Quilt Notes: The old expression, quod erat demonstrandum, means "things as they are." What could be more real than a RAIL FENCE? Quilt designs have an extraordinary power to keep us in the present. And in that sense, they provide a delightful form of spiritual practice. As mentioned elsewhere at this site, the labyrinth and the centering mandala work, for the devotee, in much the same way.
This design, however, has a double center, a communion of two face to face, a marriage of true minds, or perhaps an interior dialog. Skillfully alert to the duality, Nancy Cabot in her Chicago Tribune column (5/15/1935) says, "Whether it is a masculine quilt or a feminine one depends upon the fabric and color arrangement." Also when it tiles (see below), the pattern produces parallel rail fences embracing squares of land, just as they would around crops or a garden in real life. Rose G. Kretsinger added a fine essay on the art of quilt making to Carrie Hall's ROMANCE OF THE PATCHWORK QUILT IN AMERICA, in 1935. Here she comments on quilt designs as artistic forms, with an aside to the presence of a garden fence (p. 262):
"It has been said by different disinterested people: 'Why spend so much time and labor making new quilts and worrying about designs, when you already have a number which are never used?' Perhaps it is for the same reason which prompts the planting of flowers in the alley, back of the garden fence, or the landscaping of our gardens in places seen only by a few: because of our love for beauty and regard for order in everyday living. It is in us and must come forth and become a material artistic expression. [...] Quilting is something beyond mere stitching. It is a means of expressing line rhythm and artistic forms upon materials."
On fabric choices (see tiling pattern): Chapter 41 of the enigmatic Tao Te Ching claims that "the great square has no corners." Some interpret that expression to indicate the great cosmic expanse of swirling constellations. The double labyrinth insignia in the quilt fabric used for this illustration seems to be in touch with that same idea, and especially since it also imitates the Tao emblem of an "S" shaped Yin and Yang. Like day and night, all polarities endlessly enhance each other. The quilted green fabric represents that fecundity, the flourishing garden or farmland, embraced by the fence.
RAIL FENCE made its debut in print in Ruby McKim's column in the Kansas City Star, 1930, according to Jinny Beyer's QUILTER'S ALBUM (p.109-1). This version is a light-dark variation, inspired by Maggie Malone's 5,500 QUILT BLOCK DESIGNS (#1332).
For more landscape blocks at this site, compare with COUNTRY FARM, also CORN AND BEANS and STRAIGHT FURROW. For more on the spiritual properties of quilt designs, see MYSTIC STAR and ROBBING PETER TO PAY PAUL.