I was walking through an open house today (because sometimes I like to look at other people's stuff...it's normal...let's move on.) and found myself in a small, well-lit pink bedroom. Laying on an antique wooden bed was this Sunbonnet Sue quilt top.
Trying to avoid judgmental glances from other open-housers, I whispered (albeit loudly), "PSST! John! Get over here. I need you to take a picture!"
John meandered over, unaware or, more likely, ignoring my urgency and snapped the photo – which was then followed by us grabbing a bunch of bottled waters and slipping out the front door. (Free stuff, guys! Don't you ever go to open houses?)
Even though we had other houses to hit and more free stuff to acquire, my head was out of the game. I kept thinking about the antique quilt top. I only knew two things about this quilt and it was killing me:
- The blocks are called Sunbonnet Sue and were beautifully hand appliquéd.
- Based on the fabric and pastel shades, this quilt was most likely made during the 1930s.
And that was it! Those measly two facts were the only things I knew and for an amateur quilt historian, that wasn't going to fly.
Sunbonnet Sue: A Brief History
There is a lot to write about Sue – she's been around for quite some time. Quilt blocks of Miss Sunbonnet began showing up as early as the 1800s, but popularity with crafters only began to grow after the publication of the Sunbonnet Babies Primers in the early 20th century.
Bertha Corbelt and Eulalie Osgood Grover (what a name!) teamed up to teach children how to read through illustrated anecdotes about Sunbonnet Sue, Fisherman Fred and Suspender Sam.
[Note to self: future blog idea - insert Sunglasses Suzy into motley gang of Sunbonnet Sue & Co. Also, possibly add Scrap the Dog....but must think of catchier name...will ruminate.]
Teachers, parents and children fell in love with Sunbonnet & Co. due to her sweet temperament, wholesome vignettes of everyday life and that adorable ever-present bonnet. In a nutshell, Sue was the 20th century Elsa. And we all know how powerful a little-girl-loving franchise is. There was really only one thing to do - make merch.
Merchandise galore! Greeting cards, postcards, dishes, embroidery patterns and...bum badda daaaa! Quilt patterns! Sue's simple graphic features were very enticing for hand quilters and so soon after the release of the Sunbonnet Babies Primers, magazines began publishing patterns under various names such as Dutch Doll, Bonnie Bonnet and Sun Bonnet Baby.
Over 100 years later Sue has remained popular, appearing in quilts, dish towels, pillows and even clothing. How amazing! Do you think we will be seeing the Frozen sisters 100 years from now? Maybe. Who knows! One thing I do know though is that over a century after her conception, Sunbonnet Sue is still just as cute as ever.
If you've ever made a Sunbonnet Sue quilt or have a story about an antique quilt, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.
73 thoughts on “Sunbonnet Sue: A Brief History”
I really enjoyed reading this, and your other historical posts. I can see that this could be another rabbit hole to go down & I’ll need to seeing my local library has any books on the history of quilting!
I only made one sunbonnet sue quilt so I decided to make another one for a Christmas present for my oldest daughter who is now in her early 40s. I still have my Sunbonnet Sue Quilt my Grandma made me for graduation from high school. It’s tattered from being well loved and used.
Well, I first saw your IG photo, on Sunday. It’s early Monday morning here now. Insomnia has me not sleeping after several days of battling severe Sinus pressure and ear aches, I enjoyed spending time catching up on my insta-stories, lol, am I the only one? So, anyway, I noticed you had your blog post up about this beautiful historical quilt.
I’m a huge fan of Sunbonnet Sue and Fisherman Fred and Suspender Sam. Throughout my childhood, I saw my maternal grandmother complete many quilts for people using these patterns. After her passing in 2007, I was blessed with all get sewing/quilting materials. Among the W.I.P.s in the inherited treasures were several Sunbonnet Sue blocks. There was a bit to finish on some and I began my endeavors of learning appliqué by finishing them. I have yet to complete a quilt top with the blocks, but tomorrow I’ll dig out the blocks from their hiding place a sharp a picture to share with you on IG.
