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"Triangles in Squares" Quilt
"Triangles in Squares" Quilt, 1970s
Cotton and polyester; running stitch
6 feet 4 3/8 inches × 6 feet 4 1/2 inches (194 × 194.3 cm)
The Ella King Torrey Collection of African American Quilts, 2006
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Triangles in Squares Quilt by an Unknown Artist

It is not known who made this quilt, but we do know it was made in Gee’s Bend. Its back is made of red and blue corduroy remnants from pillow shams made by women at the Freedom Quilting Bee for Sears Roebuck and Company, the same fabric that Willie Abrams used in her quilt. Some of the oldest surviving quilts in Gee’s Bend, from the 1920s and 1930s, feature triangle patterns. Similar patterns are also found in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Euro-American patchwork quilts, as well as in textiles and other surface adornments from West and Central African groups. Although the exact origin of triangle-based patterns in Gee’s Bend is unknown, quiltmakers today agree that similar patterns have been passed down for generations.

This quilt is made up of three rows of three blocks, each featuring fifty triangles. The design is a variation of a quilt pattern known as Birds in Flight or Birds in the Air. The intricate pattern, consisting of many small pieces, would have required a skilled and patient hand. Following the direction of the triangles, our eyes bounce around from one corner of the quilt to another, never finding a place to rest. Similarly, migrating birds fly tirelessly to their new home, pausing briefly before moving on again. Could each triangle symbolize a single bird, and each block a group traveling together? Or perhaps each small triangle could represent a flock of birds, as the shape itself mimics the arrangement of birds in flight. What do you think?

Let's Look!

  • How do you think this pattern relates to the pattern name, “Birds in Flight?”
  • What shapes and patterns are formed by the triangles?
  • How are the blocks similar? How are they different?
  • Do you think that the artist wants us to look at the quilt as a whole, or just one part? How do you know?
  • How is this quilt’s design different than the other quilts you’ve seen that were made in Gee’s Bend?

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