Early 20th century Dresden Plate quilts are made of wedges sewn together to form a complete circle that is appliquéd to a fabric block. In researching the history of the pattern I discovered many early American quilts that may have inspired this colonial revival design.
The earliest example, found in The Wadsworth Antheneum Museum of Art collection, is a medallion quilt. It is inscribed
“ANNA TUELS HER BEDQUILT GIVEN TO HER BY HER MOTHER IN THE YEAR AU 23. 1785”.
In the center of the quilt is one wedge-pieced circle applied to a background square with hearts in the corners. The circle pattern was not repeated in this quilt.
Throughout the 19th century there are numerous examples of quilts with wedge-pieced wheels though many appear to be four fans sewn together to form the circle. One early example found was in The Quilt Index. ‘Worsted Quilt, Dresden Plate’ made by Martha Elizabeth Brooks Randolph, c. 1876-1900, is made of wool pieces that are foundation pieced into four sections sewn together to create a circle. The circle pattern is repeated nine times.
Inspiration for my study quilt comes from an unfinished quilt top in my collection that appears to have been started during the Great Depression. However, unlike most Dresden Plate quilts with wheels appliquéd to square blocks, the wheels are all appliquéd onto one large background piece. In 40+ years as a quilter inspired by antique quilts, this quilt top was only the second Dresden Plate quilt I have seen assembled in this manner.
It is that unusual trait that I opted to mimic with my study quilt. However, it took a long time to find just the right fabric for the center. As luck would have it, a Pratt’s feed sack found me in an antique mall. In the spirit of early 20th century quilters, who ‘made do or did without’, I cut the printed panel from the front of the bag and used the remaining fabric for the outer border. I separated it from the center with a narrow border of the same reproduction print I used to replace a damaged border on the original top.
As an ‘inspired by’ quilt I further connected my study quilt to the original by way of camera, computer and printer. I photographed each of the 13 original wheels so that I could print them on fabric. (Yes, 13! It appears that the unfinished quilt was intended to have 16 plates.) I machine appliquéd each piece of my design onto the quilt sandwich thus completing much of the quilting at the same time. I then filled the open background space with additional machine quilted designs similar to how I plan to finish the original top – someday!