Thank you for sharing this incredible beauty and inspiring me to revisit a much loved WIP.
What a great way to learn how to appliqué! Thanks for sharing your story and I look forward to seeing a picture of that quilt. 🙂
In February 2016, I received a box of fabric from my mother-in-law for my birthday. The box had belonged to my husband’s great grandmother who was a quilter. I was so honored that she would give it to me of all people since I had never met her! Inside that box, there were 2 gems, Sunbonnet Sues. So for Christmas this year, I made 2 matching quilts, one for my mother-in-law and one for her sister, each featuring a Sue in the center, made by their Grandma Viola. It brought my mother-in-law to tears on Christmas! Such a precious moment for me! You can check out those on my instagram @sewing_marigolds. Thanks for sharing this post!
This story is so touching, I’m tearing up! What a thoughtful thing to do, Sammie. Thank you so much for sharing and I’m going to hop on over to Instagram to check out pics!
Sammie – It’s so interesting that she chose to give the patterns to you. It’s like it was meant to be. You were the one chosen to connect those ladies with their grandmother. Their lives and that of their ancestors came alive through you. What an beautiful, unexpected blessing for you and for them! Your being a daughter-in-law makes it even more special. Thanks for sharing!
My Grandma had a box filled with “quilt scraps”. There was no going to a store to buy fabric. She cut them out from old clothes. I have an antique Sunbonnet Sue that she made me. For winter quilts she would save fabric from men’s clothes. She and her friends would have quilting bees and all sit around a big frame with the fabric stretched over it. Very cool!
I haven’t made a quilt with Sunbonnet Sue, but I frequent antique shops and almost everyone I go into has a few blocks for sale and I can’t help, but purchase them. I have about 15-20 now. One day I’ll either make a quilt or pillows, but for now I just like touching them. 🙂
I have made one Sunbonnet Sue quilt – over 20 years ago, when my daughter was young. This post is old, but you’ll get the idea: http://aquilterstable.blogspot.com/2011/09/journey-in-time.html
My mother (1909-2004) belonged to a social group called MUM – members until married!! They made a sunbonnet sue quilt as a group. Each member made quilt pieces of Sue and embroidered their name so the finished quilt had everyone’s piece and name. I have my mother’s quilt, which has my aunt’s name (her sister) and several other names I recognize from stories of her youth. It’s a wonderful keepsake.
My husband’s great-grandmother was a prolific quilter – we have quilts that were passed down to us that had never been used. One of the quilts is the one she made when she found out my mother-in-law, her granddaughter, was pregnant for the second time. She’d made a quilt for the first baby (a boy), but for some reason, everyone was convinced my MIL was having a girl this time (this is in the pre-ultrasound days). So the quilt she made for my husband is a pink Sunbonnet Sue quilt! Perhaps my son will have a daughter and the quilt will eventually get used by her great-great-great-granddaughter. And she did make him another quilt, which he used and loved as a child until it fell apart.
I love that quilt. Now I have to go home and look at the one that my mother and grandmother made. Those Miss Sue’s look different than the ones I have seen. I have a pile of Miss Sue’s in my closet. Some I picked up at a thrift store and then once I recently got from my mother. Anyway back to the quilt I received from my mom that she started. She told me she was 9 when she first started sewing it, so that would have been in 1937. I don’t know if it is hand sewn or machine sewn. Remember I said I need to go look at it. Anyway she lost interested I suppose and my grandmother completed it. I found a picture but I don’t know how to post it here.
I just found a quilt top of Sunbonnet Sue and Suspender Sam that my mother in law or perhaps my husband’s grandmother did but never finished. The hand on Sam are pencil drawn on but she didn’t finish the embroidery. His hat is a round disc . It’s a baby quilt size. Should I dare finish it? Do I add more detail to the hands and hat?
