On Seminole Patchwork

There is nothing new under the sun. I was reminded of this fact when I realised that a quilt I made years ago was not a unique discovery but rather a homespun version of the Seminole patchwork method. I had set out to copy the diamond pattern of an ancient mosaic floor that I had seen in an art book by making long strips of fabric “tiles” and sewing them together on point. It involved a lot of unpicking to get the fabric tiles to match the pattern of the floor in the book.

African Mosaic (123 x 64 cm)

It was tricky to arrange the rust and black tiles in the square format around a central black block, which is why the bottom panel of the quilt is simple straight rows of diamonds. At the time I started another piece of “titled floor” and this morning decided to unearth the unfinished quilt top from a storage box marked “unfinished”. It was neatly packed with the unused fabric. (Perhaps the time has come to finish it.)

When I tackled the third challenge in the Bernina Round Robin this month I realised that the above pieces are in fact Seminole patchwork and that I would have saved myself a lot of unpicking if I had done some research before starting to stitch the mosaic floor. But I was new to quilting, had not yet built up a little library of quilting manuals, and there was no internet for quick and easy reference.

The brief for the Bernina Round Robin was to make a Seminole patchwork border. The introduction to the set of instructions notes that Seminole patchwork is created by joining a series of horizontal strips to produce repetitive geometric designs and gives the following background: “This intricate technique was developed by the Seminole tribe from Florida in the 1800s as a necessity for clothing which had to be made from scraps of material. The style developed into distinct designs made of tribal motifs with significant meanings. As sewing machines replaced hand-stitching, the designs became even more intricate.”

A most useful book The Quilters’ Ultimate Visual Guide, edited by Ellen Pahl (Rodale Press, 1997) not only gives clear instructions on how to construct Seminole patterns, but also includes this interesting folklore:

Without the facts of a written historical records, there are a variety of theories about the origins of Seminole patchwork. Some say the Seminoles, driven deep into the swamp by pressure from farming settlers, were reduced to using even scrap strips of fabric for their clothing. Others say the tartans of Scottish settlers in southern Florida inspired the Seminole tribe to create complex and colorful patterns. We know that runaway slaves found protection with the Seminole people, and perhaps one of them carried the concept of strip patchwork into the Everglades.

Whatever its origins, Seminole patchwork is an ingenious technique for creativing machine sewn patchwork designs the appear deceptively complex.

p. 217. “Seminole Patchwork” by Cheryl Greider Bradkin
The addition of the Seminole border to my Bernina Round Robin block

I am not really happy with this border but was running out of time to meet the end of the month deadline for the Round Robin challenge. The initial plan was to make smaller blocks (three-quarter inch finished size) in a random set of plain colours that are echoes of the main Kaffe Fassett fabric called “Row Flowers”. This requires a lot of stitching and I had not left myself enough time to complete the project. But all is not lost as I am in fact making two pieces simultaneously, one that follows the instructions to the T, and a second one that stretches the rules a little.

I will not bore you with a step by step explanation of how to make this design. Bernina asks that we post process photographs on its Round Robin challenge site. Here they are for anyone who may be interested.

Finishing Line

The ending of the month also brought the submission date for the #areyoubookenough challenge that runs on Instagram. The theme for April was body language and here are photographs of the cloth concertina book that I made. It developed organically and is hand-stitched.

23 thoughts on “On Seminole Patchwork

  1. Love the colors in your Bernina Round Robin quilt, and I like that added border. I find it frustrating when I realize, too late, that I have not allowed enough time to do what I’d like on a project. I think you’ve come up with a good solution, however, and I will look forward to seeing both!

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  2. I recently saw a seminole tutorial in a magazine and I am tempted to give it a try. I also tried to achieve a similar effect years ago but used a much more complicated approach and matching up corners was a nightmare so I never completed it.
    Love your book! Great interpretation of the theme.

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  3. I found the Seminole method to be quite fiddly, but worth the effort for the effect. Interesting that we both tried to devise our own way of doing it! Thank you for your comments about the book.
    Just to let you know that I thoroughly enjoy reading your newsletter.

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  4. Wow that mosaic inspired quilt is fantastic. What a labour of love! I was interested in the Seminole patchwork technique and I really like your colourful quilt for the Bernina round robin – the Kaffe Fassett fabric is lovely. It reminds me of one of his knitting designs (which I am more familiar with).

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  5. love all of this post, but inspired by the stitched book of “people” – having just had an adventure yet again looking at some of the cloth/yarn/embroidery threads stash – there seems to be toooooo much on hand!

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