This pieced bed cover has a top composed of hexagons of multicolored silks, including cut velvets, plaids, prints, and brocades. Each colored rosette (made from sewn hexagons) is set off by six surrounding hexagons of plain black silk. The bed cover is unquilted; the batting is attached to the top with an inner layer of brown printed-silk chiffon through which long zigzag running stitches are sewn. The sides are turned under and sewn together. Large silk rectangles are pieced together to form the back.
The donor of this silk quilt, Mrs. Frederick H. Buzzee, wrote in a letter to the Museum that it "was begun the day I was born, November 18, 1864 by Miss Anne Record of New Bedford, Massachusetts, a family friend, and designated for me. It took some years in the making, and then was given to me. . . . It has never been used, always carefully preserved, and is in perfect condition." This quilt was probably made essentially to display Anne Record's artistic skills with the needle. Although at first glance, the arrangement of colors appears random, on closer inspection, subtle diagonal bands of dark and light become apparent. Each rosette is surrounded by six black hexagons, which set the multicolored silks into sharper relief. It is unusual that the back of the quilt is also of pieced silk, in this case in a pattern of large squares and rectangles.
The template method of patchwork, which most often employs a hexagon-shaped unit, was introduced into the United States from England both through actual examples and by way of women's periodicals. In 1835, the first patchwork pattern ever published in "Godey's Lady's Book" was for hexagon patchwork. Hexagon patchwork, although never as widely used in the United States as it was in Great Britain, has been popular here from the 1830s to the present. Throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, the basic design scheme of small joined hexagons has remained the same, but the choice of fabrics, the overall patterns in which the hexagons are arranged, the sewing techniques, and the names given this type of quilt have changed.
The earliest hexagon examples, known at the time as "Honeycomb" quilts, were pieced out of cotton, often in a design with the focus at the center (see 23.80.75). Frequently, the individual hexagons were stitched together using the overhand or whipstitch. Hexagon bed covers made in the third quarter of the nineteenth century were called "Mosaic" quilts. They were likely to be pieced out of brilliantly colored silks, like this example. A number of overall patterns were popular. Usually, the hexagons were joined together with the running stitch rather than the more time-consuming whipstitch. Women's magazines of the period recommended displaying Mosaic patchwork in rooms decorated in the Moorish and Turkish styles that were fashionable during the 1870s and 1880s. The name "Mosaic" may also refer to the similarity in appearance of this type of quilt to the colorful tile floors that increasingly decorated many Victorian houses after the invention of encaustic tiles in the 1830s. Variations on the basic hexagon piece, such as lozenge and octagon shapes, were especially favored in England and were given names like "Pavement Patchwork." One pattern was even named "Minton" after the acclaimed tile factory. The last major revival of the hexagon quilt took place during the 1920s and 1930s. Nostalgically named "Grandmother's Flower Garden" quilts, these pastel-colored cotton bed covers were appealing during the Depression years because, when pieced completely of scrap fabric, they were inexpensive to make and the pale, almost faded, palette of colors popular at the time was thought to look appropriate with fashionable "antique" Colonial Revival-style furniture.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]