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Quilt HIstory Snippets - August 2022
By Kathleen L Moore
Posted: 2022-08-08T17:43:00Z

What: Review of Uncoverings 1990, Volume 11 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group

Topic: “The Multicolor Geometric Pieced Sails of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago”

Author: Joyce B. Peaden

For those of us who have seen images of the colorful sails discussed in this article and wondered about them we can thank author Joyce B. Peaden for some definitive research and reporting. Peaden saw in them the work of “another quilt piecer” and sometime in the 1970s began a serious study of primitive sailboats.

She collected numerous photographic images over decades and was intrigued at how similar the pieced sail patterns were to the traditional pieced quilts with which she was familiar. Peaden narrowed her broader study of the sailboats to studying the pieced sails exclusively in 1988. [p. 110]

One of Peaden’s earliest observations from her collection of images beginning with the first one from a 1942 National Geographic magazine is that they contain the “same geometric forms…but with fewer geometric forms per sail.” [p. 110] She cites arrangements of “two- and four-triangle squares, a square-in-a-square, hanging diamonds, chevrons, and isosceles triangles set in a strip.” [p. 110-111] Peaden also notes the “colors are clear, vivid, and bold…often combined with black and white…typical color combinations include white, blue, tangerine, and green, or pink, tangerine, green, yellow, and black.” [p. 111]

She describes the sail cloth as being “handwoven from ramie, abaca, or cotton in ancient times in the Philippines. Cotton and abaca, the major fiber, were woven commercially during the Spanish and American periods.” Peaden also specifies when and where specific types of all forms of fabric including sail cloth were woven and how they were obtained, sometimes being used as currency for trade, including that of the slave trade. Types of cloth being used at the time of this article are also discussed and yardages and costs are also described as well as current conditions of construction and use during special days of the year (see p. 113). There is even a description of the differences between “fancy colorful sails, and even the plain colored sails,” and their durability. [p. 112-113]

Peaden’s article includes historical and contemporary information about the boats and the multiethnic people of the region. Her comments on the role of piracy in the mixing of cultural groups and its influence on the economy of the region are interesting. Likewise, the disruptions of trade patterns, production and religious cultures made by the intrusion of Portuguese-Spanish dominance in the region are notable. [p. 119-120]

While not extensive, Peaden’s coverage of the ancient practices of decorating boats and sails was enough to leave me wanting more information on this aspect. She quotes from biblical references to “embroidered work from Egypt” being used for sails. Among other historical influences, Peaden also notes that “William, Duke of Normandy, sailed to England in 1066 under patterned and colored sails, as recorded upon the Bayeau Tapestry.” [p. 120] There are brief descriptions of cultural and craft traditions of the people of the region and a brief mention of “what anthropologists call a ‘parallel development’ to the piecing of patchwork quilts in the United States.” [p. 124] Peaden’s End Notes section is full of informative references and would serve as a good start for anyone wishing to follow up and extend her good work.

That’s all for this month. Next month we will review Nancy Gibson Tuckhorn’s profile of quilts and donors at the DAR museum. If you do not have a copy of this, or any, edition of Uncoverings, check the publication list on the AQSG website to see if the particular volume is available…many still are. To access an online version of any issue of Uncoverings find the links at As always, you can contact me at