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!







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