Saturday, June 9, 2018

Fifty-Four Forty or Fight Quilt Block History and How To

Sometimes the stories behind the quilt blocks are just as interesting as the blocks themselves.  When I first saw the name of the block I figured it was one of those regional names and if I did a little googling I would find it by a name that was familiar to me.  The search did not reveal any other name for the Fifty-Four Forty or Fight quilt block.  It did reveal a very interesting history behind the name though.

The 54-40 or fight quilt block


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I am doing a block of the month in my Facebook group that is all star looking blocks.  When I was designing the quilt and looking at historical star quilt blocks I thought it looked really pretty and with today's tools pretty straightforward.  I had never heard of the Fifty-Four Forty or Fight quilt block before.  That's not really unusual, quilt blocks seem to vary in name across regions but usually, a quick search will reveal to me a name I have heard and my brain will register the pattern.  I didn't find another name for this block instead I found an interesting history that I felt needed to be shared.

History of Fifty-Four Forty or Fight Quilt Block


People have used art to express political beliefs forever.  Women often stitched their political views because they weren't supposed to voice them really.  That's where this block comes from.  In 1844, America didn't look like it does today, some borders were disputed.  James Polk was an unknown from Tennessee who had been nominated for the Democrat canidate for President.  In order to gain national attention in hopes of becoming President.  Polk realized that manifest destiny was what could get him elected.  He said he would expand the country to including Texas, California, and all of Oregon.  The Oregon border latitude was 54 degrees, 40 minutes.  He used the slogan "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight" as a rallying cry.  If you didn't know, James Polk became president but he didn't win the 54th parallel.  He compromised with the UK in 1846 at the 49th parallel.  North of that became Canada.

The quilt block didn't show up until 1933 though, 89 years after Polk made the slogan popular.  Now it's possible that the block had been being made for 89 years.  In the 30s big newspapers started publishing quilt block patterns, similar to what I do now.  Nancy Cabot released this one in 1933 in the Chicago Tribune she said in her article that "women had no outlet for political expression and the block was the expression of patriotic American women."  I am sure other newspapers ran it as well but I couldn't find it in my grandma's patterns from the Kansas City Star but that doesn't mean they didn't publish it either.

Supplies and Cutting for Fifty-Four Forty or Fight Quilt Block

You do need a Tri-Recs template.  I am linking to the one I have.  If you haven't used it before I do have a tutorial on the Tri-Recs ruler set.  

White Fabric Moda Tuppence Sugar Pond - 4 sets of the "legs" from the Tri-Recs ruler 5 1/4" strip
Blue Fabric QT Fabrics Matrix Slub Texture Lappis - 4 triangles from Tri-Recs ruler 5 1/4" strip, 1 strip 2 7/8" x 29"

Constructing Fifty-Four or Fight Quilt Block

For written instructions please join the Facebook group.  You may have to trim the four patches, depending on your seam allowance.  They need to be 5 1/4".



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Resources For History
US History
More Nancy Cabot

Learn how to make the fifty-four forty or fight quilt block and the history behind the name of the quilt block.


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Melissa Shields
Melissa Shields

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