Antique Crib Quilts and Karl Benjamin

triple irish chain crib quilt

Recently we went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and viewed a small exhibition of crib quilts.  I thought I’d share them with you because while they look so old and antique they also are refreshingly current in some of their color choices and design.  Above is a Triple Irish Chain from the 1930s, one of the “younger” quilts in the exhibit.  I did find interesting that while no one really knows the origin of the label “Irish Chain” some suggest it came from the quilts fashioned “from bags of scraps sold to workers in the Irish shirt industry, who made quilts for sale in their spare time.”  No dimensions were given, but they are smaller quilts, roughly 2 feet across and 3 feet high.

triple irish chain crib quilt detail

Detail of Triple Irish Chain crib quilt.

square in a square crib quilt

This “Square within a Square” quilt was made in Pennsylvania around 1880.  All of the crib quilts were protected behind a plexiglass box, and some quilts were really hard to photograph, given the glare of the lights (I never could get a decent photo of the “Bars” quilt).

square in a square crib quilt detail

Detail, “Square within a Square.”

dutch windmill crib quilt

Another more contemporary quilt, made around 1920, is this quilt with two names: “Dutch Windmill” or “Hearts and Gizzards.”  This one is also from Pennsylvania and is machine quilted.

dutch windmill crib quilt detail

While you can’t really see it too well, on each larger black piece is a name embroidered in red, perhaps revealing the “creators of each separate block.”

churn dash

While this pattern is known as “Hole in the Barn Door” or “Monkey Wrench,”  we typically refer to it as “Churn Dash.”  This one is both hand and machine pieced and is from the 1880s.  The title card next to this had this tidbit: “From the beginning of the 1880s, the primary sources for patterns were magazines and newspapers with diagrams and instructions, and ultimately mail-order companies.”  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

mariner's compass crib quilt

“Mariner’s Compass,” from the 1880s.

mariner's compass crib quilt detail

“Mariner’s Compass,” detail.

lemoyne star crib quilt

This little “Le Moyne Star” is hand pieced and quilted and is dated to 1840.  I love the on point setting of this little quilt, as well as the use of the red setting triangles in the borders, causing it to look like a shooting star effect.  The title card shared this info about the dye: “Before the synthetic production of alizarin crimson in 1869, printed patterns on textiles were colored by “Turkey Red” dyeing, named for an eastern Mediterranean method that required soaking cloth in oil and dyeing it with madder root.  The print on this quilt resembles chintz patterns from India that were popular in Europe in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.”

lemoyne star crib quilt detail

The quilt was slightly pinkish; this is not an aberration of photography.

flying geese crib quilt

This “Flying Geese” quilt is hand pieced and hand quilted, by machine bound and dates from 1870.  This one was my favorite in the collections because of its very modern look and the fabulous fabrics.  LACMA’s curator wrote “This quilt exemplifies the reductive nature of quilt imagery, which distills and captures an enduring impression of an object. . . .[namely] the migrations of geese.”

flying geese crib quilt detail

Modern Art Painting random

We walked out through an adjoining gallery, where this painting caught my eye.  Since we were with my sister Christine and her daughter (and baby granddaughter), I didn’t linger, but did think it would make a great quilt.  And while we’re on the subject of fine-art-possibly-inspiring-a-quilt, take a look at these:


This is the work of Karl Benjamin, known as the father of Hard Edge painting.  His ideas are perfect for inspiring quilters, as we work in hard edges, with our seams and our cloth.

Karl Benjamin log cabin(from *here*)

He died two years ago at the age of 86, but has left a legacy of  “vision, not logic” as the LATimes says.  As we quilters struggle with “naming” the different factions of the quilting world (art quilters, traditional quilters, modern quilters. etc.) I loved how he talked about the various labels given to his paintings, in an interview (click if you want to read more):

“Hard Edge got started the late 50s, and I hate that word. It doesn’t mean anything. What’s a soft edge? Monet? To write about something, you have to find a word, so unfortunately I don’t think that was a very good word.
“Abstract Classicism was another one. Someone had a show in London, and irrationally corporate called it Abstract Classicism. Well, it was good for your career, because you had a name now, but it didn’t mean anything. But you take it in context. In any art, there’s the romantic and the classical. It’s always kind of torn between those two poles. So there was Abstract Expressionism, which was accepted for wild painters, which were brand new then, and Abstract Classicism, which was opposed to expressionism. But it balanced out equally.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) May 6, 2012 auction catalogue(from *here*)

You can find more of his paintings *here*  and *here* or just do a search on his name in Google Images.  (Have a great time.) Okay, back to our museum visit. . .

bojagiIt was Korean Day at LACMA and in the courtyard was this quilt-like display, titled “Community Bojagi.”  A bojagi is a “traditional Korean wrapping cloth,” and over 1700 people collaborated to make this riot of color and patches.

Boro(photo from *here*)

It reminded me of boro, the Japanese tradition of mending cloth to keep it viable and which, over time, becomes its own art piece. . . just like some of our quilts.  They, like the crib quilts shown above, are made for use but are often made for display.  Who knows how many of ours will end up in museums a hundred-plus years in the future?

12 thoughts on “Antique Crib Quilts and Karl Benjamin

  1. I’m pretty none of mine will end up in museums; just as long as they are loved! What an amazing selection of quilts- I love the subtlety in the colour variation of the Square within a Square quilt But they are all wonderful! Thank you for sharing this show with us Elizabeth!

  2. What an amazing set of images–the quilts and the paintings! I love the old quilts and I especially love the fact that they are not perfect. You can see that points did not always match up and squares are not always square. The makers had more important things to worry about, I suspect!

  3. I had to keep reminding myself that these weren’t of current vintage!!! What an awesome display. What size were the blocks in the Triple Irish Chain?? 3/4″??? I loved the abstracts especially and my mind immediately took off with ideas for future quilts!!! Thank you so much for a wonderful post……………hugs…………

  4. It looks like my quilt that I rescued from Grandpa’s garage was made before the 20th century. It has some of the same fabric in it as the Mariners Compass. Great historical post.

  5. It looks like it was a fabulous show. So many of those quilts could be seen in today’s pieces. I would love to see some of those “hard lines” pieces done in cloth.

  6. Thanks for the info about the quilt exhibit. I live in Los Angeles, but haven’t been to LACMA I years. Also love the Art Deco quilts. Sue singer

    Sent from Sue Singer


  7. Thanks for the informative post Elizabeth. Nice to read a viewpoint about older quilts that ties them in so well to what’s modern today. Also love the art references.

  8. A very enjoyable visual breaking, after listening to student recordings. I so appreciate that you take us along with you on your jaunts.

  9. “Hearts and Gizzards”–my favorite name. That definitely dates it. I love the hard-edge painting and seeing how the same style of art can cross over into different forms of art. Very fun post.

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