|Quilt Blocks Inspired By The Bible
by Patricia L. Cummings
photos by James G. Cummings
"Rose of Sharon" example made by Patricia Cummings
"Rose of Sharon" block appliquéd by Patricia Cummings
A search for traditional quilt blocks whose names were inspired by the Bible has turned up an amazing collection of 159
blocks, including 38 variations of the appliqué block, “Rose of Sharon.” Any attempt to study block configurations can be
very confusing, inasmuch as blocks often have more than one name, depending on regional choices, a quilter's whims or the
preferences of designers and publishers. As has been pointed out by other quilt historians, there is never a “right” or a
“wrong” name to any given block and it is best to avoid being didactic about the issue. The block shown above measures
18.5" x 18.5" and the pattern was found in a booklet published by Spool Cotton Company.
Book Shares Templates for Bible Blocks
Carrie Hall Blocks: over 800 Historical Patterns from the collection of the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas by
Bettina Havig (Paducah, KY: American Quilter's Society, 1999), shows color photos of antique pieced and appliquéd block
designs, and has templates for constructing some geometric blocks.
Categorization of Biblical Quilt Blocks by Construction Techniques
After checking many print sources for traditional blocks with Biblical names, I began listing the blocks under four category
headings: Geometric Cross Blocks; Geometric Blocks which specifically contain names of Biblical characters; Other Pieced
Blocks; and Appliqué blocks. In this initial study, neither Outline-Stitch embroidered blocks nor Baltimore Album quilt blocks
some of which feature the image of the Holy Bible itself.
Cross Monument Rendered in Redwork Embroidery
on an Antique Block, collection of Patricia Cummings
Cross Blocks Popular
In the first category, “Christian Cross,” is a geometric layout better known to us as “Chimney Sweep,” which was often
utilized in nineteenth century Friendship quilts. This two color block was a favorite among quiltmakers because there was
room on the muslin center to sign, stamp or stencil a name or message. “Cross upon Cross,” “The Three Crosses” and
"Golgotha,” all share the same geometric configuration. “Fox and Geese,” the published name given it by Clara Stone, is the
same pattern as "Crosses and Losses."
More Cross Blocks
In the Carrie Hall Blocks book, three variations of “Cross and Crown” are featured, one of which is also called “Crowned
Cross.” Another “cross“ name is “Star Upon a Cross.” In her book, Old Patchwork Quilts and The Women Who Made Them,
written in 1929, Ruth Finley declares “Star and Cross” to be one of the “prettier” Bible blocks ever published. Several “cross”
patterns appear in appliqué, the most well known of which is most likely “Rose Cross,” designed by Ruby McKim and
published in 101 Patchwork Patterns. (Reprints of the book are available through Dover Publications).
Yet Other Blocks
“Bethlehem Rose,” is a geometric block which can be seen in Biblical Blocks, by Rosemary Makhan, (That Patchwork Place,
1993). Another unique block in the Makhan book is "Heavenly Problems.” Other “heavenly” blocks we can add to the list are
“Heavenly Puzzle,” “Heavenly Stars,” and “Heavenly Steps.” Trees figure prominently in Bible blocks and are represented in
“Tree of Life,” “Tree Everlasting,” "Tree of Paradise” and “Tree of Temptation.”
More Heavenly Blocks
A sample of other geometric pieced blocks include: “Carpenter’s Wheel,” "Children of Israel,” “Crown of Thorns,” “Devil‘s
Claws,” “Devil’s Puzzle,” "Garden of Eden,” “Golgotha,” “Ecclesiastical,” “Morning Star” (same as
“Evening Star”), and “Hosannah” (which has many other spellings). Still others are: “Lily of the Valley,” “Lily of the Field,”
“The Road to Jericho,” “The Road to Jerusalem,” and “The Tents of Armageddon.”
There are two variations of “Wonder of the World,” both made by curved piecing. Ruth Finley states that "World Without
End” comes directly from The Book of Common Prayer, a traditional prayer book of the Episcopal faith. No account of
Biblical blocks would be complete without the mention of the well loved “Star of Bethlehem” which is also called “Star of the
Blocks with Proper Names
Another category is geometric quilt blocks with proper names. One which has circular piecing is “Caesar’s Crown.” The
block, “David and Goliath,” calls to mind the two famous Biblical brothers and “David’s sling-shot of accurate aim,” as Finley
"Caesar's Crown," made by Patricia Cummings
"Caesar's Crown" block made by Patricia Cummings
Blocks Connected to King David and King Solomon
“King David’s Crown” honors another important Biblical figure. David became the second King of Israel and wrote the Book
of Psalms. Solomon succeeded his father, David. The quilt block, “Solomon’s Temple,” refers to a location that houses the
Ark of the Covenant which contains the Ten Commandments. “King Solomon’s Temple” is another name for the same block.
“Solomon’s Puzzle” was given to the pattern first published with that name in The Delineator in 1906.
