With over 70 Sunbonnet Sue books currently listed on Amazon.com (including out-of-print titles selling for hundreds of dollars) plus countless stories, patterns, articles, and websites devoted exclusively to her, Sue has remained incredibly popular since her creation around 1900 by artist and illustrator Bertha Corbett. For a fascinating insight into Bertha’s life, be sure to read the article by Betsy Lewis in the March 2011 issue of American Quilter magazine, on newsstand February 15, 2011.
My friend Anita Shackelford, an AQS author and NQA certified quilt judge, has been a quiltmaker since 1967. She is an internationally recognized teacher and lecturer who loves combining appliqué and fine hand quilting to create new quilts in 19th century style. Her quilts have been exhibited in shows across the United States, in Australia and Japan, winning many awards, including twelve best of show and many for workmanship.
Anita has graciously shared this personal story and quilt photos:
“My grandmother was a quiltmaker. When her daughters were young, she made each of them a Sunbonnet Sue. The pattern was popular in the 1930s and a good choice for girls. She made it in the typical style with a variety of prints for the dresses and coordinating solids for the hats and shoes. To personalize the quilts, she collected fabrics from schoolmates for each of the dresses and embroidered the friends’ names on the blocks. The applique blocks were set with a wide sashing and of course, hand quilted.
I also have a Dresden Plate quilt that Grandma made. Again, she worked in a scrappy style, but this quilt was made from new fabric, bought for quiltmaking. These blocks were set with a golden yellow solid for the sashing and borders and the quilt was quilted by hand.
I was still in college when I decided I wanted to make a quilt. Grandma was no longer here to help with the task, but Aunt Gini had saved all of the scraps and cardboard templates Grandma had used. Her Dresden Plate was the pattern that appealed to me; I chose to make mine scrappy too, and many of the fabrics I used came from Grandma’s trunk. One cardboard wedge was all I had to work with. I traced with a pencil, cut pieces with scissors, and stitched them together by hand. I remember loving the process of laying pattern against pattern and joining them into something complex and beautiful.
A few years later when I was married and had little girls, I felt ready to try my hand at quiltmaking again. Following the inspiration from Grandma, I made two Sunbonnet Sue quilts for my two daughters. My Sues were made from family fabrics. I used more of the fabrics from Grandma’s trunk, some from Aunt Gini, summer dresses that my mother had worn, a shirt that my little brother had outgrown, and scraps from my own dressmaking. I used Grandma’s cardboard templates and did the work by hand. To personalize the quilts, I quilted each girl’s name into the sashing.
For me, quilting has grown from an interest in my family history, to a hobby, and now a profession. I still quilt by hand, but also use my sewing machine and a longarm quilting machine. I love all of it and frequently combine the different methods in the same quilt. By today’s standards, those first quilts would seem to have little value. But I feel fortunate to have had that early, traditional beginning and I’m still drawn to antique quilts and their stories.”