Fly Pattern—Plant, Pie, or Pest?
quilt pattern names are fascinating. Changeable, frequently charming,
and sometimes bewildering, they can be as colorful as the quilts they
identify. The origins of those quilt pattern names are equally
recently read about a pretty plant called Shoo Fly (Nicandra
physalodes), also known as “Apple
of Peru.” The plant is reported to be highly poisonous, and its
juices apparently can be used to produce a natural fly deterrent,
which is how it got the common name of Shoo Fly. I wondered whether
there might be any association with the quilt pattern called Shoo
Fly, and decided to do a little research. It didn’t take long
to find the Quilting
in America website, which
says that, sure enough, this plant is the basis for the quilt pattern
of the same name.
Shoo Fly pattern is a nine-patch variation and it can look quite
different depending upon the way contrasting fabrics are set in the
block. When fabrics are set a certain way, it is not difficult to see
the similarity between the pattern and the flower for which it is
I had always supposed that the pattern name came from Shoo Fly Pie, a
molasses-based concoction of Pennsylvania Dutch origin. The Quilting
in America website also makes this association. The most common
explanation for how the pie got its name was that in earlier times,
it used to be baked in an outdoor oven and was allowed to cool
outside as well. Flies were attracted to the molasses in the pie,
thus resulting in the command, “Shoo, fly!”
Fly is a relatively old quilt pattern. One source dates it to the
mid-1800s, while Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia
of Pieced Quilt Patterns lists one
variation as having been published in 1897 by the Ladies Art Company.
The song, “Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother
Me” was first published in 1869. According to Wikipedia, “The
song remained popular over the decades, and was commonly sung by
soldiers during the Spanish-American War of 1898, when flies…were
a serious enemy.” Although the song was well known during the
same time period as the origin of the quilt pattern, I could find no
documented connection between the two.
railroad slang, a “shoo fly” refers to a railroad detour
that occurs when a track is built around some obstacle. By extension,
the term also means to avoid passing
through a town if the police are hostile.
definition of the term “shoo fly” is a child’s
rocker built in the shape of an animal. One source I found associated
the quilt pattern with this meaning.
is the case with many pattern names, clearly there is some
disagreement about the Shoo Fly’s origins. To my mind, that
only adds to its charm. So take your pick, and while you’re
deciding, why not treat yourself to a slice of Shoo Fly Pie?
Shoo Fly Pie
- 1 c. flour
c. brown sugar
tsp. baking soda
c. hot water
9" unbaked pie shell
flour, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Cut shortening into flour mixture.
Mix until crumbly. Reserve 1/2 c. crumbs. Dissolve baking soda in hot
(but not boiling) water. In a small bowl, combine molasses, egg, and
baking soda water and beat well. Pour into unbaked pie shell.
Sprinkle with reserved crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.
Click here to return to top.
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
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
Column 90: Leitmotif for a Lifelong Love Affair
Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
Column 81: Why So Many Quilt Shops in Bozeman, Montana?
Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
Column 77: Quilting with AMD
Column 76: Maverick Quilts and Cowgirls
Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
Column 73: Maximum Security Quilts
Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
Column 71: The Christmas Quilt
Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Column 64: Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree
Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
Column 61: Louisiana Bicentennial Quilt
Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo Fly Pattern
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor
See other archived columns here