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.
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Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
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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
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