Once upon a time (in
the early mid-1800's) Baltimore, Maryland was the third largest city in the United States
and had some mighty fine needlewomen in the population. Many of these women were active in
the Methodist church and two of them, Mary Evans Ford and Achsah Goodwin Wilkins, were the
best stitchers of the lot. Today we aren't quite sure just how it came about, but these
women (and probably many others, especially in their church group, made some of the most
spectacular applique quilts the world had ever seen.
quilts were based on block designs, but not patchwork -- they were appliqued with many,
many tiny pieces of new fabrics to form flowers, leaves, fruit, cornucopia, elaborately
twined baskets and other symbols of goodwill, joy and fertility. Sometimes boats, local
emblems and symbols of Baltimore political or social significance were included.
"Special" -- they might be gifts for a bride (or a groom) or a gift to the
minister or the minister's wife from the church, the mayor from the town or a favorite
teacher at school on retirement. Album quilts might not all be as elegant as the
Baltimores, but they were an honor to receive and may be seen today sin museums in
categories such as: Presentation Quilts, Bride Quilts, Groom Quilts. Some were used in a
way not seen these days, they were called "death quilts". One described in Quilts
in America, Patsy and Myron Orlofsky, (pg. 246) is called a "Death Watch
Quilt" as it was made by the family members of Eli Lilly, who sat by his death bed as
a memorial and included Eli Lilly's signature by the lyre on the quilt!
quilts also happened to be about the best way to show off the incredible needlework skills
of some of these women, too! Due to the extra fine fabrics used (which were bought to make
the quilts which were not made of scrap fabrics) and to the fact that they were recognized
as treasures for a family to have the quilts have been very well preserved. During the
"quilt revival" since the 1970's quilters all over the world have been inspired
by these quilts and many books and courses have been written and offered. The maven of
Baltimore Quilts is Elly Sienkiewicz who has an Applique Academy
in Annapolis, MD. Elly has authored a wide range of books on how to make Baltimore Quilts
and the techniques of floral embroidery used to embellish them.
I have a
theory which I've not heard anyone ever mention, but I'd be interested if any readers can
confirm it: the mid-1800's were the period of much missionary activity in the South
Pacific and, when I visited the area a few years ago, I became aware of how much the
Methodists were the missionaries on many of the islands (Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii etc.). My
idea is that the incredible Hawaiian and Tahitian quilts were inspired by the same source
as the Baltimore Album quilts - and the idea spread by the Methodist women. I wouldn't be
surprised if some Baltimore Methodists were missionaries there?
If you want to see
antique Baltimore Albums in museums you will most collections of quilts will have one or
more, even collections in England and Germany. But, if you want to see new applique quilts
made in the manner of the Baltimores you only need to attend a quilt show anywhere! Or
look on the covers of many of the quilting magazines. The newest issue of American
Quilter, fall 1997, (American Quilters Soc.) has "Vintage Rose Garden" by Judith
Thompson, which won Best of Show Award at the 1997 Quilt Show in Paducah, KY. There are
several other Album quilts pictured in this issue. I'm not aware of an image of this quilt
yet online, but if it is available I'll link to it in the future.
Sienkiewicz, (author of Baltimore Beauties and Beyond
and other Baltimore and applique books) is the maven of Baltimore quilts. She
holds an Applique Academy every year where
and and other experts teach.
A Baltimore Quilt show held
in 1998 had this Philosophy:
"For almost a decade, the most renowned nineteenth-century album
quilts have been valued at the sort of prices commanded by real estate. Yet, judged by
widely espoused standards today, these quilts might not even place. The antique appliqué
album quilts have appealed so widely and to quilt makers of such diverse talents and
inclinations. We hope our judging will reflect this and commend that which makes a quilt
Thus, our judging criteria for workmanship asks: Does the quilt inspire;
fill one with admiration and pleasure? If the answer is yes, then its workmanship has been
eminently successful. But no quilt shall be devalued for technical details which do not
detract from the quilt's overall impression. We seek to reward for timeless qualities; for
the impression the quilt conveys as a work of art."
collected some images for you to visit:
A Departing Minister Quilt -
at the Smithsonian
Minister's Wife Gift Quilt
- at the Smithsonian, date 1847
often wins in the Applique category at quilt shows.
Baltimore Wedding Quilt,
with scalloped borders is
made to order at the
Quiltery in Pennsyvania
to be perfectly honest, while I have tremendous admiration for the prodigious skill it
takes to do an authentic Baltimore Album Quilt copy - I find the most fun in seeing the
ones at shows that are derived from the Idea, but not a copy of an antique. I'm getting a
bit tired of seeing the same baskets and flowers and vines on so many quilts! But, I've
seen one I wish I had photographed where, instead of florals and vases and cornucopias
there were wonderful bugs, butterflies, insects, spiders, and little snails and garden
pests! It was very well appliquéd, realistic and beautifully quilted (with a spider web
design embellished with teeny, teeny glass seed beads that looked like dew on the web!)
and it didn't win a ribbon of any kind! Near it was an excellently stitched, but downright
ugly lime green background copy of a Baltimore which had won a ribbon! If that "buggy
applique artist" is reading this - I LOVED your quilt and it deserved a ribbon!
Note: all the GIF clip art for this article
was made using Electric Quilt and the fabric collection "Baltimore II". These
GIFs you may use for illustrating Web pages, with the stipulation that you credit them as being made by Susan Druding. Right click
on each image to download it.