More commonly, it is known as “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul,” or “Drunkard’s Path,” its name when published by Ladies Art
Company. This quilt is usually made in a two color combination, red and white quilts often being the preference of Methodist
women, according to the Pepper Cory and Susan McKelvey, who co-authored The Signature Quilt, (Quilt House Publishing,
1995). An unusual version of “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul,” made with rectangles, squares and triangles is presented in the
Carrie Hall Blocks book.
Jacob's Ladder: A Perennial Favorite
Another favorite block, “Jacob’s Ladder,” has pre-Revolutionary origins. The original design calls for half square triangles and
four patch units, and is so easy to do that this block was often one chosen by beginning quilters. In their first version, the
image of skyward bound diagonal ladders is created through the use of just two, high contrast colors. Jinny Beyer’s book, The
Quilter’s Album of Blocks and Borders, (EPM, 1980), offers a diagram of a unique variation of
“Jacob’s Ladder” as published by Virginia Snow Patch Designs, circa 1930. In this block, four triangles complete a center
square and flying geese units emanate outward to form perpendicular units in the shape of a cross.
Long-Suffering, Job-Inspired Quilt Blocks
The Biblical figure, Job, inspired many blocks in both geometric and appliqué designs. Job was a farmer who lost his
possessions and his health, yet would not speak ill of God. He was rewarded with a long life of 140 years. He is well
remembered by the quilt block, “Job’s Patience.” There are three different variations of “Job’s Troubles,” and seven versions
of “Job’s Tears,” some of which can be made by either appliqué or geometric construction.
Appliquéd "tears" for this "Job's Tear's" block on muslin by Patricia Cummings
Quilts in America (Abbeville Press, 1974), Patsy and Myron Orlofsky states that the block name “Job’s Tears” changed over
time as a result of issues of slavery; the Civil War; and the industrialization of America. The block became known as “Slave
Chain,” “Texas Tears,” “Rocky Road to Kansas,” “Kansas Troubles,” and finally, “Endless Chain.” The version of “Job’s
Tears” that I chose to re-create, was made with the instructions in Polly Prindle’s Book of American Patchwork Quilts by
Alice Gammell, (Grosset and Dunlap, 1976). As one can see, I chose to use 1930s reproduction fabrics.
“Joseph’s Coat” is a block name with three startlingly different variations. The circular pieced block also called "Peeled
Orange” is one version. I was privileged to see a "Joseph’s Coat” quilt of this type which was made in the 1930s by a friend’s
grandmother. The quilt utilized Depression-era print scraps, pieced with a muslin background.
Another example of a “Joseph’s Coat” block can be seen in the Carrie Hall Blocks book. That one consists of just squares and
triangles. A third variation, a Mennonite-made Strippy bar quilt made in bright colors, can be found in the book,
America’s Glorious Quilts, edited by Duke and Harding, (NY: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1987).
Another Variation of the "Rose of Sharon" block. Appliquéd by Patricia Cummings
Formal and Informal Folk Art Bible Quilt Blocks
In the realm of appliqué Bible quilts, we see both formal and folk art blocks. The “Rose of Sharon” blocks dominate the
former category, while the most outstanding folk art quilt blocks are contained in the two Bible quilts made by Harriet Powers
(1837-1911). Harriet’s quilts are considered prime examples of African-American folk art. The images in each block have their
roots in the well loved Bible stories that she had heard since her childhood. During her lifetime she never learned to read. This
was a prohibited activity for children like her who were born into slavery before the Civil War.
Harriet Powers' Masterpiece Sold for Five Dollars
In 1886, Harriet utilized pieces of her own used clothing to appliqué 11 blocks that are seen in her first quilt, “The Creation of
the Animals.” During hard times, she sold this quilt to an art teacher, Jenny Smith, for a paltry five dollars. On commission,
Harriet created a second Bible quilt which was finished in 1898. Both quilts now reside in museums: the Smithsonian Museum
and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Meanings Written Down
Jenny Smith wanted to record the meanings of Harriet’s quilt blocks. These descriptions (for her first Bible quilt) can be found
in The Smithsonian Treasury: American Quilts by Doris M. Bowman, (Gramercy, 1991).
Additional information about the symbolic meaning of Harriet’s twenty-six blocks can be found in the book, Stitching Stars:
The Story Quilts of Harriet Powers by Mary E. Lyon, (Aladdin Paperbacks, 1993).
While the blocks mostly commemorate Biblical stories, some of the Harriet’s blocks depict other phenomena such as the Dark
Day of 1780 and the meteor showers of 1833. These events were so severe, it was believed that Judgment Day had arrived.
The stories left such an impression on Harriet, that when she made her Bible quilt, she chose to pictorially depict them.
Antique Quilt: "Rose of Sharon" design, collection of Patricia Cummings.
Photo by James Cummings, at the Cathedral of the Pines, Rindge, NH
Rose of Sharon Block
The “Rose of Sharon” appliqué block is a more formal tribute to Bible verse. The block’s name is derived from the Song of
Solomon, 2:1: “I am the Rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys…[...]” Crafted almost exclusively as a bride’s quilt in the
nineteenth century, the blocks of this quilt were often set on point and were sometimes as large as 28” or larger. The three
preferred colors are red, pink, and green, on a white background. The block is a close cousin to “Whig Rose” and recently,
some scholars have been seen to use the names interchangeably.
