March 29, 2013

Cathedral Windows

Cathedral Windows quilts aren't, strictly, quilts.  There isn't the 3-layer fabric and batting "sandwich" that is the standard definition of "quilt".  The pattern is based on folding squares of fabric.  The folded squares are whipstitched together, and then small colorful squares are appliquéd over the joins, inside gracefully turned curves.


I like to think of the process as being very similar to the folded paper fortune tellers my friends and I made ad infinitum when we were 8 or 9 years old.  Does anyone else remember recess on sunny afternoons, choosing numbers and colors, and then getting a funny fortune?  Over and over and over?

Anyhow, I've been repairing a lovely Cathedral Windows quilt.  What makes it particularly beautiful is the choice of fabrics that fill the little "windows."  Very often, the quilts are made with multi-colored calico scraps.  This quilt's windows are all filled with color wash fabrics in rose and blue.

The effect is lovely, like rippled pieces of colored glass, or maybe like the flicker of sunlight coming through trees outside the windows.   

The reason this quilt came to me for help, is that on the back, the little flaps are coming unstitched.

....... Wait a minute .......  Flaps on the back?  

I couldn't remember ever seeing a Cathedral Windows quilt with this problem before.  It took me a while to figure out why this problem seemed so strange.  

I finally realized, after making some paper samples, that the woman who made this quilt made the folded squares just like folding those paper fortune tellers.  Those are made by the folding corners of a square to the middle, flipping, and doing that again.  The thing is, when making Cathedral Windows, the fabric square shouldn't be flipped.  Then all the little corners end up safely inside the blocks.

#1 first fold, corners to centers

 #2 left, no flip, for Cathedral Window/ right, flip, for fortune teller

#3 left, second folds
left, flaps inside, Cathedral Window / right, smooth inside, fortune teller

#4 left, Cathedral Window, smooth back / right, fortune teller, flaps on back

So, I've done loads of sewing on the plain white back, but every now and then, just to make me happy, I flip it over and enjoy the sun pouring through the lovely stained glass.


  1. Very interesting, Ann. I never knew how these quilts were made. As you know, my grandmother made the one you repaired. And, a fine job you did! Many thanks, Melanie Vaughn

    1. Thanks, Melanie. Your grandma made a wonderful rendition of this pattern, very nicely stitched, and as I said in the post, she chose a most pleasing fabric. I think this is what makes quilting so appealing - each and every quilter has the opportunity to make wonderful design decisions.

  2. Beth jonesAugust 15, 2015

    Do you have a tutorial on how to repair? I discovered my daughters dogs have nibbled a few holes in the quilt my grandmother made. I desperately want to repair it!

    1. Hi, Beth. Sorry to hear about your nibbled quilt! My book has lots of instructions for various types of repairs - Also, I've got several posts with instructions and step-by-step photos - Or if you live near Chicago, you could come by for a lesson. In any case, I always recommend to people with family quilts to write down the history of the quilt and quiltmaker - your grandmother's name, where she was living and what her life was like at the time she made the quilt, how it came to you, etc. All this information makes it much more special as a family heirloom. You can keep the information, preferably with a photo of the quilt attached, with your other important papers.