Column #42

Shoo Fly Pattern—Plant, Pie, or Pest?

Traditional quilt pattern names are fascinating. Changeable, frequently charming, and sometimes bewildering, they can be as colorful as the quilts they identify. The origins of those quilt pattern names are equally interesting.

I recently read about a pretty plant called Shoo Fly (Nicandra physalodes), also known as “Apple of Peru.” The plant is reported to be highly poisonous, and its juices apparently can be used to produce a natural fly deterrent, which is how it got the common name of Shoo Fly. I wondered whether there might be any association with the quilt pattern called Shoo Fly, and decided to do a little research. It didn’t take long to find the Quilting in America website, which says that, sure enough, this plant is the basis for the quilt pattern of the same name.

The Shoo Fly pattern is a nine-patch variation and it can look quite different depending upon the way contrasting fabrics are set in the block. When fabrics are set a certain way, it is not difficult to see the similarity between the pattern and the flower for which it is named.

 

Kate


Kate

Kate
Shoo Fly variation

I had always supposed that the pattern name came from Shoo Fly Pie, a molasses-based concoction of Pennsylvania Dutch origin. The Quilting in America website also makes this association. The most common explanation for how the pie got its name was that in earlier times, it used to be baked in an outdoor oven and was allowed to cool outside as well. Flies were attracted to the molasses in the pie, thus resulting in the command, “Shoo, fly!”

Shoo Fly is a relatively old quilt pattern. One source dates it to the mid-1800s, while Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns lists one variation as having been published in 1897 by the Ladies Art Company. The song, “Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me” was first published in 1869. According to Wikipedia, “The song remained popular over the decades, and was commonly sung by soldiers during the Spanish-American War of 1898, when flies…were a serious enemy.” Although the song was well known during the same time period as the origin of the quilt pattern, I could find no documented connection between the two.

In railroad slang, a “shoo fly” refers to a railroad detour that occurs when a track is built around some obstacle. By extension, the term also means to avoid passing through a town if the police are hostile.

Another definition of the term “shoo fly” is a child’s rocker built in the shape of an animal. One source I found associated the quilt pattern with this meaning.

As is the case with many pattern names, clearly there is some disagreement about the Shoo Fly’s origins. To my mind, that only adds to its charm. So take your pick, and while you’re deciding, why not treat yourself to a slice of Shoo Fly Pie?

Shoo Fly Pie

  • 1 c. flour
  • 2/3 c. brown sugar

  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp. shortening
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 c. hot water
  • 1 c. molasses
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 9" unbaked pie shell

Combine flour, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Cut shortening into flour mixture. Mix until crumbly. Reserve 1/2 c. crumbs. Dissolve baking soda in hot (but not boiling) water. In a small bowl, combine molasses, egg, and baking soda water and beat well. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle with reserved crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.

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Archived blogs:

Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
Column 90: Leitmotif for a Lifelong Love Affair
Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
Column 81: Why So Many Quilt Shops in Bozeman, Montana?
Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
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Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
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Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
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Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo Fly Pattern
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Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor

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