Canadian Red Cross Quilt

Quilting by the Yard

by | Jan 17, 2022 | History

Example of ‘Foreshortened’ quilt – Canadian Red Cross Kitchener Branch

In my ongoing research into Canadian WWII Red Cross quilts, I have seen reference regarding construction that some quilt tops were made ‘by the yard’.  That is, blocks were made and sewn together continuously, creating long sections of patchwork ‘fabric’, which were then cut into quilt tops and made into quilts.  My own Red Cross quilt shows an example of this.

At first, before I read about this practice of ‘patchwork by the yard’ or ‘quilts by the yard’, I thought my quilt had been damaged and rebound.  But I found this reference in an article by Isobel Holland in 2003, in discussing two Canadian Red Cross quilts in the collection of the Dean Clough mill complex in Halifax, UK:

“Both quilts also have foreshortened blocks, where the made-up ‘material’ has simply been cut off at the required length.”

Isobel Holland, ‘Patchwork and Quilting Magazine’, November 2003.

Unfortunately I have not found images of the ‘foreshortened blocks’ that she references in this article. I am on the hunt for more examples of this kind of piecing, as well as discussion in primary sources for this method of construction.  In a setting such as the Forsyth Factory in Kitchener, Ontario, where shirts were being manufactured, off-cuts of new fabric — the discarded pieces of fabric as the shirts were cut out — were often donated to the war effort.  This article from the 1944 Forsyth factory newsletter, ‘Shirt Tales’, provided to me by Grace Smith at the City of Kitchener Archives, references the work being done after hours for the Forsyth employees.

Canadian WWII Red Cross Quilt
Forsyth Shirt Factory Kitchener Ontario

Forsyth Shirt Factory, Kitchener, Ontario

It would not surprise me that they were piecing ‘quilts by the yard’ to best utilize the scraps from off-cuts that were made available to them.  The photo below shows how hard the women were working to utilize every scrap of fabric into these quilts. I have added the red lines over every seam to show the seam lines and piecing — over 50 pieces of fabric in this 18″ square piece of the quilt, some as small as half an inch. This is an amazing example of reuse/recycle that might put modern quilting habits to shame.

Canadian Red Cross quilt, ‘Kitchener Branch’ – example of intricate piecing of patchwork quilt top

If you know of any Canadian Red Cross quilts that show ‘patchwork by the yard’ or ‘foreshortened blocks’, I would appreciate seeing images and knowing where they are located if in public collections.