I think you definitely should! I love when quilts are passed on and sewn by different quilters – it’s a beautiful picture of the connecting power of patchwork. 🙂
I have a 1937 Sue Bonnet Sue quilt,that my friend gave to me. It was made in Oklahoma for a male child born in 1937. I had it appraised by a woman who said she was with the Antiques Road show out of Dallas,Texas.I’m a bit Leary of her price on it,can’t remember her first name but her last name was Metcalf.Could someone advise me on how to get the quilt to an appraisal person.phone number,address will be fine. I have pictures of the piece,and would be willing to send them . Sincerely,Joanie 479 305 2799.p.s,I haven’t an email.
I have a Sunbonnet Sue quilt (my poor Missouri family called it an Amish Doll Quilt–and I soon learned that was derived from the Dutch Doll name) that my great grandmother made in the 20s or 30s from scrap fabric. It’s a treasure, but is showing wear. I have no clue how to store it to keep it safe for later generations.
That’s a great question. I am not an expert on storing antique quilts, but I wonder if it’s similar to preserving a wedding dress – which is something I have done. Essentially, you would vacuum seal it then store it in a dark place so that the fabric doesn’t yellow further. The sad thing about that, however, is that you won’t be able to see and enjoy the quilt. Definitely worth researching and I’d love to know what you find out.
I have my 69 year old baby quilt of Sunbonnet Sue and of course, have always loved it. It is very worn, but one of my treasures. I remember it still on my bed when I was four years old 💕
Acid-free archival boxes. Look up Abby Cox on Youtube, she talks about storing antique clothes, but it’s made from the same thing.
I have a Sunbonnet Sue quilt top made by my grandmother (1888-1983) when I was young. I have always wanted it finished, but need to find a person that can match my grandmother’s hand quilting quality.
The best way to store an old or antique quilt is to fold it and put scrunched up acid free tissue between the folds. Then store it in an acid free box. I learned this from a quilt appraiser. She suggested to me that I bring out my antique quilt top once a year on my birthday, to enjoy. Quilts should never be stored in plastic bags, sealed or not. I enjoyed your post very much.
So great to know! Thanks for sharing.
I recently found a Sunbonnet Sue dolls quilt at a thrift store About 10 x12 I had no information till I found your site.
In going through a box of old family linens, I came upon two Sunbonnet Sue quilt squares. I think they were left over from a quilt that a group of women made. I don’t know who made them or when (no family members alive to ask!). Is there any way to pin down the decade? Also, do they have any value by themselves? Not sure what to do with them.
Pinning down the decade may be hard. I would suggest finding a local quilt shop and asking some of the employees there. Most quilt shop employees are incredibly knowledgeable about fabric and will be a great resource in, at least, pointing you in the right direction.
Quilt appraisers are able to pinpoint when fabrics were made.
Is Sunbonnet Sue supposed to be facing one way or the other as a rule or any way I want to face them. Sometimes I see them facing each other, sometimes all are facing in one direction. Thanks
Since they are based on a storybook character who did lots of different activities, you can face your sweet little Sues in any direction you like. There’s no wrong way to sew a Sue! 🙂
About 40 years ago I made a Sunbonnet Sue quilt for my daughter from patterns inherited from my great-grandmother. I embellished it with rickrack on some of the bonnets, simple embroidery stitches, etc. Now my granddaughter sleeps under it and loves it!
I bet she does! Thanks for sharing!
I have made several baby quilts through the years and donated to DAR. They are auctioned off for the scholarship fund. By far the most popular is Sunbonnet Sue.
Makes sense – she’s a cutie!
I just finished a “Sunbonnet Sue says ”#Me too”, which I blogged about at https://gefiltequilt.blogspot.com/2018/01/sunbonnet-sue-says-me-too.html. Thanks for your informative post! I will link to it in my article, if that’s okay with you.
