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Column #44

Hen and Chicks

Photo by Rick Bennett. Taken to publicize a chicken coop tour in Raleigh, North Carolina that raised $5000 and 2000 pounds of non-perishable food for Urban Ministries, which provides medical care and food for people in need. For more information, see hensidethebeltline.blogspot.com


Hen 'n Chicks block. Photo by Wisconsin quilter Jen Buettner.


Photo by Kelly MacDonald.

Not long ago, I wrote about the Shoo Fly quilt pattern, having been inspired by the Shoo Fly plant. I was recently given a start of a different plant, a succulent called Hen and Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum), and that got me thinking about quilt patterns of the same (or similar) name.

Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns lists several patterns that fall into this category, and shows sources for most of them dating from the 1930s (although one comes from an 1896 Ladies Art Company catalogue) Hen and Chicks, Hen ‘n Chicks, Hen and Chickens, Hens and Chickens, or The Hen and Her Chicks—all refer to quilt block patterns that feature a central geometric shape, usually a square, surrounded by smaller shapes, often triangles.

My Hen and Chicks plant also features a central cluster of rosettes (the “hen”) surrounded by smaller rosettes (the “chicks”). Descriptions of the Hen and Chicks plant say that European peasants planted the succulent on the thatched roofs of their homes in order to create a natural firebreak. Since Hen and Chicks retains water in its leaves, it would catch fire less quickly than the dried thatch.

If you’ve ever seen a mother hen surrounded by her baby chicks, you know that it is an easy visual leap to see where both the plant and the quilt pattern got their names. The large chicken in the middle of her brood of little ones is a memorable sight. Being a “chickenista” with a small backyard flock of my own, I can certainly understand how chickens’ appearance and their funny, endearing antics might give rise to all sorts of creative thought.

Of course, as is true with most traditional quilt patterns, the inspiration for a name may vary from place to place and from time to time. Barbara Brackman quotes Florence Peto as saying, “It is not wise to be didactic about the nomenclature of quilt patterns.” In one instance, Brackman notes that a pattern named Hen and Chicks is also called Shoo Fly.

Our quilting forebears took their cues from their surroundings and their everyday lives. Since many of them lived in a rural environment, it is hardly surprising that something so common and familiar as poultry would make its way into their artistic expressions.

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Archived blogs:

Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here

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