Revisited Myth # 56: Quilters put a mistake in each quilt to show their humility.

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While we’re on the subject of quilts (last week’s post), how about the claim above? Or this one: The Amish made mistakes in their quilts on purpose because “only God is perfect.” Never mind that Amish quilters have strongly denied this custom.

Quilt historians are a careful bunch, and they take unproven claims very seriously. One went looking for the origins of this “humility block” legend and found the earliest reference dated to 1949. No sources from the 1800s like diaries or letters or published materials mention a practice like this, and no oral tradition could be traced. Perhaps the idea got started when people noticed an odd placement of a piece of fabric or a change in color and wondered whether it was done on purpose. For more information from quilt historians, see www.hartcottagequilts.com/his9.htm and scroll down a bit until you reach “humility” blocks. 

There is a similar myth that goes with Persian rugs. Supposedly the weaver makes a mistake on purpose so as not to offend Allah. And see below for another that involves Native Americans and the Great Spirit.

Ask any quilter, Amish or not, and they’ll tell you that they make plenty of mistakes without even trying!

 

Previous comments:

Mark M
backwoods@cooltoad.com
174.20.162.137
Submitted on 2014/01/11 at 10:41 pm
I heard a similar story decades ago from Native American beadworkers who frequented the bead store I worked at. Basically, that nothing in the world created by the Great Spirit was perfect, and that in humility, no one should attempt to outdo the Great Spirit. Therefore, if one’s creation came out flawlessly, a tiny flaw should be deliberately introduced at the very end.

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Brian Stanley
brianstanl@aol.com
198.228.194.29
Submitted on 2011/10/11 at 4:10 pm
Navajo rug makers deliberately leave an opening in closed rectangle patterns to avoid trapping evil spirits / energies in the rug.

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Alden O’Brien
aobrien@dar.org
216.36.105.130
Submitted on 2011/07/13 at 11:51 am | In reply to marymiley.
oh my! So much for my staying under the radar. So glad you enjoyed our exhibit. Do you know all our quilts are visible online at http://www.quiltindex.com? Great site. Also we have a book out this month of a selection of some of our “greatest hits” of the quilt collection published by Martha Pullen Co, available on her website or in our museum shop (am working on wider distribution to other shops, but it’ll never be on Amazon….)meanwhile I’m subscribing to you. I consider one of my vocational duties is myth-busting!–A

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marymiley
mmtheobald@comcast.net
68.57.83.147
Submitted on 2011/07/13 at 11:47 am | In reply to Alden O’Brien.
Thanks should also go to you, Alden. You’re the one(s) who inspired me, with the DAR’s marvelous exhibit back in 2006.

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Alden O’Brien
aobrien@dar.org
216.36.105.130
Submitted on 2011/07/13 at 11:39 am
thanks for tackling this and other quilt myths!
Alden O’Brien, a curator

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Lisa Sansone
thetailorsdaughter@gmail.com
74.74.254.16
Submitted on 2011/07/12 at 9:58 am
That is excellent. I do counted cross stitch, among other things, and I have to tell you that it’s not hard to make a mistake. Sometimes, you can’t find the mistake in backtracking, so you’re stuck working around it. I’m sure that the Amish feel the same way. Or, if there is a different piece of fabric, it could be possible, in a cruel world, that the lady ran out of the matching fabric, and had to weasel in another!

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