Quilt designs quietly conceal a treasure of harmony in their geometry, understood and much appreciated throughout their history, as a sort of mystic power. And that fact is self-evident in the many questioning, or probing design names, including puzzle, maze, trail, path, knot, problem, trouble, enigma and mosaic. Thus quilt designs seems to be something that needs to be found, discovered or "unlocked."
"Fool" is also one of those mystery names (compare with FOOL'S PUZZLE). In fact there is an old Biblical understanding of the "wisdom of the fool." Nancy Cabot (1934) describes FOOL'S SQUARE, as "another of those geometric designs which present such a mystifying effect to the beholder." Whether she intends to deepen or solve the puzzle, she concludes that FOOL'S SQUARE was first created at a time when the art of quilt making tended to move "at a slower pace." What does that mean, if not a more thoughtful, less obvious way of interpreting the meaning of the geometric designs themselves.
In addition, Cabot's mention of an old way of quilt imagery having a "mystifying effect" suggests that quilt designs encompass an esoteric tradition, that is, known only to a few who deepen into the path from the inside out. FOOL'S SQUARE debuted, however, not in Cabot's newspaper column but in the late 19th century Ladies Art Company Catalogue, #259, illustrated right, with its piecing and dark and light distribution slightly different from Cabot's rendering, and with overlaps that ironically seem to obscure certain parts of the design. Compare with a similar effect utilized for JACK IN THE BOX and GARDEN OF EDEN. For more overlapping designs constructed on this type of 5 x 5 grid, see Barbara Brackman's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PIECED QUILT PATTERNS, p.391.