Donna’s Cathedral Window Quilt

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Last Updated March 24, 2018

My sister-in-law, Donna, scooped up this beauty while helping her great aunt clear out her house. This Cathedral Window quilt was at the bottom of a trunk. No one is sure how old it is but it might be the handiwork of Donna's Great-Great-Grandmother.

cathedral window quilt

Most Cathedral Window quilts are a scrappy mix of jewel or bright colors. But this quilt is different than any I have seen. It starts with a single color in the center. For subsequent rounds, the print fabrics make a square pattern. Some fabrics are fussy cut. Designs such as the anchor are cut and placed such that the design is centered in the circle.  I love this pattern.

Quilting is not necessary for these quilts because there is so much stitching. Additionally, with so many layers of folded fabric, batting is not necessary. The Cathedral Window quilt is made by hand or machine. Unbleached muslin or solid white fabric is used for the background. The print fabrics can be scraps. Jewel tones give the quilt a stained glass look. If you hold a Cathedral Window quilt up to the light, it reminds you of looking through a stained glass window in a church or cathedral.

cathedral window quilt

This is a close up of the fabric and the stitching. The colors are much brighter in real life.  Because the quilt was in a trunk for over 60 years, the fabric colors are still vibrant.

We use quilts in our family.  Although I have always told my brother, Louis, not to be afraid to wash a quilt, I didn't have an antique, heirloom quilt in mind when I said that. Anyway he convinced Donna to throw it in the wash. Everything turned out fine. Dodged a bullet there!

All Stitched by Hand

This is the first time I have seen or heard of using the straight stitch or running stitch to stitch down the arcs. Most often you see the whip stitch used to stitch them down. Generally the quiltmaker matches the thread color to the background color. The thread in Donna's quilt appears to be several stands of bright blue embroidery floss.

cathederal qindow quilt

Here is the back of the quilt showing the stitching. This makes an orange peel design.

cathedral window quilt

Close up view of the stitches. The stitching is by hand. The stitches are visible on both sides of the quilt.

cathedral window quilt

This quilt had two unfinished rows. You can see on the right where the next set of print fabrics would have gone.

cathedral window quilt

Here is a close up of what I thought was an unfinished area. The arcs adjacent to the “unfinished area” are sewn down. This tells me that the quiltmaker decided it was finished. When I first saw this, I thought these stitches had been made using a serger. But that's not the case. Normally these background fabrics are stitched together using a whip stitch. Only a few threads from each fabric are used for each stitch. This allows the fabrics to lay flat. Instead of using a whip stitch and picking up just a few threads to join the fabrics, Donna's ancestor did something entirely different. She used an overlock stitch with a seam allowance slightly smaller than 1/4″.

Why did she choose to leave these stitches exposed? Why did she use this technique? Was her eyesight failing, making it difficult to see the smaller threads? Was she finished or was she forced to stop for some reason?

Every Quilt Has A Story

It's such a treasure to find something like this quilt. It was made from the hands of a family member who lived and died long before we were born. These old quilts never come with a story. Instead, we create our own story as we admire the work of the quiltmaker.  How did she learn to make this quilt? Did she read it in a newspaper?  Did she gather with friends or family to make it? What was going on in her life at the time? What was the news of the day? We'll never know the answers to these questions. It's comforting to hold in our hands an artifact that directly connects us to the people in our past.

Making A Cathedral Window Quilt

Now it's time to make your own. A Cathedral Window quilt is simple to make. Here are two great tutorials for making the blocks.

Hand Piecing

Hand Sewn Cathedral Windows Tutorial by Amanda Farquharson

Machine Piecing

Cathedral Windows Part 1 and Cathedral Windows Part 2 by Heather of House of A La Mode

Finally, check out my Pinterest Cathedral Window Quilt Board below.


Lily & Loom Solids Brilliant White Fabric by the Yard – $3.85

Retail Price: $7.00
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from: Craftsy


Please be sure to share this article with your friends because I think they will love it.

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2 thoughts on “Donna’s Cathedral Window Quilt

  1. I came in to look at this amazing quilt, since I have decided to make one! I want to to a cathedral window one, for sure, so it’s why I stopped to look. On the question of why the quilter decided to stitch the blocks the way she did? I’m guessing, but perhaps it was so the quilt would be very strong! Strong enough indeed to go thru washing? Just a guess, but I LOVE the decorative stitching also. wow. One of these and a crazy quilt is on my quilt bucket list.

    • You might be right about the stitching. My first thought is the quilter didn’t have anyone to teach her and this is what she came up with. We will never know but that’s what makes these old quilts so much fun to look at!

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