Block quilt pattern: Double Irish Chain.
The Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Mass., prides itself on its extensive collection of early American quilts, many of which are on display throughout the hotel. One particularly striking array is a set of nine blue-and-white quilts by the hotel's grand staircase.
Created in the 1880s and 90s, these hand-crafted quilts feature striking traditional designs based on geometric block patterns. Each block is usually a square or rectangle with a distinctive geometric pattern. Identical blocks are then sewn together to create a quilt.
A quilt's pattern name often gives clues about where and when a quilt was sewn, and it may say something about the interests or preoccupations of a particular quilt's creator.
Corn and Beans.
Evoking tidy garden rows, Churn Dash and Corn and Beans, for example, are interpretations of everyday items and chores. Names such as Geese in Flight, Ocean Waves, and Swallows in Flight reflect the underlying geometry of natural forms.
Geese in Flight.
Drunkard's Path is not only a representation of repeated fragments of a random walk but also social commentary dating to a period of U.S. history when the Temperance Movement was strengthening.
The characteristic blue (indigo dyes) and white of these quilts and their geometric designs meant they could fit into just about any setting.
Additional information about these quilts and other artworks in the hotel's collection are available in the walking tour brochure "Art at The Charles" (pdf).
Can you identify the block unit in each quilt? How would you characterize the symmetry of the block pattern that serves as the basis of each quilt?
You can find a variety of teaching aids to lead students through characterizing block patterns: Shape and Space in Geometry: Quilts (Annenberg/CPB Math and Science Project); Shapes, Lines, Angles & Quilts (Franklin Institute); Quilt Geometry (Steven H. Cullinane); Quilt Block Patterns (Math Forum).
For a colorful, animated tour of geometric quilt designs, see the National Film Board of Canada's wonderful production "Quilt."
Swallows in Flight.
Photos by I. Peterson