I fell in love with Sunbonnet Sue the moment I laid eyes on her! She and her character friends always bring a smile and a lighthearted feeling.
I have made one Sunbonnet Sue quilt. I spent six years working on it, on and off. It was the largest quit I had ever made, having 30 doll blocks on it. I made two matching pillow cases as well.
As the project neared completion, I felt compelled to give it to a lady who had invested six years of her time caring for my infant son in the nursery at church, and babysitting him for our church ladies meeting after outgrowing the nursery.
We gave her the quilt as a gift when she retired from service as our babysitter. She loved it and keeps it on her guest bed in her home.
My son is now 18, and I have yet to make me another Sunbonnet Sue quilt, but it is on my bucket list!
My daughter’s high school recently performed “Quilters” – which was right up my alley, obvs… Turns out there’s also a DEMISE OF SUNBONNET SUE which is pretty cheeky, entertaining and a bit morbid if out of context, but so inventive. I had not heard of it until seeing the musical. Definitely worth a Google search. ;]
I love the Sunbonnet Sue and Suspender Sam. I remember my grandmothers having/making the quilts in that pattern when I was a child. My Mom made a stack of squares in 2004. There was a Sunbonnet Flour company that added prints to the fabric flour sacks when they found out the material was being re-purposed for dresses, shirts and quilts. There is some interesting history on this and the (friendly) competitions between flour companies to change up the patterns on the fabric sacks. Some also printed animal patterns for stuffed animals. The scraps would surely have been used on the quilts. I didn’t find anything directly linking the name Sunbonnet Sue the the SB flour company. With a little deeper search I suspect they are closely linked.
I have 2 Sunbonnet Sue quilts made by my
Mother and Grandmother. Probably made 1940’s. Today I’m
Passing them to my nieces.
There was actually a flour mill called Sunbonnet Sue Flour Mill. The logo on the fabric sacks was the beloved Sunbonnet Sue character. Perhaps this is where it was birthed.
I was wondering if Sunbonnet Sue would only be recognized in America. I wanted to make a quilt for a baby in Mexico but I’m not sure if this theme would be the best to choose for her. The squares are already assembled. I enjoyed your article. Thank you
Great question. I would say that even if the history of Miss Sue is American, she’s such a cute design that she can be enjoyed by many cultures. You could find some pretty Mexican fabric to use when making her. That could be a cool twist!
my grandmother who had 11 children made a quilt with her grandddaughters and daughter in laws that had girls and put thier names below each Sue. My sister now has the worn quilt in a log cabin they built on the farm her husband inherited. I want to make my own quilt for ourr family with my sisters andd brothers down each row. I am the oldest of 6 children. so we are from a big family.
i need a suspender Sam pattern
I have a Sunbonnet Sue quilt that was given to me by my mother in 1978 when I was pregnant with my first child that happened to be a girl. According to my mother, my grandfather found the Sunbonnet Sue squares hidden in the wall of a house he was working on in Tennessee. My grandmother passed down the squares to my mother who had to make a few appliqué finishing touches to several of the squares. After researching the fabrics in the appliquéd girls, I’m sure these squares were started in the 1930’s. My mother sewed the squares together with pink strips and then hired someone to quilt it. My mother passed away in November of this year so I decided it was time to give the quilt to my daughter and pass on the story behind this special quilt.
My grandmother made a quilt similar to the one in the picture, but she would always call it the “little Dutch Girl.” All the quilts my grandmother made were applique and took a lot of time as she sewed them all by hand.
My great grandmother made me a Sunbonnet Sue quilt with fabric from some of my mother’s cloths from the !930-40’s (so I have been told) I treasure the quilt, ! Now I am preparing to make my granddaughter a Sunbonnet quilt – I will use a few pieces from clothes I kept of my daughter (her mother)! I love the tradition it holds! Thank you for letting me share! Jane Scott
My grandmother gave me her 1920’s sewing machine when I was about 20 years old and I started quilting. When she passed I asked if I could keep some of her clothing. I made a Sunbonnet Sue quilt out of her old blouses and gave it to my mother. She was overcome with emotion and loved the quilt.
