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Even Scrooge needed a Label!

I always felt a little self conscious when I put a label on my projects. To me, I was saying “wow, look at me, look how good I am, everyone will want to know who made this beautiful work of art”. I never felt my work was good enough to warrant screaming at the world “I made this”. Over time those feelings have lessened somewhat and I always label my work in some fashion. This came about after spotting old quilts in antique or second hand stores. I would look them over and wonder about the person that made all those tiny stitches or who thought putting those colours together was a good thing. Rarely was there a label to put a name to the creation.

I taught a class on Irish Chain and decided to get a bit of background history of this old traditional block and discovered that while what I found out was very interesting there really wasn’t much information on our very early quilts. Quilting history is a difficult study choice. Besides the fact that quilts naturally decay over time, the earliest quilts rarely had any documentation on them so any information is simple conjecture. Many quilt histories are based on family memories and I know even for me with items that my mother made I have a vague idea of when it was made but I know for a fact that my children may not even realize that their grandmother made it.

It is thought that women from the 19th century felt it was “too prideful” to sign their quilts but they have found quilts to have an initial and/or a number cross-stitched somewhere on the front of the quilt. According to “The Useful Companion” printed in 1878 women were taught:

“It should be bourne in mind that too frequent washing is liable to wear out linens more than ordinary use: and therefore the process should not be repeated oftener than absolutely necessary. It will also be found an excellent plan to have every article numbered and initialed and so arranged after washing that each may be worn in its regular turn and accomplish its proper term of domestic use.”

Still, these historical quilts initialed and numbered tell us nothing. What would SB14 mean to anyone?

By 1850 a permanent ink was made available to be used on fabrics and advertisements are found telling people to mark their linens. Suddenly quilts appeared with signatures on the front of quilts - Signature Quilts - but they still gave no information on Who, What, When, Where or Why the quilt was made.

As signing quilts became more popular, women starting hiding their names amongst appliqué, along borders or even stitched as part of the quilting design. As the inks became more colourfast quilt makers started adding information closer to what we consider a ‘label’ today including poetry and Bible versus and initials artfully stitched making up the centre block. Some quilts have entire family trees inked on the front of the quilt or a story of who received the quilt and why. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that labels appeared on the back of quilts.

It seems that we have gone from no labeling to writing stories on the front of the quilt to not bothering to label quilts again.

Whether it’s because we feel self-conscious about labeling our work, don’t have time or we just want the quilt FINISHED we have more ways to make labels today than ever before.

  • Labels can be bought pre-made that you just have to fill out
  • Computer programs are available strictly for designing and printing quilt labels
  • Inks, pencils, pens, crayons are readily available and affordable
  • More vibrant colours and types of threads available for hand work
  • Machine embroidery
  • Products for making your fabric printer ready

What to include on a label

I look at this as either making a label “By the Book” or “Just Enough”. If you’re entering a show or presenting your work in any way definitely make a label “By the Book”. Always check for show guidelines to ensure you include all information they require.

You must give credit where credit due. This includes the pattern designer, everyone that worked on sewing the top and the quilter. If these are not specified clearly then it may appear that you designed, sewed and quilted an item that you didn’t. Example; the local newspaper takes a picture of your appliquéd quilt and does an article about the local show. The information you put on the label just says ‘made by’ and that is what is reported. People reading the article are lead to believe you came up with the pattern idea and is your original design. In truth it was a pre-cut purchased kit by a well known quilt artist. Well known quilt artists rightfully become upset over things like this.

"By the Book" examples

These are guideline to use especially if entering into a show. Check with show guidelines to confirm.


Name: Scrappy Wonder
(name you have given your quilt - usually required at shows)
Pattern/Source: “Scrappy Stars, Sue Jones, Fons & Porter, April 2000
(design name, designer, magazine, issue date. If you have changed the pattern from the original then you make a note *adapted from...)
Maker: Suzy Seweasy
(your name plus all makers who worked on quilt. If made by a guild or organization then put Maker: SE Quilters Guild ...)
City/location: Allover, BC
Year: 2014
Quilter: Quilted by Paula Pattern, somewhere, BC
(If you quilted it put your name again or ‘maker’. If quilted by someone else note quilters name and location.


Basically the same, but under make put “original design by ...” for the Pattern. It is suggested that you put the copyright symbol beside the name and date to protect you from others taking the pattern and using it as their own.


If you have received an older quilt and are making a label you may not be able to put much information on it. It would be an interesting addition to put on how you ended up owning the quilt.

Name: The name the quilt is known for - could be ‘Grannie’s quilt’
Pattern: Identify the block if possible and whatever you can
Maker: Could be ‘unknown’
Quilter: also could be 'unknown'


Basic information as above, just change Quilter and add information as to how you ended up with the quilt.

Newly Quilted:
Quilted by Paula Pattern, somewhere, BC

"Just Enough" examples

This type of label works when you know the quilt won't be entered into a formal show but still want the information for future generations. In truth, the same information should be included but just done in a more relaxed way. Perhaps a paragraph or story. Just make sure to include all people involved. For even more interest add why you chose the fabrics, colour etc. what adventures you had in making the quilt. Add washing instructions, batting etc. Here are the write-ups for two of my ‘just enough’ labels.

Princess Dreams
An original design by Shawn Bailey
Powell River, BC, 2014

A first attempt adapting Sharon Schamber’s method of WholeCloth designing. An amazing learning experience!
100% cotton, wool batting
Warm gentle wash/dry

Cam and Shawn’s Excellent Adventure
Pattern adapted from Sue Abrey’s 3-d Naughts & Crosses, Pick Four
Martingale & Company, 2011
Machine pieced and quilted by Shawn Bailey, Powell River, BC, 2013

Two months travelling across our beautiful country…

a fun label to make -
click here to see it!

Attaching labels

Most quilters put labels on the back of the right corner of the quilt. Muslin or a light plain cotton is used, edges turned under 1/4” and hand sewn down. You can carefully position the label on the backing fabric with fabric glue or bond before quilting so the quilting will attach the label pretty much permanently to the quilt. You can bond the label to the back after quilting and line two edges up to the quilt prior to sewing on the binding so it is machine sewn down on 2 sides, and hand sewn on the other two.


Don’t use ‘cheap’ fabric for labels - they don’t hold up well and are hard to write or print on. Muslin, while inexpensive, works well.

Prewash label fabric

Don’t use white on white fabric as the white is stamped on and hard to print or write on.

Before attempting to write stabilize your fabric with freezer paper, sand paper or a heavy dose of starch

Use extra block from quilt. Add light coloured borders to it for adding your info.

Instead of turning under the edge of the label, sew lightweight interfacing to the right side of the label; slash the interfacing and turn. Press well and attach either by hand or machine.

Who says labels must be square?