This beautiful quilt, signed in the center in ink “Barbara Ann Miller/her quilt/1847”, exemplifies the German approach to the English tradition of quiltmaking. Pennsylvania German quilts are typically more boldly colored and patterned than those from other areas of the Northeast. The emphasis on ornate patterning is thought to reflect the influence of the German and central European folk-art traditions that the Pennsylvania Germans carried with them to America. The Mariner’s Compass pattern, which demanded incredibly precise stitching, was one of the most popular sewn by Pennsylvania German women in the nineteenth century.
This beautiful Pennsylvania Mariner's Compass quilt is signed in ink in the very center: “Barbara Ann Miller/her quilt/1847”. It exemplifies the German approach to the English tradition of quiltmaking rather than the more purely British style that flourished in Pennsylvania at the same time. Several factors contribute to the supposition that Miller was of Pennsylvania German background. First of all, even today, Miller is one of the most common names found in the Pennsylvania counties with large Germanic populations. Second, the quilt is pieced of strongly colored cottons. Pennsylvania-German quilts are typically more boldly colored and patterned than those from other areas of the Northeast. This emphasis on ornate patterning is thought to reflect the influence of the German and central European folk-art traditions that the Pennsylvania Germans had carried with them to America. Third, the Mariner's Compass quilt pattern is among the most popular sewn by Pennsylvania German women. It demands a great deal of care in both cutting and stitching the many small pieces that make up each compass. On this quilt, the compass points are pieced out of a variety of colored cottons, all printed with small-scale patterns, which differ from compass to compass. The only fabrics that do not vary from block to block are the yellow cottons used for the outermost points and the white linen pieces that fill in the circles. The most striking element of the quilt is the spectacular background fabric of each compass block. This green and burnt-orange rainbow print was very likely printed in England. It is used in such quantity that it must have been bought specifically to make this quilt. First produced in England in the 1820s, rainbow prints had become extremely intricate and vivid by the late 1840s, as the fabric in this quilt testifies. The backing cloth is a blue- and-white rainbow print that is almost identical to a swatch in an English sample book (156.415/Sa4Q/ No.107290) of about 1840 in the Metropolitan's collection. Another unusual characteristic is the use of plain white-linen sashing to join and outline the blocks. During this period, a fancy pattern was usually pieced or appliquéd on white fabric blocks that were then separated by colored sashing. The Museum’s Mariner's Compass quilt employs a reversal of that typical scheme to achieve its full effect.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
Purchased by Norman Hascoe/The Hascoe Foundation at the request of the American Wing from Sotheby's auction of Important Americana, January 28-30, 1988, lot 1458. Previous to being auctioned, it was owned by quilt dealers Linda Reuther and Julie Strickler. It entered the collection as a loan, but was made a promised gift in 1990.