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.