Wagon Wheels

By: Barb Vedder
Madison, Connecticut

A published description of my inspiration quilt reads, “Amish Fans, circa 1900, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Extremely rare example, exceptionally fine workmanship.” I find this quilt to be like many of this design with multicolored wool fans on a black background. The filet or bottom portion of the fan is typically black or red. The blue embroidery on the outer edge might suggest lace, which is a feature on some fancy hand fans.

When I saw this quilt at the Boston Art Museum in 2014, I was fascinated by the how carefully the color placement was executed. In this quilt, most fans contain a red blade near the center and end with a green, peach, lavender, or yellow blade. They were often paired with a matching fan that mirrored the color order. I noted that this color arrangement created a very pleasing secondary vertical and horizontal design element.

These observations led me to wonder if the color placement in early nineteenth-century Amish Fan quilts were planned or random, and whether black or red was the predominate color used for the filet. In my study of over 50 similar quilts, I found that 70% had random color placements and 64% had black filets. This confirmed my assumption that it is rare for a fan quilt to have so many levels of planned color design.

For my quilt, I decided to use the Wagon Wheel Fan variation having two wheels with mirror image color placement and two with random colors and sizes in the liberated style that I like. I used paper coffee filters as a foundation for piecing and learned to how to machine stitch a set-in circle. In keeping with Amish traditions, I hand quilted my piece with crosshatching and a cable design on the red border.