Sunbonnet Sue: A Brief History

The History-of-Sunbonnet-Sue

​I was walking through an open house today (because sometimes I like to look at other people's'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:

  1. The blocks are called Sunbonnet Sue and were beautifully hand appliquéd. 
  2. 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 Quilt

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.

Suzy Quilts

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

26 thoughts on “Sunbonnet Sue: A Brief History

  1. Kathryn says:

    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!

  2. Jerri says:

    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.

  3. Sammie says:

    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!

    • Suzy says:

      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!

  4. melanie traylor says:

    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. 🙂

  5. Jane says:

    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.

  6. Laura says:

    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.

  7. Karen Ambrecht says:

    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.

  8. Suzan Cunningham says:

    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?

    • Suzy says:

      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. 🙂

  9. Kelly says:

    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.

    • Suzy says:

      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.

  10. Vanessa L Burroughs-Rhodes says:

    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.

  11. Sandra W. says:

    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.

  12. Brant says:

    I recently found a Sunbonnet Sue dolls quilt at a thrift store About 10 x12 I had no information till I found your site.
    Many thanks

  13. Jane L. says:

    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.

  14. Carol Langmack says:

    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

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      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! 🙂

  15. Kaaren Ancarrow says:

    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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *