Rose of Sharon Quilts

 

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.
As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.

Song of Solomon 2: 1-2

The block named Rose of Sharon is an appliqued block with a biblical name. The Bible was often times the only book centralmotifowned by many families in past centuries. Many quilt blocks receive their names from biblical sources. This appliqued block features a central round and scalloped shaped flower, with several layers in many cases, surrounded by stems, buds and leaves radiating from the central rosette. This motif was used in other crafts before being used in quilts such as crewel embroidery, china and wallpaper.

The block became popular during the middle of the nineteenth century, becoming a favorite for wedding and engagement quilts, as it came to represent love and the sanctity of marriage. A young woman was supposed to prepare twelve quilts before her engagement for her hope chest, the thirteenth being sewn after she was formally engaged to be married. Superstition had it that it was bad luck to include “love” symbols in any of the other twelve quilts and that it was also bad luck to start working on that last quilt before she was engaged. The thirteenth quilt that completed the baker’s dozen was normally the best one, meant to be kept as a keepsake and worked on by the bride to be, her family and friends. This quilt included love symbols, such as flowers, hearts and apples. Because of this quilt being a “best quilt”, many Rose of Sharon antique quilts have survived to this day.

The block takes the name from the Song of Solomon’s book of the Old Testament. Although the word translated as “rose” might actually refer to a plant growing from bulbs that grows in the area of Palestine known as Sharon (a fruitful area mentioned in other bible verses), the central floral motif which might look like a wild rose with radiating buds or rose hips were probably more familiar to quilters than other flowers.

Most of the Rose of Sharon blocks in nineteenth century quilts are worked on a light colored background like muslin withsimplerose red and green being the two color choices to applique the floral shapes. The block remained popular during the nineteenth century and experienced a comeback during the decade of the thirties in the twentieth century. The former red-green combination was softened to suit the quilters’ taste for pastels and often times Rose of Sharon quilts of the 30’s are appliqued in pink and light green shades.

There is no set pattern to sew blocks onto a quilt with this block pattern. Eighteenth century quilts can be sewn with as few as four very large blocks, giving these quilts a folk-like appeal. These four quilt blocks are often surrounded with an appliqued border of vines, flowers, leaves and buds. Lattice strips can be sewn between the blocks and the body of the quilt and the border. Most Rose of Sharon quilts however are sewn with a larger number of blocks, either set on point or in a straight set, with or without lattices and with pieced or appliqued borders. There are many Rose of Sharon block variations as well, since there is no set way to sew the components of the block and there is a large variation in block components’ arrangement (buds, leaves, smaller flowers and stems). Similar blocks appeared during the nineteenth century, all of them appliqued. There is a certain amount of confusion when identifying a Rose of Sharon block. Similar blocks are named Democrat Rose, Whig Rose (a reference to the Whig Party, a political group formed in the early nineteenth century), Wild Prairie Rose or Mexican Rose. The Whig Rose is very similar except for the fact that it includes a crown like green piece repeated four times around the central flower motif.

This block has remained popular and it is still a favorite in the twenty first century. The color palette has broadened and beautiful quilts are being made with batiks, bright colors and dark backgrounds.
The Rose of Sharon block was chosen as the block for a design challenge in 2009, which was sponsored by the Electric rosesforalzheimersQuilt Company to support the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative. Quilters were encouraged to design their own Rose of Sharon block with shapes provided by EQ and submit it, alongside their own stories of how Alzheimer’s had impacted their lives. Twelve winners were chosen and their blocks were showcased in a quilt and featured in a book and DVD. Quilter and author Sharon Pederson led this fundraising and awareness project. The Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative led by quiltmaker and author Ami Simms has raised one million dollars for research to find a cure for this disease. More than 13.000 quilts have been donated and sold. This year is the last year of this fundraising program. Donated quilts can still be purchased at http://www.alzquilts.org/

 

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