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History of the Double Wedding Ring posted: 12/30/2003
by Cindy Brick Printable Page
Category: History Method: All
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Double Wedding Ring. The very name inspires thoughts of romance and wedlock. And certainly many of these scalloped-arc quilts have been started to celebrate impending marriages. (Although they may not have finished until the first child's appearance!) Although many quilters mentally catalog the Double Wedding, or DWR, in its most popular period, the Great Depression, these lively patterns are still made today in increasing quantities.

As is common with many classic patterns, the origins of the Double Wedding Ring are unsure. Some quilt historians, like Ruth Finley, just don't mention it, while others, like Dolores Hinson and the Orlofskys, report that the earliest examples of the pattern date from the late 19th century. After Quilter's Newsletter Magazine covered the DWR in their article series, "The Great American Quilt Classics," Jonathan Holstein wrote a letter to the magazine arguing for a much later date. He wrote,"...we have never seen a quilt using it which in design, materials or workmanship appeared to us to be of a date earlier than the 20th century, and we know of none dated in the body of the quilt, or formally documented as having been made before the 1920s or 1930s."

Robert Bishop, whose book The Romance of Double Wedding Ring Quilts (Museum of American Folk Art, 1989) remains the definitive source on DWR history, mentions at least three existing 19th century quilts in the DWR pattern: one in the Shelburne Museum's collection, dated 1825-1850 by that museum; one in the Baltimore Museum of Art, c.1870, originally owned by Dr. William Rush Dunton, the author of Old Quilts; and one shown (in spite of the title!) in Karey Bresenhan's and Nancy O'Bryant Puentes' 1986 book, Lone Star: A Legacy of Texas Quilts: 1936-1956. (The Baltimore Museum of Art example is included in Dena Katzenber'g 1971 book, The Great American Cover-Up.)

"Perhaps the definite answer regarding the earliest use of the design on American quilts will never be established," Bishop wrote. "Clearly, the motif of interlocking rings is a very old one and can actually be traced far back in history." In fact, interlocking ring motifs clearly resembling the DWR appear on several existing Roman glass vessels or lamps from approximately the four century A.D.!

Another possible inspiration is the 'gimmal ring,' a betrothal ring popular in the 15th and 16th centuries that was actually 2 or more rings fitted together to make one whole. During the engagement, each partner wore one of the rings; when they married, the rings were interlocked together to form one wedding band for the woman. Occasionally this idea resurfaces in modern times with interlocked 'puzzle' or 'friendship' rings. (Celtic patterns are especially popular.) Sometimes once they're off the finger, these rings fall apart and are difficult to reassemble. Perhaps this style was designed to encourage a thinking-of-straying spouse not to take the ring off!

As far as textiles go, the DWR could have gradually evolved from weavers experimenting with overshot and jacquard coverlet designs. As Bishop points out, coverlet patterns were "generally based upon the square or rectangle. [But] some of the more ambitious weavers' efforts included the wheel or circular motif as well."

At any rate, decorative designs similar to the DWR are extant on 19th-century American artifacts. In the 1860s, it was featured on dinnerware, and within a few decades, DWR designs were on many commercial items, including ceramic tiles. The earliest known DWR quilts (with the exception of the Shelburne's quilt) date from this post-1860s time period. And a c.1895 example of the Ladies Art Company's quilt pattern catalog includes, among its hundreds of designs, a single-block version of the DWR. (author's collection).

We may not be certain about the very first DWR quilt, but we do know that its use exploded during the time of the Great Depression. Beginning in 1928, the DWR, also called 'Rainbow,' 'Endless Chain,' 'Around the World' and 'King Tut,' began to appear almost simultaneously in a variety of catalogs and columns, from Carlie Sexton to Rural New Yorker. In its Oct. 1928 issue, Capper's Weekly wrote, "When some good but unknown man conceived the idea of double wedding ring ceremony, it gave his wife an equally good idea. She worked the two circles into a double wedding ring quilt." In 1929, Ruby McKim suggested using the colors of the rainbow, calling her pattern 'Rainbow Wedding Ring,' and Mary Redford wrote in The Missouri Ruralist, "The modern woman has turned to the fad of making old-fashioned quilts. The wedding ring seems to be the most popular design judging from the number of wedding ring quilts which were shown this year."

By the mid-1930s, the most common style of the DWR quilt used wedges pieced into an arc, then joined together with a plain square or Four Patch block at the intersections. A spikier version of the DWR, using triangles instead of wedges to piece the arc, also appeared in many quilts, best known as 'Indian Wedding Ring' or 'Pickle Dish'. DWR kits and quilts were available in a blizzard of colors and styles, but most often in bright pastels, with the individual wedges pieced from scraps of feedsacks and dress weight yardage in bright florals, stripes, polka dots and even some conversation prints, like ducks and lambs.

Myths started, too. The Grandma Clark catalog, in its "Patchwork Quilts in History" section, assigned DWR a Civil War origin, saying it was a fond grandmother's solution to providing wedding rings for her granddaughter and soldier fiancé.

By the 1940s, many DWRs included an increasing number of red, white and blue prints; in fact, a number of patriotic versions still exist. As more decades passed by, and fabric styles and colors changed, the DWR adapted right along with them. Today's DWR often incorporates hand-dyeds, unusual embellishments, and earth-toned batiks.

Originally, the DWR was not only pieced, but the rings were appliquéd in place on a background fabric. Many of today's DWR designer use techniques like strip-piecing and paper foundation piecing, as well as see-through templates and fusibles, to minimize the tedium of cutting out all those little wedges. There are too many to mention individually, but notables include John Flynn and Mary Ellen Hopkins.

Susan Stein took many of her ideas for DWR quilt patterns (24, to be exact) and published them in a book, Double Wedding Ring Quilts, Coming Full Circle (AQS, 2001). Susan says, "Double Wedding rings quilts have interested me since the 1980s. They...provide the perfect setting for the large prints, embellishments and surface design applications that I love...working in a series is something I enjoy. It became a challenge to see how many ways Double Wedding Rings could be done, resulting in a total of 58, so far."

Perhaps some of the DWR quilts shown here will inspire you to try yet another version of this perennial favorite. The DWR is sure to continue changing for decades to come.

Copyright©Brickworks. All rights reserved. Material on these pages may not be reproduced in any form without expressed written permission. Reprinted with permission from

Some of the books mentioned can be purchased at your local quilt shop.

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