The Dresden Plate Quilt Pattern and it's History

"The circular pattern commonly called the Dresden Plate would seem to be an easy pattern to date if it weren't for Anna Tuels' mother who made that 1785 quilt." " 1 Barbara Brackman

The 20th Century Dresden Plate Quilt

The Dresden Plate quilt pattern was one of the most popular quilts made during the 1920s and 30s. It was first published in the 20s but not always under the name Dresden Plate. Grandmother's Sunburst, Friendship Ring, Aster, Dahlia and Sunflower are all names I've seen for this pattern.

Dresden Plate with Ice Cream Cone border The 1930s version is usually easy to date because of the typical floral prints of the period. Some were made with prettily patterned feedsacks while a few were done with solid prints.

This quilt is made of blocks with fabric appliquéd in a series of radiating "petals" with flat sides. Usually they radiate from a central circle which is more representative of a flower than a plate thus the flower names seen for this pattern.

friendship ring variationA few Dresden Plate quilt blocks are made with a smooth outer circle as seen to the right. More often the ends of the "petals" are be rounded or pointed like the illustration below. Occasionally the pointed and curved forms are combined. You will see an example of that in the pattern I've designed.

The Dresden Connection With the Quilt Name

pointed and curved ends on the petalsThe popular name for this quilt, Dresden Plate, reflects the romance of the Victorian Era with its love of elaborate decoration on household items and décor. Dresden, Germany was a center of 19th century romanticism movement in art, one that included the fine decoration of porcelain. The plates were embellished with elaborate design using flowers, fruits and foliage. The beautiful plates would surely have been admired by women of the early 20th century.

Earlier Designs Related to the Dresden Plate

fan blockAlthough this pattern was not well known until the late 1920s there were precursors to this pattern in the fan patterns of the late 1800s . You may have seen these fans in a Victorian crazy quilt. Some Dresden Plate blocks appear to be made of 4 fans sewn together. These wheels made of four fans were first seen in wool and later in cotton. I found an example of this method in the Quilt Index. It was made during the last quarter of the 19th century. Interestingly it has a crazy patch border. The Dresden Plate part appears to be pieced and appliqued.

center of Anna Tuels' medallion quiltBut there is indeed a much earlier example that used this configuration in the center of a wool, medallion style quilt. In fact this amazing antique is the earliest surviving American made pieced medallion quilt. It is inscribed, "ANNA TUELS HER BEDQUILT GIVEN TO HER BY HER MOTHER IN THE YEAR AU 23. 1785". 2 To the right is an illustration of the medallion center of Anna Tules quilt and below is a link a photograph of it. The center Dresden Plate style motif is surrounded by hourglass and heart blocks and a wide beautifully quilted border.

If this early example was part of a trend any other quilts made with this design are gone. There is no other record of such a quilt until the latter part of the 19th century.

The Dresden Plate Pattern With Instructions

Are you ready to make your own? Go to the free Dresden Plate Quilt Pattern and get started.

© 2007 Judy Anne Breneman

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1 "Barbara Brackman, The Quilt Detective: Clues in Pattern, 2007, digital newsletter."

2 International Quilt Study Center History Timeline