Housing Projects: Schoolhouse Quilts, Then and Now (Part 1)

While visiting my mother-in-law in Florida last week, I took advantage of the beautiful weather to enjoy a seaside stroll, and happened upon an adorable 8-year-old girl drawing in the sand. I was quite taken with her, and asked if she would allow me to photograph her artwork. She graciously assented.

Artwork in the Sand

Her inspiration?

Beach hut

Later on, when I viewed the photos I had taken that afternoon, something struck me as oddly familiar. Then it hit me: the simple lines of that drawing in the sand (and the inspiration for it) reminded me of the super-easy House block I had used in “It Takes a Village,” one of the quilts from my latest book, Cuddle Me Quick, co-authored with Chris Porter.

It Takes a Village; 32 1/2" x 38 1/2", designed and pieced by Darra Williamson, machine quilted by Christine Porter, from our book, "Cuddle Me Quick"
It Takes a Village; 32 1/2″ x 38 1/2″, designed and pieced by Darra Williamson, machine quilted by Christine Porter, from our book, “Cuddle Me Quick”

Cuddle Me Quick cover

I’ve always loved the Schoolhouse block (and its many variations). Back in the day, I even collaborated with editor Karen Soltys to produce the Schoolhouse volume of The Classic American Quilt Collection series produced by Rodale Press. This 122-page, hardcover book included photos and instructions for 11 wonderful quilts made by quilters from around the country, including well-known teachers and authors Sharyn Craig and Mary Stori.

The Classic American Quilt Collection_Schoolhouse_cover_2

Mary Stori's Little Red Schoolhouses, as it appeared in Rodale's Classic American Quilt Collection: Schoolhouses
Mary Stori’s Little Red Schoolhouses, as it appeared in Rodale’s Classic American Quilt Collection: Schoolhouses

All this got me thinking about the many wonderful Schoolhouse and other house-themed quilts I’ve seen over the years, both vintage and newly made. For example, I’ve always loved the colorful and quirky House quilt detailed on the cover of Laura’s (and Diana McClun’s) book, Quilts, Quilts, and More Quilts!

Quilts Quilts and more Quilts cover

Here’s a view of the entire quilt. Can’t you just picture it over a sofa or buffet?

Rowhouse, 75" x 38", designed and pieced by Diana McClun and Laura Nownes, hand quilted by Anna Venti
Rowhouse, 75″ x 38″, designed and pieced by Diana McClun and Laura Nownes, hand quilted by Anna Venti

In the traditional vein, it’s hard to top this lovely blue-and-white beauty that appears in Episode 2: Quilts Bring History Alive of the landmark documentary series Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics.

Schoolhouse or House in a Garden Maze, 1890 - 1892, maker unknown, photo by Sharon Risedorph, photo courtesy Rod Kiracofe, appears in the documentary Why Quilts Matter
Schoolhouse or House in a Garden Maze, 1890 – 1892, maker unknown, photo by Sharon Risedorph, photo courtesy Rod Kiracofe, appears in the documentary Why Quilts Matter

Quilt history has always fascinated me, and I typically begin my search for good, solid info with quilt historian, Barbara Brackman. Her classic book, Clues in the Calico, has been my Number 1 “go-to” resource since it landed on my shelf in the late 1980s, and once again it proved to be just the ticket. (NOTE: Although the hardcopy version of Clues in the Calico has been out of print for some time, you can find it via Barbara’s wonderful blog, Material Culture. Click on the link and scroll down the page until the book appears in the left-hand column. You’ll find a link there for the eBook version as well.)

clues in the calico_2

From Barbara’s book, I learned that the pieced block we call Schoolhouse appeared rather late in the nineteenth century (c. 1880 – 1890), and was known by a variety of names (including Old Kentucky Home, Old Folks at Home, and Lincoln’s Log Cabin) until Ruth Finley gave it the familiar moniker, Little Red Schoolhouse, in 1929. Barbara featured the block in her “Quilt Block of the Week” series last November. Click here to view her post, which includes directions for making this 8″ finished block.

Little Red Schoolhouse block, made by Becky Brown, appears in Barbara Brackman's Quilt Block of the Week series, 11/20/12
Little Red Schoolhouse block, made by Becky Brown, appears in Barbara Brackman’s Quilt Block of the Week series, 11/20/12

I asked Barbara if she had photos of any special Schoolhouse quilts that she might share. She came up with this great interpretation, made in 1987 by her sewing group, Seamsters’ Union Local #500. Read more about it on her blog by clicking  here.

The Douglas County Bank Quilt, made by The Seamsters' Union Local #500, Lawrence, KS, 1987, collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum
The Douglas County Bank Quilt, made by The Seamsters’ Union Local #500, Lawrence, KS, 1987, collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum

Don’t forget to check back for Part 2 of this post on Friday, January 18. It will include instructions for making the 4″ x 6″ finished House block that appears in my quilt “It Takes a Village” (shown above), along with photos of some other wonderful house-themed quilts, old and new.

‘Til then, happy stitching!Darra-signature

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