A Ruby McKim Patchwork Sampler Quilt
I love the excitement of finding a 'new-to-me' quilt. Thanks to their trending style, vintage and antique quilts are a little bit harder to find in person. People ask how they can find them, and my answer is to go out a look for them! It's rare that you'll find quality hand-stitched quilts at the thrift store (it's only happened to me once) but antique malls and estate sales are great resources.
A couple of weeks ago, I came across an online estate sale that had a bunch of quilts available. It was in my area so I put in a few bids and came out the top bidder for three beautiful quilts. They aren't in perfect condition but they are still beautiful designs noteworthy for their craftsmanship and color.
One of the quilts I brought home is a sampler quilt. It's the first sampler quilt I have purchased and I have thoroughly enjoyed staring at each block and appreciating the different quilting designs used throughout.
Now, I'm not one for conspiracy theories, and I wouldn't consider this one, but the way our tech devices know everything about us is a little weird. Have you watched the movie, Snowden? Yeah, I cover my laptop camera because of that. Anyways, I always find it creepy when I get ads or really specific search results for something I've not even searched directly for.
That's why I was SO surprised to find this image on my Pinterest. I keep a board of stunning antique quilts and this was a recommended Pin for me. It's the exact quilt design of my recent online bidding!
The quilt block designs used in this sampler quilt aren't considered 'rare'. In fact, most of them are easily identifiable. However, it is rare that you are able to get an insight into the maker's thoughts from a random quilt you might find at an antique store.
The pattern on the quilt is a Patchwork Sampler designed by Ruby McKim in the 1930s. I was lucky enough to stumble across a few blog posts by Lynn Evans Miller which showed several of the sampler quilts she has collected.
Ruby is credited with many of the quilt block designs in this sampler quilt. It is said that she released these blocks one at a time in her monthly column at The Denver Post throughout the early 1930s (Source: Barbara Brackman). This sampler quilt isn't considered her most popular, although her book, One Hundred and One Patchwork Patterns, is considered by many to be their "quilt bible". Her embroidered quilt patterns featuring children or animals are what she is most well-known for. Below is a snippet of her first column featuring her Sampler Quilt.
The column reads: "In this day when the old-fashioned, hand-made quilt has staged such a spectacular comeback, we are delighted to offer our readers such an "all-star revival" as is grouped together in the Patchwork quilt.
Note--This is block No. 1 of the Patchwork series. There are twenty-five in all, everyone a different old-time favorite, planned for a twelve-inch square. One color scheme, such as rose, green-print and white, two tones of blue with white or orchid, unbleached and green may be used thruout, or each block may be individually planned from odds and ends of wash materials.
From the designs and actual patterns which we are going to publish, you can assemble an album of authentic, old-time favorites all grouped together into one coverlet. Or, your can select your favorite blocks as units and build a whole quilt around each. Again, you my just want a few gay patchwork pillows or tie-on chair seats for the breakfastroom. Each design finishes twelve inches square and will therefore be admirable for either as it is, or with a border added.
Naming the blocks from left to right the blocks are: Cherry Basket, Bear's Paw, Sunbeam Block, Double-T, Noonday Lily, Corn and Beans, Crazy Anne, Rising Sun, Rambler, Grandmother's Cross, Mill Wheel, Sky Rocket, Order No. 11, Weathervane, Spools, Double Nine Patch, Wild Goose Chase, Strawberry, V-Block, Crosses and Losses, Grandmother's Fan, Road to Oklahoma, Palm, Road to California, and the Little Beeach Tree."
By looking at the similarities of my quilt to the other sampler quilts online, I can put an estimated date on my quilt. Since the colors are very similar and the layouts are very similar to the suggested layouts in the magazine column, it can be assumed that the maker made this sampler quilt in the 30s-40s, around the time the patterns were released. My quilt is traditionally hand quilted with white thread which can still take years or several months for an accomplished quilter to finish. There is also the possibility that the magazine clippings were saved and the maker created and finished the quilt at a later date. A quilt historian can date the fabrics but this doesn't always mean it was made at the same time. Often quilters and sewers have projects that can sit tucked away for many years. Based on the fading of some fabric, the staining, and the quality of the white background cotton, I can date this quilt as vintage (40+ years) but there is a high possibility that it is very close to being antique (100+years).
I did a bit of a deep dive on Ruby Short McKim's biography. Her granddaughters have a website detailing her life and her works. It is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it if you're interested in quilt history.
It's also interesting to note that quilt patterns were designed very differently compared to now. Below is an example of what you would have seen in McKim's quilt columns. You were given the illustration of how the block should look and the basic templates that you would need. The templates are marked with how many you would need of each and the recommended colors. The maker would trace the templates onto newspaper or tracing paper and add a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Then, they would lay the template on fabric, trace it, and cut it out with scissors. Hand-piecing with needle and thread was common and expected during this time period. The maker would have to figure out how the block would come together easiest. It was assumed that any competent seamstress would be able to do it! This is very different from how many quilt patterns are available today, due to the more common usage of rotary cutters, computer printers, and sewing machines.
You can find the rest of the patterns for Ruby McKims's Sampler quilt on EQ or use the free patterns on McKim's website.