Burgoyne Surrounded

Burgoyne Surrounded

My earliest readings of historical novels included one written from the viewpoint of a Hessian soldier in the surrounded British Army of General Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga. The decisive American victory resulted in the surrender of Burgoyne’s army on October 17, 1777, and convinced the French to ally themselves with the Americans. When I began quilting many years later, I became enchanted with the Burgoyne Surrounded pattern and its symbolic relationship to a historical event of such importance to the founding of the United States.

In searching for an inspiration quilt from the 20th century for this study, I discovered two quilts in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum named Burgoyne Surrounded that are not truly the pattern. One of them (1997.007.0177, c. 1935-1945), uses variations of the Mountain Mist “Homespun” pattern from 1932 and is made with red, blue, gold, and white fabrics. The other (1997.007.0395, c. 1900-1920) has an alternate title of Checkerboard, made with red and white fabrics only.

My quilt is an adaptation of a traditional Burgoyne Surrounded bed quilt made in the 1930s in the collection of Cindy Rennels. The quilt maker chose to use only blue and white fabrics, in keeping with two-color late 19th century Colonial Revival versions. Instead of blue, I decided to use red fabric for the large inner nine-patch and small corner blocks in order to symbolize the surrounded British army of redcoats. I kept the original’s innovative borders, while paring down the number of blocks from 16 to 6 and reducing their size by one-quarter. Because, in my eye, the original’s all-over grid quilting detracted from the block pattern, I chose to use more modest linear quilting to accentuate the blocks.

I opted to use a sewing machine for piecing and quilting. I had to admire the tenacity of a person who hand quilted a one-inch grid after hand piecing 16 blocks of such a complicated pattern. I wonder if the original’s maker had a sewing machine available. Could it be that the quilt maker’s choice of method had to do with keeping in the spirit of the romance of the Colonial Revival, with needle in hand rather than foot on a pedal?