Hen and Chicks
Photo by Rick Bennett. Taken to publicize a chicken coop tour in Raleigh, North Carolina that raised $5000 and 2000 pounds of non-perishable food for Urban Ministries, which provides medical care and food for people in need. For more information, see
Hen 'n Chicks block. Photo by Wisconsin quilter Jen Buettner.
Photo by Kelly MacDonald.
Not long ago, I wrote about the Shoo Fly quilt pattern, having been inspired by the Shoo Fly plant. I was recently given a start of a different plant, a succulent called Hen and Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum), and that got me thinking about quilt patterns of the same (or similar) name.
Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns lists several patterns that fall into this category, and shows sources for most of them dating from the 1930s (although one comes from an 1896 Ladies Art Company catalogue) Hen and Chicks, Hen ‘n Chicks, Hen and Chickens, Hens and Chickens, or The Hen and Her Chicks—all refer to quilt block patterns that feature a central geometric shape, usually a square, surrounded by smaller shapes, often triangles.
My Hen and Chicks plant also features a central cluster of rosettes (the “hen”) surrounded by smaller rosettes (the “chicks”). Descriptions of the Hen and Chicks plant say that European peasants planted the succulent on the thatched roofs of their homes in order to create a natural firebreak. Since Hen and Chicks retains water in its leaves, it would catch fire less quickly than the dried thatch.
If you’ve ever seen a mother hen surrounded by her baby chicks, you know that it is an easy visual leap to see where both the plant and the quilt pattern got their names. The large chicken in the middle of her brood of little ones is a memorable sight. Being a “chickenista” with a small backyard flock of my own, I can certainly understand how chickens’ appearance and their funny, endearing antics might give rise to all sorts of creative thought.
Of course, as is true with most traditional quilt patterns, the inspiration for a name may vary from place to place and from time to time. Barbara Brackman quotes Florence Peto as saying, “It is not wise to be didactic about the nomenclature of quilt patterns.” In one instance, Brackman notes that a pattern named Hen and Chicks is also called Shoo Fly.
Our quilting forebears took their cues from their surroundings and their everyday lives. Since many of them lived in a rural environment, it is hardly surprising that something so common and familiar as poultry would make its way into their artistic expressions.
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Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
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Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
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Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
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Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
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Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
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Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
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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
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Column 77: Quilting with AMD
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Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
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Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
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Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
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Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Column 64: Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree
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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
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
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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