Heritage Quilts

Heritage Quilts

Heritage Quilts

A number of years ago, the South African Quilters` Guild undertook to document any quilt in South Africa that was made prior to 1960. Most of the museums have been visited and the quilts in their safe keeping have been photographed and documented. Quilts that are in private homes and collections that have been brought to our attention, have also been documented.
We are quite certain that there are many quilts and related textile articles that we have not yet discovered. So please we would like any one who has or knows of any of these quilts to contact SAQG to enable us to document the article. We only require a colour photograph of the article and a form to be completed for our records. We are particularly interested in Voortrekker quilts (lappies komberse) and Kappies. Please help us with our Quilting Heritage!
Contact: Marline Turner
Tel: 033 - 3963009
email: marline@iafrica.com

Apricot Kappie - present location: National Museum, Bloemfontein
Made of cotton by machine and also machine quilted in a geometric pattern. Decorated with flat pleats and brown silk ribbon. Made in about 1881.

Cream Kappie

Cream Kappie


The white embellished and quilted kappies worn by the South African pioneer women during the pioneer years form one of the highlights of South African Folk art.

The technique used was that of whitework which is an elegant but difficult form of embroidery. Whitework was popular in Europe during the Middle Ages when strict rules made by the church prohobited the use of coloured embroidery on clothing. In the soutern parts of France, Marseilles work and boutis became popular during the 16th C and these items remind one of the work done on the Voortrekker Kappies.

South Africa is a country with an exceptionally warm climate and pioneer women spent most of their time outdoors. They therefore had to protect their faces from the harsh sunlight and the kappies with their wide quilted rims were excellent for this purpose.

The term “Voortrekker kappies” is misleading as many other South African women also wore them even though they were not involved in the Voortrekker movement into the interior. These kappies were commonly worn on farms and it seems that brims were merely folded back when worn indoors. As the patterns on the quilted brims are similar to those worn in the Piedmont area, patterns could have come to South Africa with the Hugenots in 1688

The white kappies had different designs used in different times and cicumstances but all had a neck frill.

There were two main techniques for making the stiff brims: one being reminiscent of Marseilles work and the other, quicker method where a cord was inserted between two layers of fabric with the surrounding fabfric quilted with a filler pattern to ensure a high relief, corded pattern.

Designs included flower and geometric patterns as well as stylized plant and animal designs. The popular heart design was difficult to execute and there seldom used on the brims of the kappies.

The folk art of the SA pioneer women reached its zenith in these exquisitely executed white bonnets and the examples in museums attest to the stylishness, patience and workmanship of their creators.

Kappies made from coloured fabric became popular during the early 19th C and were mostly worn by older women. With the invention of the sewing machine and its appeareance in South Africa, colourful, machine made kappies became the rage and they could by now also be bought ready- made. These kappies were not as elaborately quilted as the white ones.

During the Victorian era, black was the colour of prefereance and more black kappies with their straight lined, corded rims were worn, again especially by the older women

The beautiful Kappie in the photograph is dated 1780. It is quilted with a leaf pattern, cording technique used, made of cotton and completely made by hand. It is an excellent example of the Voortrekker Kappie. It is in a collection at the National Museum in Bloemfontein.

Made for the Anglo- Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein

Made for the Anglo- Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein

6.7m x 4m memorial quilt designed and made by Naomi Moolman, quilted by Petro v Rooyen and Magda Kriek.

The quilt will be displayed in the Emily Hobhouse Hall of the War Museum of the Boer Republics close to the National Womens' Memorial in Bloemfontein, Free State. The unveiling will take place on 9 August 2010 when the War Museum will honour the women of South Africa on National Women's Day

More about this quilt can be read in"Stitches 'n Bears", Issue 17 or visit http://www.stichesmag.co.za

Hexagon Quilt

Hexagon Quilt

This quilt was made in Yorkshire by Bessy Good (nee Bowland). She married James Good and had five children. She died in 1842 at the early age of 35 years. The quilt was given to her daughter-in-law, Isabella who came to South Africa in 1864 with her husband Jamer Junior (date of birth around 1840). He became a missionary in Botswana and was the great grandfather of Alison Hely-Hutchinson, on her mother`s side of the family.
The quilt is currently in Swellendam and is still in use today.

Date circa 1867 - Quilt in collection of National Museum, Bloemfontein.

Date circa 1867 - Quilt in collection of National Museum, Bloemfontein.

