The Art of Darkness

Coffin Quilts

May 10th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Coffin QuiltY’know what’s irritating? Trying to find a photograph to accompany a blog post and discovering that there’s a book by the same title that everybody and their cousin has written about. I slogged through 37 pages of “the Hatfields and the McCoys sure didn’t like each other” to find this photo for you. I hope you’re happy.

Anyway.

Coffin Quilts date from the days when people were rubbing up against death all the time, so it was treated a little more matter-of-factly than it is today. As with most other types of patchwork quilt, they appear to have originally been an American invention.

They were usually done in somber shades of grey or brown and consisted of a plain center (the graveyard) surrounded by either pieced blocks (star, nine-patch, etc.) or by appliques such as a picket fence. These quilts were sometimes also embroidered with vines, flowers, and other funerary symbols.

Now for the fun part: Appliques in the shape of toe-pincher coffins, each embroidered with the name of a family member, were loosely basted on the quilt’s border. When a relative died, the coffin bearing his/her name was removed and sewed permanently in the center or graveyard area, along with the date of death.

Yeah, that’d be a hoot, wouldn’t it? Going to visit Aunt Agatha and seeing the little coffin with your name on it, just waiting….

Anyway, if you like to quilt (or would like to learn–it’s truly less daunting than you think), this would be a fun project. It’s nicely morbid, but can claim real historical roots if anyone complains. Depending upon your skill level you can choose a simple block (stick with squares or triangles that make up squares, like Churn Dash) or can go nuts with the appliques and make your own cemetery, complete with wrought-iron gates.

There’s another couple of photos of the quilt above on Flickr.

(This post was first published in September 2007; I’ll be doing a few days of “blast from the past” archive posts in a probably-vain effort to catch up with real life.)

Posted in Paint It Black | 3 Comments »

3 Responses

  1. Goth Gardening Says:

    You never fail to make me snort ;) I’ve seen these quilts posted around on the internet but never with your own take. Thank you! I needed a giggle.

  2. Pixel Pixie Says:

    Slightly related: my ex-sister-in-law’s mother-in-law’s mother was a big sewer and in fact made a specific outfit to be buried in, with a slit up the back to make it easier on the folks at the funeral home. She got a lot of flak for being morbid, but I think that’s very practical. If I wanted a traditional burial (I want to be consumed by scavenger animals), I’d probably do the same.

  3. Craft Says:

    What a wonderfully morbid thing. I wonder if there is a market for a quilt kit like this…hmmm…

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