017
  • Thanks for this info. Now I know that I will use cross hatch on my repro quilt!

    —Rosemary on March 10, 2017
  • I am not very fond of overly quilted quilts like those of Mrs Solomon Gunn (I appreciate her artwork though) and therefore often quilt in the ditch with shadow quilting but I am surely going to do some crosshatching, too. I think I am going to order that book to get more information. Birgitt

    Birgitt von Dewitz on March 10, 2017
  • I use crosshatching for all my quilts. It is easiest for me and I like the look of crosshatching.

    —Dee on March 10, 2017
  • Great post!! I always need help when it comes to deciding how to quilt my quilts, so this is now in my cart: it’s going to be a great resource!!

    —Helen LeBrett on March 10, 2017
  • I let the quilt tell me. Lots of straight lines mainly. Tiny pieces bring lots of ditch work. I try to let the fabric shine not the machine quilting.

    —Linda Christianson on March 11, 2017
  • I’m fairly new, so I guess the answer is A

    —Marcie Higgins on March 12, 2017
  • Most of my quilts are of the modern era, but I do have a couple using reproduction fabric. My Thousand Pyramids has always been destined for Baptist Fan quilting, and I am still deciding how to hand-quilt my Underground Railroad. Are there any guidelines for quilting 30’s style quilts?

    —Linda Towers on March 12, 2017
  • I had never thought of using tape to help mark the quilting lines………what a good idea.
    I shall try it on the quilt I am shortly to quilt. It’s sat ready and waiting, basted all ready to go……..just need the time to do it.

    —Helen Outen on March 16, 2018
  • I have been quilting for years and use mostly reproduction fabrics anymore. I am currently hand stitching a Grandmother’s Flower Garden. If you have any ideas on how to quilt this, any suggestions will be appreciated. Thank you for consolidating all this information into your books.

    Although she doesn’t talk specifically about Grandmother’s Flower Garden, Preserving History author Julie Hendricksen does discuss quilting antique-style quilts in her book – might be a good place to start. I’d also try searching for Grandmother’s Flower Garden online and see what ideas pop up! Thanks for your question! –Jenny

    —Darliss on March 13, 2019
  • Lots of straight lines following the quilt pattern – often in the ditch of one block and carrying the line all the way through the quilt. I like for the fabric and the pattern to tell story rather than the machine quilting.

    —Darliss Peabody on May 20, 2019

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