Pieced quilt in rich jewel colours. Fabrics used are satins, corded silk, velvet, silk brocade. Quilt finished off with frill of handmade lace. Crazy patch style embroidery in silk thread. Quilt donated by P H Sevenster of Ladybrand.

Log Cabin

Log Cabin

Quilt made by Mary Lister in the period 1890 - 1925. Strips are about 1cm wide and colours used are reds, creams, navy, tan and brown.

A Synopsis of the History of Quilting in South Africa

Patchwork and Quilting was not as popular a form of folk art in South Africa during the middle to late 19th century as it was in the United States of America, but there is evidence that, as an art form, it was widely practiced.

In rural areas women had to learn to be frugal and very bit of fabric was used. Women were very proud of what they could achieve from the little they had at their disposal. These women had to make do with very little: thread was recycled from old clothes and each woman had only one needle which lasted about 6 months and had to be sharpened on a stone until there was nothing left of it. (1)

A study of quilting in South Africa shows that, in spite of isolation these women still thought of patchwork and quilting as an art form and did not necessarily make utility items. Even when they did cover blankets, it is evident that pieces of fabric were not randomly sewn together, but that the maker always strived to produce an article that was also pleasing to the eye. (2) For many house wives, the making of a beautiful, hand made quilt would have been the only activity in her busy day which could take her from her dreary circumstances.

The influence of the countries of origin was evident in the patterns used: Star patterns were very popular in South Africa in the 1840’s, as they were in America during the same time. (3)

The era of the Voortrekkers (1838) is one of the most interesting as far as folk art in South Africa is concerned. As nomads, trekking into the interior of the country, art works such as paintings and sculptures could hardly be taken along. The lack of such articles has led people to believe that these people had no appreciation for art. Though the Voortrekkers did not practice art as such, much of what they made was decorated as can be seen in tobacco pouches, walking sticks and, of course, quilts, clothes and kappies made by the women folk. (4)

When viewing quilts in South African museums, it is evident that very few quilts were in actual fact quilted. Quilts from this era were often lined with a patchwork lining, probably because large pieces of fabric were rather used to make dresses! This way of lining quilts was also popular in the USA and in the Netherlands.

There are examples of “wholecloth” quilts, but these articles were mostly used as bedspreads and were as such not thickly padded and heavily quilted.

Even though the South African Quilters’ Guild has been searching for our quilting heritage for a number of years, not much is known about the quilters of yester- year.

Most museums in South Africa do, however, have examples of old quilts and one of the oldest, kept in the Drosdy museum in Swellendam, dates from 1805- 06.

This quilt is made up of five sided and square blocks, artistically arranged to form stars. The quilt was constructed by Sara Christina Dreyer (born 1768), wife of Jan Albertus Munnik (5). It is probable that the brocade fabric used in the quilt came from dresses her mother wore. The rest of the fabric most likely was bits and pieces left over from dresses she had made for her friends towards the end of the 18th century.

It is interesting to note that the habit of using fabric from dresses worn by friends and/ or family was also popular in the USA at the same time.

Stars were popular designs, as was the Logcabin pattern. A quilt kept in the Cultural Museum in Cape Town was made by Mrs Lategan, Bainskloof in the 1890’s who used the latter pattern. This quilt was machine made.

After 1830 the use of chintz for quilt making became popular as it was more reasonably priced.

In rural areas in South Africa where fabric was very scarce, it took a lot of artistic innovation to create something beautiful. A woman would often use plain white or off- white fabric as a focal point in a design and then embellish it with hand embroidery. A good example of this technique is kept in the National Museum in Bloemfontein.

Quilts were not only made for use on a bed, but also for cot quilts and the Tumbling blocks design was a popular choice here. Cushions, bread coverings and sewing machine covers were also popular items. The Potchefstroom Museum has a sewing machine cover made by Mrs. Kotie Koen from Jacobsdal, made in 1912, in its collection. It is made from brightly coloured squares.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, crazy patchwork became all the rage world wide and also in South Africa. All kinds of beautiful fabric were used and the opulence of the Victorian era also became evident in the quilts of the day. These quilts were heavily embroidered and most definitely not utilitarian, but were used as pieces show- casing the prowess with the needle that the maker possessed. A beautiful specimen made just after the 2nd Anglo- Boer War (1899 - 1902) is part of the collection of the Cultural Museum in Pretoria

It seems that patterns of different blocks were available. These templates were often made from wood, metal or even ivory. The English piecing method of covering paper squares was most often used as handwork was mostly used; a sewing machine was a scarcity in the isolated rural areas. In the museum at the Voortrekker Monument an example of a half finished quilt with some of the papers still in it, forms part of their collection.

