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Southern Spaces
A journal about real and imagined spaces and places of the US South and their global connections


"The Handkerchief Quilt made by Rosa Benson Snoddy + she + Mag Drummond quilted it. For Paul to have."

Laurel Horton, Rosa Snoddy's Handkerchief Quilt, circa 1905


Sometime before her death in 1908, Rosa Benson Snoddy made a quilt, unlike any of the others in this collection, from nine identical red bandanna handkerchiefs. The printed handkerchief with its bright color and the agreeable design evokes the familiar format of a pieced block.

Originally made from silk and tie-dyed to create decorative patterns in red or blue, bandannas were among textiles imported from India in the eighteenth century. A fragment dating from about 1750, found at a Charleston archeological site, is the earliest evidence of the tens of thousands of bandannas imported into this country. By the late-nineteenth century, bandannas manufactured in American factories were ubiquitous. They remain among the most widely recognized textile products. Among the cotton mills of Spartanburg County, the Clifton Manufacturing Company produced "sheetings, drills and print cloths, including red fancy bandanas used by railroad men." [Source: Michael Leonard, Our Heritage: A Community History of Spartanburg County (Spartanburg: Band & White, 1986), p. 120] Whether or not the handkerchiefs in Rosa's quilt were products of this local factory, similar bandannas would have been widely available in local stores.


Rosa Benson Snoddy framed the bandannas with wide sashing strips and borders of solid orange. Mary had used the same orange in her Tulip quilt thirty years earlier. The combination of bright red and bright yellow-orange produces an intense visual impact, in contrast with the subdued colors of the other family quilts from this era.

It was a quick and simple process to join the handkerchiefs and sashing strips with a sewing machine to make the small quilt top. When Rosa quilted it, however, she did not take a haphazard approach, but used a painstaking "by the print" method. In each bandanna, she quilted a line down the center of the figured white handkerchief border, and added parallel lines on either side. The central field is quilted in a diagonal crosshatch, and the crossing lines carefully intersect in small printed turtle-shaped motifs distributed across the field.

The orange strips surrounding the bandannas were quilted in triple rows of diagonal lines. These lines were not marked beforehand but quilted intuitively, as the distances among the triplets vary noticeably. This may be the result of a desire to avoid leaving visible markings on the quilt as much as from a lack of attention to detail. For the back of the quilt, Rosa selected a fabric printed with narrow, brown-and-white stripes. The cotton batting is moderately thick, and the quilt edges were bound with a strip of the bright orange fabric.

Cousin Mag was available to help her Aunt Rosa Snoddy quilt this piece. The similarity of the quilting style to Rosa's earlier quilt indicates that the older woman remained in charge of the work. Paul Black was born in 1901, and it is quite likely that Rosa herself chose him as the recipient for this quilt. The bright colors, the association of the bandannas with railroad men, and the simplicity of its construction may have seemed appropriate for a small boy.

Published: 19 May 2006

© 2006 Laurel Horton and Southern Spaces