Sunday, November 5, 2023

Pattern Names Once More - Bear's Paw or Duck's Foot?


Ruth E. Finley published her book “Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them” in 1929.  There is no bibliography in the back of her book - it was only the second book to be written about quilts.  Finley was a journalist and editor for the women’s pages of the Akron Beacon Journal* with a fascination for quilts and their stories.  She gathered her research material from the quiltmakers themselves.

In the chapter ‘The Migration of Patterns’ Ruth Finley offers this advice – never dispute a pattern name.  She goes on to tell a story of the Bear’s Paw pattern.



There are as many good bear stories in Ohio as there were “Bear’s Paw” quilts made before 1850.

Being a native of the Buckeye State, I entertained no question about the correctness of the “Bear’s Paw” name.  But one day a friend telephoned that a friend of hers had a quilt over a hundred years old that I ought to see.  It was, she said, a famous old Long Island pattern, called “Duck’s-Foot-in-the-Mud”.

“Duck’s-Foot-in-the Mud” sounded priceless.  No time was lost in hastening to the arranged inspection.  But imagine my amazement when I found none other than my old acquaintance, the “Bear’s Paw”!  For the first, last and only time I ventured to disagree over the name of a quilt pattern.  Whereupon it was explained that there are – and always have been – dozens, probably hundreds, of  “Duck’s-Foot-in-the-Mud” quilts on Long Island.  And does not the design look as much like the imprint left by a duck’s foot as a bear’s paw?  And are there not, right now, more ducks on Long Island than ever there were bears in Ohio?  Very likely.  There must be millions if all the ducks served as Long Island ducks actually are raised on Long Island.

And then to complicate matters further, a Philadelphia woman, invited to inspect my quilt collection, exclaimed upon seeing my “Bear’s Paw”:

“Oh, you’ve got a yellow and white ‘Hand of Friendship’!  Mine’s blue and white.”

Subsequent investigation revealed that to this same ancient pattern women belonging to the Society of Friends had given this third name, typical of their speech and faith.

Even so, what proof is there as to which quilt name is correct – “Bear’s Paw”, “Duck’s-Foot-in-the-Mud” or “Hand of Friendship”?  Gentle reader, I ask you!


Nancy Cabot preferred Duck's-Foot-in-the-Mud. Chicago Tribune, March 12, 1934.


Here is a quilt block of many names and many histories, popular since 1800.  In Ohio and Pennsylvania “Duck’s-Foot-in-the-Mud” was known as “Bear’s Paw,” with several so-called “authentic” tales to verify its name.  From Kansas comes the story of its name as “Hand of Friendship,” but, with sufficient imagination, one can readily see the imprint of a duck’s foot.



* Did I ever tell you that I was once a featured artist in the Akron Beacon Journal?  Here's the proof.