Objects: Honeycomb Quilts

It’s been over a year since I’ve gone to a museum and lately I’ve been feeling a bit deprived. I mean, I’ve found plenty of ways to occupy myself while at home, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been missing going out into the world. So, I’ve started spending time going through the catalogs of art and history museums for a little inspiration. During my searches this week, I became a little obsessed with antique Honeycomb Quilts.

The hexagonal shapes remind me of tile entryways in old buildings. And I love when the makers use contrasting colors and values to create depth. So, in this post I’ll share with you a few of my favorite finds from this weeks browsing session.

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Honeycomb Quilt, 1820-1850

Large quilt consisting of hexagonal pieces with appliqué block at the center and border.
British honeycomb quilt made 1820-1850. Metropolitan Museum of Art 1987.63.
Detail of a honeycomb quilt with appliqué birds and flower motifs over hexagonal blocks.
Detail of broderie perse motifs from the center of the quilt.

This British quilt is what started me down this whole rabbit hole. According to the catalog record, the fabric dates from 1790-1820 and there is only small amount of each pattern. Meaning, it was most likely made by someone who had access to fabric samples. While this could have made the quilt look messy, careful pattern placement and the use of white space keeps it looking unified

What really makes this quilt stand out though, is the appliquéd motifs on the center and border. Brids and flowers were cut out and applied to the top using crewelwork, a technique known as “broderie perse.”

Honeycomb Quilt by Elizabeth Van Horne Clarkson, C. 1830

Large honeycomb quilt made of hexagonal pieces around a center motif.
Quilt, Elizabeth Van Horne Clarkson, c. 1830. Metropolitan Museum of Art 23.80.75
Detail of boarder from a honeycomb quilt showing careful use of fabric.
Detail of left edge.

There are three things that make this quilt really stand out to me. First, that the pieces are whip stitched together. I specialize in clothing construction, not quilts, so I could be missing something, but that seems like an odd choice of stitch. You would end up with a bit of a bulky seam. However, it might possibly be stronger than a plain seam? Or allow for a smaller seam allowance?

Second, I am obsessed with how Clarkson used a striped brown fabric to create patterns within the pattern. The hexagons are oriented to make a boarder around the edge of the quilt as well as star patterns throughout. It’s a really thoughtful use of materials.

Third, I love that there is some information on the maker. The makers and users of many antique and historic textile objects are completely unknown to us. But the MET not only knows her name, they have a portrait!

Bedcover Fragment, 1876

Fragment of a honeycomb quilt made from hexagonal pieces of fabric.
Fragment from Bedcover (Mosaic or Honeycomb Quilt) 1876. Art Institute of Chicago 1976.357a.

There’s something really visually appealing about this unfinished quilt. The way the blocks just sort of float off on the far right is beautiful, even if it is likely unintentional. The mix of colors and fabrics used is also fantastic. Each section is unique, but the black boarders and simple repeated shape makes it a cohesive composition.

Honestly, I always get excited when I see unfinished pieces in collections because it means that you get some insight into the process of making. According to the catalog record, you can see bits of paper attached to the back. This suggests that a paper piecing method was used on this quilt. There also are lots of large basting stitches if you zoom in on the original photo. I would love to see this in person to get and even closer look at the construction, especially from the back side.

Silk Velvet Lap Robe Quilt, 1858

Silk velvet honeycomb quilt made of hexagonal pieces with dark red boarders and yellow embroidery.
Quilt (Lap Robe), Caroline Kountz Jones, 1876. Los Angeles County Museum of Art M.91.274.2.
Detail of honeycomb quilt with red boarder and tassel at corer.
Detail of lower left corner.

No one who knows me would be at all surprised that I am a little obsessed with this quilt. I mean, not only is it made up of silk velvet, but it has Tassels!

I also love how this quilt uses the feather stitch in that fantastic yellow thread to further emphasize the edges and centers of the blocks. The piece acts as a bridge between traditional piecework and crazy quilting and I am here for it.

The quilt was made by a woman named Caroline Kountz Jones and LACMA does appear to have one other piece by her. Unfortunately it hasn’t been photographed. That’s a real shame because the based on the title it’s some sort of crazy quilt version of aesthetic dress. I can’t be the only one who is dying to see it now!

Honeycomb Quilt Detail, c. 1935

Fully rendered illustration of a fragment of a quilt made of hexagonal pieces.
Quilt (detail) – Honeycomb Pattern, Mrs. Goodwin, c. 1935. National Gallery of Art 1943.8.363.

Ok, so this last one isn’t actually a quilt, but I couldn’t resist including it. The rendering of this quilt fragment is just too good that I thought it was a real fragment for a moment when I was scrolling through the catalog.

After taking a closer look, I’m not at all surprised I was fooled. The artists does such a good job capturing the details and idiosyncrasies of her subject. I love how clear the stitches are on the white hexagon on the lower left. And the texture of the quilted fabric on the upper left red hexagon is amazing. But my favorite part of this drawing is on the lower right where a red hexagon has been damaged. I am just obsessed over the delicate way the worn fabric is rendered!


As is my way, once I ran out of museum quilts to ogle, I started to see if I could find any great examples elsewhere. There are some cute versions for sale on Etsy, though these seem to be mostly 20th century examples. I a bit interested in some of the partially finished quilts though.

If anyone has a good source of antique quilts I’d love to know! Leave me a comment here, or over on Instagram.