The Tonganoxie Nine-Patch. Tonga what?
This is a story of going down the ‘rabbit hole’ of quilt history. And how a simple request from a friend turned into a lesson in the history of quilt-making and oh, so many wonderful discoveries!
How it Began
A friend of my husband handed me an old shoe box full of blocks when he discovered I was a quilter. He said he wasn’t sure if his mother made the blocks or his grandmother, but he knew the blocks were old. They had been sitting in a box in one of his closets for years.
He is an historian, researcher, and a professor of history. So, naturally he was curious about how old the blocks were and if the patterns had names. Since I’m a quilter, he thought I might be able to tell him.
How I Learned what I Learned
The blocks he gave me had 5 distinct patterns. I didn’t know the names of any of them immediately. I assured him I would do a little research and let him know what I found. By now, I was curious too.
I decided to start with just one of the blocks. The one I chose had four small nine-patch units connected with sashing. You can see the nine-patch units in the photo below. Each ‘patch’ in the nine-patch measures about 1.5 inches.
The sashing in between the nine-patch units is about 2 inches wide. The blocks are hand- sewn and the fabric is most likely from old dresses or shirts. I don’t think all of it is cotton.
Starting with the Internet
Where to start except with an internet search? Mainly I was looking for websites that provided information about vintage blocks. I did not find the exact pattern, but references to Barbara Brackman’s The Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns kept showing up time and again.
I looked for the book, but it was out of print at the time. I was able to purchase a PDF of it on Amazon that I then printed myself. The document was full of hand-drawn block layouts in black and white. And, of course, it included block names along with source information and dates. In fact, many of the blocks had multiple names. I was finally getting somewhere!
A Manual Search
I spent hours looking at all of the images in the document. Brackman had arranged them by type such as Equal Nine-Patch, Unequal Nine-Patch, Four-Patch, etc. So, at least I could start with the nine patch block images.
I finally found the image shown below (this one is in color; more about that later). But, it was the drawing most like the vintage block I had been given. At least it had 4 Nine-Patch units separated by sashing.
The fabric placement in the block I have is the more traditional nine-patch layout. While it does not exactly match the fabric placement in the image from Brackman’s book, it is close. Maybe the quilter did not have enough fabric to follow the exact placement or maybe she liked the concept, but wanted something a bit different.
The block pictured below is the Tonganoxie Nine-Patch. Brackman attributes it to Carrie Hall. At any rate, it was the closest match I could find and let’s be honest, the name is intriguing. I mean what is a Tonganoxie anyway?
So, naturally I started searching the internet for more information about Carrie Hall and Tonganoxie.
Carrie Hall and Tonganoxie
When you read more about Carrie Hall, you’ll discover that she was a seamstress turned quilter who lectured about quilt history. Her lectures took her to several towns near her hometown of Leavenworth, Kansas. According to The Mirror, the block was named in honor of the Ladies Association of the Congregational Church in Tonganoxie, Kansas. Learn more about Tonganoxie (see #10) here.
You can find an image of the block in the book Carrie Hall co-authored, The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America copyright 1935. In fact, her book is the first known publication to index quilt block images with names and history. The book includes photographs of over 800 quilt blocks. She pieced the blocks herself.
Over 5000 quilt block images
I mentioned earlier that I first found a black and white block image in Barbara Brackman’s The Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. She includes over 5000 quilt block images in her book. And the book is now available in a bound, color version.
In addition, Electric Quilt 8 (EQ8) has a Barbara Brackman add-on library of blocks if you’re interested and use their design software. Easily search for the blocks by name, Brackman ID, source, and type. Then, incorporate the blocks into your quilt designs in EQ8.
I’m adding this to my list of blocks to make in the near future. I’ll show you how I made it in a blog post and link to the post from here.