Grace Snyder is an icon of American
quiltmaking. Recognized in the United States as one of the 20th century’s most accomplished quiltmakers, this remarkable Nebraskan’s legacy lives on in the 24 quilts she created expressly for exhibitions and competitions, as well as in the less-seen family quilts.
Her first quilt entry was at the 1912 McPherson County Fair in Flats, Nebraska when she was 30 years old.
© NSHS #7828-8, RG1431.AM SG01 B3
© Grace Snyder Descendants
Grace enjoyed displaying her quilts in public and entered local, national, and international quilt exhibitions. In 1944, she was awarded $2.50 when her Flower Basket Petit Point was chosen as sweepstakes winner at the Nebraska State Fair.
At the 1951 Nebraska State Fair, 18 of her quilts were shown together at the Fine Arts Building.
In a separate display case, Grace’s Grape Quilt was awarded the purple sweepstakes ribbon.
© NSHS #7828-8
Grace loved flowers and used them often in her quilts, but it was difficult to grow a garden in the Sandhills. Fierce weather destroyed gardens as well as crops. Grace adored geraniums and fuchsias and was very proud to have saved the rose bushes her family moved from Missouri to the Nebraska homestead and then to her Sandhills ranch.
Finished in 1943, the remarkable masterpiece, Flower Basket Petit Point, took 16 months to create, with well over 87,000 tiny triangles, reproducing a china design manufactured by the Salem China Company. Eight triangles sewn together created a small block that was no larger than a two-cent postage stamp.
According to her daughters, Bertie and Billie, Grace used 5,400 yards of thread in piecing the blocks.
© NSHS #7828-8
© IQSCM #2009.032.0017.1
When Mr. F. W. McKee, Salem China Company’s president, received a picture of the Flower Basket Petit Point quilt, he was so impressed that he gave Grace 6 place settings of the china pattern, banded in 23-karat gold.
Over the years, he continued to send more china for her growing family, eventually equaling 18 place settings.
In 1950, four of Grace’s quilts were displayed at the Women’s International Exhibition in New York City. Covered Wagon States won a special ribbon in the International Division, and the Grape Quilt won a blue ribbon for Grace’s fine appliqué work. The Flower Basket Petit Point and the Bird of Paradise were placed in a special division since there was nothing else like them at the exhibition. They were awarded the two highest ribbons of their division.
In 1999, Flower Basket Petit Point was included in Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine’s 100 best American quilts of the 20th century.
Grace cut a multitude of small triangles and squares to create the brilliantly colored Bird of Paradise that perches gracefully on a flowering branch. Even the off-white background within the hexagon was cut and re-sewn in small squares to provide a unified look within the main design.
Beyond the branches, the quilting pattern changes into a smaller grid pattern. Between the swag border and the quilt edges, the quilting lines begin to echo the waving lines of the appliquéd swag. Close to the quilted branches, Grace included 1950 and her initials GS.
The Hexagon Mosaic was also included in the elite list of 100 best American quilts of the 20th century. It is perhaps Grace’s most intricate work — in fact, Grace herself thought it was one of her finest quilts.
The original design, created by Albert Small of Illinois, included 63,450 pieces and appeared in a magazine article in the late 1930s. Intrigued by the quilt, Grace asked Albert to send her the tiny template. Grace’s Hexagon Mosaic was bed-sized by the time she had hand-stitched well over 58,000 pieces together.
© IQSCM #2009.032.0001
The simple hexagon shape can produce a multitude of quilt designs, and this Hexagon Mosaic quilt is an extraordinary example of the complexity and beauty that can be achieved. There is no record of how Grace chose her colors or determined her exact design, but we have the marvelous result of her efforts.
There is no batting between the front and back of the quilt, perhaps a clue that Grace intended it for exhibition and not for practical use to keep anyone warm in bed. Grace simplified the quilting pattern to a single line through the middle of some of the pieces.
Grace exhibited her quilts in Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Virginia, Texas, Nebraska, and California. When her daughter Nellie began flying to the exhibitions by herself, a separate seat was purchased beside her for the large box containing Grace’s quilts. They were too valuable to include with the luggage.
By displaying her quilts in competitions and exhibitions throughout the country, Grace established herself as one of the pre-eminent quiltmakers in mid-20th century America. Her significant achievements were acknowledged in 1980 when, at age 98, she was inducted into the national Quilter’s Hall of Fame.
© NO TIME ON MY HANDS, Grace Snyder Descendants
© Nebraska State Quilt Guild
Grace Bell “Pete” “Gheet” McCance Snyder passed away on December 8th, 1982 at age 100 and is buried in the North Platte Cemetery. Four years later, she was inducted into the Nebraska Quilter’s Hall of Fame. Her quilts continue to be displayed and admired as examples of extraordinary needlework as well as reflections of her challenging life in the Sandhills.
Oh, and that third daydream to look down on the clouds? In the early 1940s, Grace wanted to go to a California family reunion during one of the busiest times on the ranch. The only way to make it fit the demands of the ranch was a quick trip by plane, her first of many views from above the clouds.
A bed covering or blanket, usually created in 3 layers: a decorative top, an interior batting made of cotton, wool, or polyester fibers for warmth, and a backing. Quilting is the process of stitching all three layers together.
Traditional 6-Step Process
- Select a pattern, fabrics for top and back, and interior batting.
- Measure and cut fabrics to the correct size to make blocks from the pattern.
- Piece (sew together) blocks to make a finished top layer. Add embroidered details or appliqués, if desired.
- Make a quilt sandwich by layering the quilt top with batting and backing, usually using a quilt frame to hold the fabrics taut.
- Quilt (stitch) the three layers together.
- Square up and trim excess batting from the edges, sew the binding to the front edges of the quilt, and then hand-stitch the binding to the backing.
A person or thing that represents something bigger. Grace Snyder is an icon of quiltmaking because of her amazing ability, number of quilts, and wide recognition. exhibition
Public display or competition for works of art or handcrafts. petit point
A type of embroidery using small, diagonal stitches. Sandhills
The Sandhills is a region of mostly short grass prairie on rolling sand dunes in north-central Nebraska, covering just over one fourth of the state and mainly used for ranching. homestead
To settle free or cheap land given by the government. Also, the name of the land that is homesteaded. Most homesteads were farms. ranch
A piece of land used to raise animals for sale, usually cattle. china
Fancy, white dishes, sometimes with a pattern, a prized item in late 19th and early 20th century households. They are made from a fine white ceramic from minerals from China. piece
Sewing together small pieces of fabric for a quilt top. Quilts usually start with a number of smaller blocks that are then sewn or “pieced” together. pattern
A guide design or example used to help create other designs. appliqué
In needlework, a decorative piece of material applied over a foundation material. hexagon
A shape with 6 sides, all of the same length. swag
A curved design of fruit, flowers, or other greenery that may be sewn around an edge. intricate
Very detailed, complicated, or complex. mosaic
A final design created by putting together many smaller pieces. Usually, all of the pieces in a mosaic are the same shape – hexagons, diamonds, or squares. batting
Stuffing for the interior (middle layer) of the quilt to make it warmer, usually out of cotton, wool, or polyester fibers. purple ribbon
Traditionally in Europe, purple is considered the color of royalty. A purple ribbon is given to the best of all the blue ribbon winners from individual areas in a competition.