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Appliqué Tulip Quilt from Ulster

(Collection of Roselind Shaw)

Size: 191 cm x 193 cm (75 in. x 76 in.)
Datec.1890

This quilt from Ballymena, County Antrim in Northern Ireland is an example of the Ulster-American connection. It is a typical Turkey red and white Ulster quilt with tulips appliquéd on 12 inch blocks surrounded by borders. The leaves on the tulips would have originally been green but have faded with time, and the green thread still shows on the hemming around the leaves. The quilt has 2 layers with no wadding, which is common practice in Irish quilts, and is quilted all over in one and a half inch diamonds. The diamond pattern occurs less frequently in Irish quilts than the wave or chevron pattern, marked out using the corner of an envelope. 
 Many patterns found in Irish patchwork are very similar to American ones. In the 18th century waves of Scots Irish Presbyterians emigrated to America, sailing out of the ports of Belfast, Londonderry, Portrush, Newry and Larne to the New World. Pennsylvania was a favoured destination and they left an indelible mark in the society of eastern and western Pennsylvania. Influenced by European folk art, such as painted furniture, they used motifs such as hearts, birds and tulips in their early appliquéd quilts.

 Over the years I have talked to different families in Co. Antrim and in particular Ballymena, where there is a very strong descent from Ulster Scots. They often talk about relations in Pennsylvania who sent quilt patterns back home to their grandparents. When the quilt was complete it was referred to as the 'American quilt' even though their grandparents made the quilt in Ireland. These Irish-American quilts were kept for best, treasured because of the connections with family across the Atlantic.

Roselind Shaw © 2013