Later I made a second Sunbonnet Sue and Overall Sam quilt and used some of my Great Aunt’s fabric pieces and some of my dad’s shirts. Both of these quilts mean so much to me and they will be passed on to my own children.
I’m looking for some guidance on a particular interesting Sun Bonnet Sue story. After my mother-in-law passed away, my wife and I had the task of going through M-I-L’s possessions and determine what we wanted to keep for family heirlooms. To our surprise, we found 32 sun bonnet Sue and suspender Sam blocks all with 1930’s period material on mazlum.(hopefully I’m getting my terms right). These were properly preserved, never been washed or used, and the colors are amazing. We believe that these were made by my wife’s grandmother who was born in 1903 and passed in the mid 70’s and was a big crafter. We vowed to continue the making of the quilt and sought some advise on how to proceed. The first was to buy period 1930’s green to finish the sashing and border.
Although we have to go forward with new materials for the rest of the quilt, the questions are now, what to use for the backing and how to do the quilting to keep it traditional 1930’s? What was normal for the period for 1930’s? I have a feeling that if that means hand quilting (no machines) that could get a little spendy. But we’re willing to do just that.
If you can provide some guidance on how to move forward, I would appreciate it.
Thanks in advance,
Hi Phil! What an amazing find! Lucky for you 1930s reproduction fabrics are still very popular and not hard to find. As for backing you have a couple options – you could stick with a solid that is consistent with the time. (Pre-WWII American fabrics did not have the same vibrancy they do now because we did not hold those dye patents. After the war, that became public domain.) The other backing option is to use a 1930s reproduction print. If you do an online search, you will find many of these. They are very distinctive because of their pastel colors and small, chintzy designs.
To find the most affordable hand quilting, which would be consistent with the time (machine quilting, like we use now, was not made popular until the late 1970s) I would visit Amish country. I don’t know where you are located, but where I’m originally from in Missouri, some Amish communities would take commission work. These communities are not the easiest to find because you probably can’t just Google their address, but I bet with some digging, you could find one and either drop off your quilt top and backing or mail it to them.
Suzy, thanks so much for the response. That was the guidance we were looking for. Very appreciated.
I have a totally hand sewn quilt that is a full bed size made in the late 1800s past down from my husbands great grandmother. It is a bonnet quilt that has the design of each squares dress material incorporated in matching embrodery in the hat & pockets, Truly a stichery work of art! I have had this boxed up for 35 years but when I got it out I realized what an incredible quilt I was blessed with. My only child & wife hates old stuff (what can I say@!!!) so I am thinking of donating this quilt art to a historical 1841 house in Apalachicola FL house if the value isn’t too high. Could I send you
pictures? I am in need of help!
What an amazing find! I would love to see a picture, but I’m not sure I would be any help putting a price on the value. I would probably value it much higher than most. haha!
I’ve seen old Sunbonnet Sue quilts at quilt shows, and I decided to make one eventually. Well, the day came when my best friend became pregnant with her first child. The top is completed and the backing will be finished tomorrow. I’d post a picture but don’t know how, Imust say I’m delighted with it.
While visiting the quilt museum in Kalona, IA, I saw a Sunbonnet Sue quilt that was almost exactly like the quilt I had as a small child; had never known that the pattern had a name. I suspect that mine must have been mass-produced because when I ask my mother where that quilt came from and what became of it, she has no idea. I suspect that it was a baby gift from an acquaintance; I’d hate to think that she’d have been that nonchalant if the quilt had been hand made.
