Battle of Saratoga revolutionizes quilting

“The British are coming! The British coming!”

Yes, I’m writing about a British Invasion, and it’s not the Fab Four of 1960s fame (although I am a loyal Beatles fan).

I’ve gone back a couple of centuries today to recount some battles of the American Revolution.

The story of Paul Revere and his midnight ride in April of 1775 always gives me an adrenaline rush.



wrote the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of the patriot who alerted the colonists before the Battle of Lexington in Massachusetts.

That confrontation goes down in history as the start of the Revolutionary War and “the shot heard ‘round the world.”

What does Paul Revere have to do with quilting, you ask?

Ever hear of the Battle of Saratoga on the Hudson River in October 1777?

About this time of year 232 years ago, that Revolutionary War battle was a major turning point for America’s independence.

Orchestrated by British Gen. John Burgoyne, 5,000 redcoats invaded New York state from Canada.

After nearly a month of fighting and heavy casualties, Burgoyne withdrew to the small hamlet of Saratoga, N.Y., where he and his army were quickly surrounded by 12,000 to 14,000 American militia led by their commander, Gen. Horatio Gates.

Burgoyne surrendered, a defeat that heartened American supporters and convinced France to enter the war as our ally. This historic battle inspired colonists with the hope of liberty and freedom.

Quilters soon took it upon themselves to commemorate this victory by designing a quilt pattern titled “Burgoyne Surrounded.”

Many a quilt with this victory sign must have covered the beds of New England homes in the late 1700s.

The quilt pattern has endured through the centuries and was featured this year in a contest at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Ky.

The annual contest is called “New Quilts from an Old Favorite,” and for 2009, quilters were challenged to create original quilts based on the traditional “Burgoyne Surrounded” pattern.

Eighteen finalists were chosen, and after two months on display at the museum, the quilts are in a traveling exhibit touring the country through December.

Cathryn Zeleny of Napa, Calif., was awarded first place for her quilt titled “Inevitable.”

She used hand-dyed fabric to create her interpretation of a valley surrounded by hills, as it might be seen from above.

Zeleny’s piece is a visible metaphor of the surrender of Burgoyne and his troops at Saratoga.

Modifying the design in another imaginative way was Ann Horton of Redwood Valley, Calif.

Her second-place quilt, titled “Prayers of My People,” contains 17 prayers embroidered into the body of the pieced blocks.

With fabrics from Africa, Australia, Bali, Europe, Japan and North and South of America, the quilt “speaks of humans’ sacred connection to their creator,” the artist’s statement says.

“Mandala,” by Karen Watts of Houston, features circles and ovals for movement, rather than squares and rectangles.

She hand-appliqued 380 circles to produce the third-place winner.

A book also was published, in cooperation with American Quilter’s Society, showing the 18 finalists and their winning quilts, along with biographical information, tips, techniques and patterns.

See these and more “Burgoyne Surrounded” quilts at

You may want to consider entering the contest for 2010. “Sunflower” is the theme. Details and an entry form can be found online.

I can’t end without one more story from the 18th century. It’s my favorite, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” a short story by Washington Irving.

Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman are fictional characters, of course, but I understand the story is set circa 1790, and the horseman is supposedly the ghost of a Hessian trooper.

Hessians were Germans sold into the service of the British Empire to fight the revolutionaries.

The horseman lost his head to a stray cannonball, the tale goes, and rides forth to the scene of battle in a nightly quest for his head.

It’s a tale to be told this time each year, and I’ve always thought a good ghost story was a real scream.


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