Basket Quilts

Quilts that celebrated the simple geometry of the basket first appeared in the second quarter of the 19th century. They were made either by piecing, appliqué, or a combination of the two techniques. The Basket pattern probably developed among women attending agricultural fairs, where quilts were exhibited. Quilt makers offered pattern blocks for sale at these fairs, as well as trading them among themselves. Toward the middle of the 19th century, repeat-block patterns emerged as the dominant style among quilters. From that time forward, the Basket has remained a primary quilt pattern.

The basic form supports a surprisingly large number of variations. At its simplest, the body of the Basket is one large inverted triangle with its down-pointing tip flanked by two additional triangles to create a base. In another pattern, the Basket is made of squares set on point. The most complex examples create a large triangle from smaller triangles of contrasting colors to suggest latticework. In all cases, the handle of the basket is an appliqué arc, often sewn by machine, even when every other part of the quilt is sewn by hand.

Many examples of Basket quilts were made with large numbers of leftover fabrics in a wide variety of prints. An equal number were done with two or three colors on a ground fabric that clearly had been purchased specifically to be used in the quilt. Some examples have sashing that creates a secondary pattern.

Baskets have been made in many configurations, but they appear to have always been done in cotton. A Basket quilt made in any other fabric is extremely rare.

This cotton quilt is well crafted. It was clearly intended as something finer than a scrap quilt. The piecing and quilting are both done with precision. Although well made and unified, however, the quilter's lack of imagination makes the quilt less of a find than the example below.

This cotton Basket quilt is a very imaginative interpretation of a traditional pattern. While each basket is streamlined, the arrangement provides a great deal of visual interest.


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