I ‘ve been making miniature quilts since 2006 and selling them on Ebay. I just finished a Sunbonnet Sue that measures 8-3/4″ square. Her popularity goes on and on. ( seller name is cholegray)
I have a nice selection of Sunbonnet Sue quilt squares on muslin made by my grandmother . She made my mother’s clothes in the 30’s. Thank you for the history. I finally took the time to research the history and found you. Thanks!
Is there any connection between Sunbonnet Sue and Holly Hobbie?
My grandmother quilted a “Sunbonnet Sue” quilt with her older sister in 1932. She kept it in great condition and gifted it to me when my husband and I were married.
How wonderful!! I have to say that I’m more than a little bit jealous. 😉
When I was a little girl, we had a sunbonnet quilt probably made by my grandmother. I remember her quilting with about twenty women sitting around a long quilting frame. My favorite thing was to play under the quilting frame with dried apple knees all around me. When I or one of my sisters was sick, we would get to lie under the quilt and have special desserts to it.
I have a Sunbonnet Sue quilt my aunt started but never finished. She originally gave the quilt to her youngest sister (who died a couple of years ago). Fortunately, the unfinished quilt was given to me but I haven’t finished it. I’m not very good at applique and not confident to finish myself. If I could send you pics of the blocks, I would. She added lace to some that give them added dimension. My Aunt Nita knew how much I’ve always loved Sunbonnet Sue and Suspender Sam!
The International Quilt Study and Museum in Lincoln, Ne is an excellent resource. They may be able to help from photos. If anyone is ever in Lincoln it is a great place to visit. HAPPY QUILTING !
My great grandmother who died in 1942 left an unfinished sun bonnet sue. My grandmother finished the appliqué but never did the quilting. My mother worked with a local quilting group to have the quilt finished just about five years ago. And the colors are still beautiful. My Mom grew up with the horn book in her family, which is part of why she wanted a finished sun bonnet sue. We also have a 1933 completed Iowa Rose and two unfinished quilts from the same era, a tulip and a grape vine. The tulip has since been finished and the grape vine is being worked on now.
I have an overall Sam quilt that had the date of 1931 stitched on it. It also had the names of each teammate of my grandfather‘s and their coaches in high school. I found your post looking for history on the pattern.
I have a “Sunbonnet Sue” large size vintage (looks very old). No clue it’s history but I haven’t been able to find any information on it until coming across this. Thank you. It’s not quite “my style.” Am hoping to re-home it to a good home.
May I use your pictures in a Facebook post about the quilt pattern? I have one my grandmother made but it is from shirt scraps and not very pretty. That one is just adorable.
My grandmother was working on my Sunbonnet Sue quilt when she died in late 50’s. ( I was 2 years old). The blocks were stored away. When I grew up and moved – I asked for the blocks, which I shared with my younger sister. We each made wall hangings with the Blocks. Now that I am about to retire and jump starting my sewing passion again , a sunbonnet sue quilt is high on my list!! I want a hand applique of Sonbonnet Sue to provide a more “vintage” look. Thank you for sharing your experience!
I found a small Sunbonnet Sue quilt 35 years ago. I was a sophomore in nursing school, and there was a trunk by our apartment dumpster. Had to look…you know. Anyway the quilt was inside the trunk! Thrown away like garbage! It’s adorable and I still have it, but I’m thinking about donating it to our local Quilting group. It’s easily from before the 1930’s. Wish I could send you pictures!
My grandson’s grandmother passed away just before he was born. His father brought me a bag full (27 blocks) of Sunbonnet Sue 12″ squares that the great-grandmother had made. I think I will try to put a quilt together for each of my grand sons. It will certainly be a labor of love from three generations and from both sides of the family. Thank you so much for sharing the history of Sunbonnet Sue.
I was through with my granddaughter yesterday. We had some things to donate, do we went to our local “free store”… We dropped off our bag. She started to look around, something caught her eye. It was a quilt with all of these little girls on it. So glad I found your page. So excited that we found a Sunbonnet Sue quilt. I’m not sure the agree, but it’s is amazing. And it was rescued!