When did the use of quilt blocks originate? Is it American in origin? When I was teaching a workshop in the Netherlands, I was asked this question, and I didn’t know the answer. Sometimes these questions provide me with a new research topic. One museum expert that was present at the class stated it was American in origin. Another person thought it began about mid-19th century with the Baltimore Album Quilts. I wanted data before making any statements.
Occasionally I’ve looked for academic articles about the topic or read history of quilting books to see their answers. I’ve never written about it because I never really felt I had a solid answer. I decided the best way to get the answer was to track quilts by date. Then the answer wouldn’t be about “best guess.” Barbara Brackman had already started creating a database for date inscribed. So, rather than reinvent the wheel, whenever I locate a date inscribed quilt, I forward a photo to her for inclusion. (Here is a link to it.)
The database is perfect for testing research questions or theories on American quilts. According to the database, we begin to see the use of blocks emerging BEFORE the 19th century in the 18 century. (FYI- there is a 1718 dated inscribed sampler style block quilt from Britain.) Then in the first half of the nineteenth century, we see the shift away from wholecloth quilts and center medallion quilts to quilts composed of blocks. So, check out the database and if you are aware of a date inscribed American quilt, please let me know. Let’s keep our knowledge growing.