Towards the end of the 19th century, small blocks were sewn into larger blocks which could be finished individually and only then sewn together (quilt- as- you- go) to form a quilt.

Today South Africa is part of the global village and South African quilters are internationally recognized by their peers. All the textile art forms are extremely popular in the country and the South African quilt has progressed from the bed to the wall. South African quilters, like their peers, travel extensively, they teach, exhibit and produce world class books. They take part in, and win prizes on, international exhibitions: a few examples of which are the Val d’Argent quilt festival in France, the Tokyo exhibition which is the largest in the world and the Nagoya quilt carnival, all three to which South African quilters are now regularly invited.

The very ‘plain’ activity of piecing and appliquéing small pieces of fabric has made all South African quilters part of a unique world in which truly South African masterpieces are now created.

In 1989 the South African Quilters’ Guild was formed.


1. Leipoldt, C. Louis. Die Groot Trek. Nasionale Pers Bpk. 1938 p. 29

2. Pretorius C.J. Die Geskiedenis van VOLKSKUNS in Suid- Afrika 1992 p116

3. Bosman, I.D.(editor) et al: Voortrekker-gedenkboek van die Universiteit van

Pretoria, Pretoria 1938 p. 121

4. Schwellnus, Chris en Hettie: Las met Lap Stap vir Stap. Colorgraphic, Durban 1982 p. 11

5. Pretorius, Celestine J. The Geskiedenis van VOLKSKUNS in Suid Afrika. 1992 p.120

Whole Cloth Quilt - Date circa 1886

Whole Cloth Quilt - Date circa 1886

Quilt made by Jane Naisby, Coanwood, Northumberland. It was made of a very fine linen and beautifully hand quilted. Jane made the quilt for her trousseau. She married Jon Routledge who came to start a coal mine in Ermelo. She gave the quilt to her daughter Eileen, who gave it to the present owner, Joan Mousley who lives on a farm in the Bethlehem district. This quilt was used as an ironing blanket and rescued by Louise Rheeder!

Log Cabin - Date Circa 1875

Log Cabin - Date Circa 1875

Small Log Cabin made with heavy brocades, satin and velvet. Quilt was made by Alice Howard (nee Smithhurst) in England for her trousseau. The quilt was brought to South Africa in abouth 1910. The current owner of the quilt is Marlene Ashwell of Port Elizabeth.

Hexagon - Grandmother`s Flower Garden Quilt.    Quilt on display at No 7 Castle Hill Museum, Central, Port Elizabeth

Hexagon - Grandmother`s Flower Garden Quilt. Quilt on display at No 7 Castle Hill Museum, Central, Port Elizabeth

Cotton prints and cream calico was used for this very large quilt. Size: 250cm x 217cm. The small 2cm hexagons are arranged in an intricate design which may be said to resemble variously sized flower beds of patterned fabrics separated by paths of plain cream fabric. More than 6000 hexagons were used. It is unlined and thought to date from the late 19th century. The quilt is rather frail and tattered in places with torn and missing hexagons. Members of the Dias Quilters` Guild encased the quilt in cream coloured net and then made a replica quilt for the museum.

Grand Mother`s Garden Quilt -  Present location:  St John`s D.S.G., Scottsville

Grand Mother`s Garden Quilt - Present location: St John`s D.S.G., Scottsville

This quilt was made during the period 1820 - 1830 by Elizabeth Dodd, sister of marine artist Robert Dodd. Elizabeth was the mother of Anne Thompson, the wife of Rice Jones Esq who emigrated to The Cape in 1830 as agent for the East China Company. The materials, silks and satins were scraps left over from frocks made for the family.
Anne Thompson married Rice Jones in 1822 and refused to live in a home on site of the Mt Nelson because of wild animals! The quilt was donated to St John`s by the Jones family of Kruiskop, East Griqualand. Five Jones daughter attended St John`s over a period of 27 years.

Unfinished quilt - Displayed at Macrorie House Museum, Pietermaritzburg

Unfinished quilt - Displayed at Macrorie House Museum, Pietermaritzburg

This quilt was started in 1883 in Plymouth, England and brought to South Africa in 1907 by Mr Chamber`s mother. The single bed size quilt is in good condition, but unquilted.