Art Through Time: A Global View
Domestic Life Art: Honeycomb Quilt
In the first decades after independence, quilts and quilt-making became increasingly popular among Americans.
As developing industry made cotton thread and fabrics more readily available, women of various social classes began quilting, often at a very young age. Primary source documents offer evidence, for instance, that girls as young as six were learning to piece, a technique that involved stitching pieces of fabric together to make designs.
With the growing interest in quilting, quilt exhibits at fairs, quilting bees, and other social activities at which women could exchange ideas and get inspiration for new work flourished in the U.S. Magazines also began printing quilting patterns. Godey’s Ladies Book was one of the first to do this, publishing the “Honeycomb” or “Hexagon” pattern in 1835.
This pieced quilt by New Yorker Elizabeth Van Horne Clarkson is an example of a “Honeycomb” pattern. It consists of hundreds of hexagonal pieces of fabric in various colors that have been stitched together. Although the design of the work is based on the bee’s honeycomb structure, its overall effect bears greater resemblance to a field of flowers. Clarkson encourages this idea by placing a different color hexagon at the center of each block. While some “Honeycomb” quilts consisted of an uninterrupted overall design, others, like this one, featured a large central motif that acted as a focal point.
Quilts were often made as gifts or to mark certain occasions such as births or marriages. It is believed that Clarkson made this quilt as a wedding present for her son, who married around 1830. Although later in the nineteenth century some quilts were made exclusively for visual enjoyment or sentimental value, earlier pieces like this one were not only aesthetically pleasing additions to the home, but also practical items that kept sleepers warm.
“Elizabeth Van Horne Clarkson: Honeycomb quilt (23.80.75).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/amqc/ho_23.80.75.htm (October 2006).
Kiracofe, Roderick, and Mary Elizabeth Johnson. The American Quilt: A History of Cloth and Comfort 1750–1950. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2004.
Peck, Amelia, Cynthia V. A. Schaffner, and Elena Phipps. American Quilts and Coverlets in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.
Roberts, Elise Schebler, ed. The Quilt: A History and Celebration of an American Art Form. Osceola, WI: Voyageur Press, 2007.
Shaw, Robert. American Quilts: The Democratic Art, 1780 to 2007. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2009.
Warren, Elizabeth, and Sharon L. Eisenstat. Glorious American Quilts: The Quilt Collection of the Museum of American Folk Art. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 1996.