Seek No Further Quilt
Collection of the New York Historical Society
Seek No Further was the name given to an appliquéd quilt over 150 years ago. I’ve often puzzled over that phrase, but now I think I understand it better. Seek No Further was already three or four generations old before it was acquired by Elie Nadelman in the 1920’s. The geometrical construction of the block designs and their sophisticated and elegant arrangement must have caught his draftsman’s eye. The quilt is now in the collection of the New York Historical Society Museum.
The quilt is about 100 inches on each side. In quiltmaking, separate blocks are usually sewn together to form the wide expanse of the top. That seems to be the same procedure followed in this quilt. Each block contains a hand appliquéd wreath and the 25 blocks are set five across and five down. It has a saw-toothed (or dog toothed) border about half as wide as the width of a block. The blocks are about 16.75 inches square and the border 8.375 inches wide. It has a thin batting, only 1/8 inch thick, and is more like a decorative coverlet or bed spread.
The top, batting and backing would have been basted to a frame and quilted using a stab stitch or a running stitch. An alternate method would be to appliqué the designs onto the block, cut batting and backing to the same measurement as the block, baste the three units together and quilt. The individual blocks are joined together, the batting trimmed to the seam line and catch stitched to its neighbor to hold it in place and the front and back seams joined. The border triangles could also have been appliquéd from a single long strip of fabric.
The album quilt was popular during the mid 1800’s. Small groups of fellow needleworkers combined blocks to make one full size quilt. Sometimes the block was signed in ink with the maker’s name, making it an autograph album as well. The wreath motif is often found in album quilts. The designs are composed using mostly red and green appliqués on a white background.
The Seek No Further quilt has red and pink flowers and buds which contrast nicely with the green leaves and stems. Here and there are flashes of brilliant yellow marking the stamens of the rose in bloom. The center block is a grapevine wreath with leaves and clusters of purple and lavender grapes. The blocks appear to be unsigned. It is a sample book of fruits and flowers at their loveliest, preserved on the fabric pages by the artist using needle and thread. The feathered wreaths are the most numerous of the blocks and the most difficult to draft. The negative space within these wreaths suggest twelve swirling suns each with twelve sun rays twisting and twirling to the right or left. Overall the quilt appears organized in composition and yet this is a lively, active quilt. Meditating on the feathered wreath brings to mind the intense activity of the twelve weeks of the summer growing season.
It is very possible this was the work of just one or two people and was probably created for a wedding or other special occasion. It would have been displayed on the bed at times of great celebration such as a joyous homecoming or another wedding in the family. Clearly the blocks chosen were the favorites of this fabric artist and the arrangement of the repeating blocks shows thoughtful planning.
If called upon to contribute a few album blocks for the wedding quilts of family and friends this quilt artist would have had to seek no further than her quilt to find a design to recreate. Not only is it an album to preserve the memory of a happy event, it is also a catalog of appliqué templates. This beautiful bed covering acts as a reference manual of construction details for the maker as well as for future generations of quiltmakers.
“Seek No Further”, 1840-1860, New York Historical Society Museum, image used with permission.
Geometrical Drawing for Art Students, I.H. Morris, 13th edition, rev., 1912, page 77, Circles Touching Lines and Circles