Another Beautiful Botanical Block
The “Balm of Gilead,” a beautiful appliqué block, is named for a flowering herb plant known for its healing qualities. This plant
is mentioned both in the book of Genesis and in Jeremiah.
"Balm of Gilead" quilt block appliquéd by Patricia Cummings
Romance of the Patchwork Quilt (1935), Carrie A. Hall and Rose G. Kretsinger identifies the same appliqué block as “Sadie’s
Choice Rose” and calls it “a very old pattern.” Yvonne Khin presents a small line drawing of the block as it appeared in Nancy
Cabot’s Chicago Tribune column in the 1930s. Khin’s book The Collector’s Dictionary of Quilt Names and Patterns
(Acropolis Books Ltd.,1988) has information about 2,500 quilt block patterns.
Grapes Symbolic of the Blood of Christ
Elly Sienkiewicz’ lexicon, Spoken Without a Word , a self-published book in 1980 is now out of print and hard to find. It
features a list of botanical and floral images and their traditional meanings is provided. Grapes can represent the blood of Christ
in the Eucharist, and green leaves, the promise of renewed hope. An interesting thing happened when I re-created the antique
(Swale) Grapevine Wreath block in Elly’s book. When I washed the block with its 120 tiny grapes, the hand-dyed purple
fabrics discharged color, leaving “shading” on the white background. This called to mind the symbolic meaning of the grapes.
Quilt block made by Patricia Cummings
Quilt Researchers are Saving Old Patterns
Dedicated quilt researchers share the common goal of wanting to preserve quilt block names for posterity. Barbara Brackman
documented many quilt block names in two volumes: Encyclopedia of Pieced Patterns, (AQS, 1993), and Encyclopedia of
Appliqué, (EPM, 1993).
Florence Peto Made Examples of Old Quilt Block Patterns
In the 1950s, Florence Peto, master quilter, quilt historian, and author, actually took the time to piece quilt blocks to show
during her lectures on the history of quilting. More recently, Judy Rehmel drew thumbnail sketches of blocks for a quick
reference guide, a tool popular with appraisers, called Key to 1,000 Quilt Patterns (self-published). This book was soon
followed by three other similar guides.
Biblical Quilt Blocks Come in All Forms
Blocks whose names were inspired by the Bible range from folk art styles to highly-sophisticated appliqué motifs. We have
looked at only some of them here. Whether one likes to do circular or straight seam piecing, hand or machine appliqué, or
embellished blocks, there are enough different projects to satisfy even the most dedicated Bible block enthusiast.
Bible Blocks A Source of Inspiration
As always, quilters take inspiration from the people, places, and events nearest and dearest to their hearts. The Christian
religion was of utmost importance to the quiltmakers who named these Bible blocks. In their totality, the collection of divinely-
inspired nineteenth and twentieth century quilt blocks continue to challenge and intrigue us today, even as new blocks and
quilts along this same theme continue to be designed.
"Rose of Sharon" variation as documented on a quilt chart by Ellen Webster
Early NH Quilt Historian Created Quilt Charts
The book, Ellen Emeline Hardy Webster (1867-1950), that I wrote in 2008 is a combination biography/quilt history book that
describes the life, work and writings of an extraordinary individual. Mrs. Webster was a Professor of Religion. She included
Biblical Blocks in the selection of more than 200 antique quilt blocks she re-created on "charts," drafting the designs and
coloring them with fabrics she glued-on or occasionally with paint or wallpaper. Her goal was to save the designs for posterity
and also to show at her quilt history lectures.
Tents of Armageddon Quilt
The quilt design called “Tents of Armageddon,” has two different configurations both of which use triangles. One example has
repeated half-square triangle units (shown in black and white), and was found in a now out-of-print book entitled, Illustrated
Index to Traditional American Quilt Patterns by Susan Winter Mills (Arco Publishing, Inc. 1980). That book has since been
There is a marked difference between that block and the blocks of a quilt called “Tents of Armageddon” which appears in a
book called Virginia Quilt Museum (Howell Press, 2002). With the kind permission of the book’s editor, Dara Powers Parker
and museum officials, a scan of the photo appears below. This colorful quilt appears to be of the scrap bag variety and is very
lovely in appearance.
From the entries listed in Blockbase, it appears that the repeat triangles were also published under the name, "Thousands of
Triangles” by McKendry; and as “Ocean Waves” by the Ladies Arts Company in 1898. The University of Kansas seems to
have first published it as “Tents of Armageddon."
"Tents of Armaggedon"
The quiltmaker's name and her area of residence are unknown. This quilt was made circa 1900 and uses turn of the century
scraps. Lucy Catherine Bowie used the quilt as a study piece. This quilt was given to the museum by Cheri Clum in memory
of Elizabeth Clum.
The Virginia Quilt Museum book is a terrific book on quilt history with lots of large color photos! Please check http://www.
howellpress.com for ordering information.
©Copyright 2003/ updated in 2012. Patricia and James Cummings, Quilter's Muse Publications, Concord, New Hampshire.