Do They Make Quilts There?

This past Friday I received an email from a woman named Krystyna. Here’s what she wrote:

“Hello, I am half Estonian, born in the US and would love to connect to my heritage through quilting. I have been trying to locate a traditional Estonian quilt and hopefully one that isn’t embroidered. My searching brought me to your lovely site and I am wondering if you would have any idea of where I might find a pattern(s) for said traditional quilt(s). Or does this even exist, I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t.”

Krystyna’s request got me to thinking about all of the times Wendy and I have been preparing for one of our Sew We Go adventures, hopeful to find quilt shops and groups in the places we’ll visit, only to find – nothing.

When Wendy and I visited Tallinn, Estonia while cruising the Baltic Sea, we discovered a city with friendly people and a huge love for history, culture and art. It was our favorite port of call on that trip. We even were able to take classes from artists in the art district of the city. To read about it please go to: We found “fiber art”, but no quilts.

In composing an answer to Krystyna, I got to thinking about a woman I know who is a missionary in Tallinn. I decided to write to her and her response was not only interesting, but she had suggestions that are applicable to quilters trying to find quilting patterns from other countries. I hope you will enjoy Denise’s response:

“Hi Chris, Wow, what an interesting question. 
As hard as it is to believe, there is no tradition of quilting here. That’s the short answer!

I have been to all the handicraft and agricultural fairs here in
Estonia over the past 12 years and have never even seen a quilt, nor
have I met or heard of any women who do it, and I have looked, believe
me. Perhaps it’s a result of being shut off from the rest of Europe
for centuries, but they use textiles they can grow: flax (linen) and
wool, neither which lend themselves to quilting. The indigenous
handicrafts being actively preserved today are Estonian embroidery,
weaving, felting, knitting and crocheting, and a kind of tatting.
Neighbors just bought angora rabbits to start harvesting their own fur
to make their winter hats, scarves and mittens. She will be hard
pressed trying to connect to Estonian culture through something that
doesn’t exist. That’s the long answer.

My recommendation is to adapt the colors and patterns of Estonian
woven tapestries and interpret them into a quilt, to combine her
passion for quilting with Estonian cultural references. It is very
Estonian to create something “new” and be inventive.

Each region in Estonia is represented in dress by it’s own distinct
colorful pattern of woven woolens, which could be easily adapted to a
quilt pattern of her own design. Most are three to five colors, and in
stripes. A couple of regions vary from that norm, but in all regions
the women make skirts and belts out of “their” local textile, which
they wear on national holidays and for special events. You know
exactly where a group of women is from by the stripe of their skirt.
The following link shows some of those patterns (the first word in
each pattern is the name of the county). There are more, I just can’t
find a repository that shows them all on one page:

This link shows a gathering of people celebrating in national dress:

Hope this helps. Have a great day! In His Service, Denise”

I loved the idea of taking a traditional handicraft design and making it into a quilting pattern. The links Denise provided were very nice. I also found a few pictures while surfing the web that I think are inspiring. The first two were from: (please visit their site. The pictures and stories were great).


The following woven designs could easily be converted into pieced patterns:

And this one would be lovely in appliqué:

I hope you can see the possibilities, no matter what country you’re interested in.

Thanks so much for your question, Krystyna, and for the in-depth response from Denise.

Have you ever made a quilt pattern inspired by a traditional handcraft from another country? I’d love to know more. Please send me pictures at:


2 Opinions

  • Antonija Mitt said:

    Also of Estonian heritage born in the USA (Milwaukee, WI, specifically…) We have a number of authentic Eesti folk costumes with all the beading, embroidery and woven skirts, patterned knit socks, and suusid (slippers) with that beautiful floral embroidery on the them. (Which look so Hungarian to me–proves we were related way back when…)
    But no quilts!! I’m a quilter, and had the same thought as Krystyna when my hubby and I made a trip to Eesti to visit relatives. But no quilts, really. My cousin did make a simple patchwork quilt of leftover garment fabrics–and it was beautiful. But she called it an “Ameerika muster”, an American pattern. My cousin said no one in her entire family had ever made one before. She saw it in an American magazine.
    So I make my quilts the American way, I guess, but love the patterns, weavings and embroidery of my ancestors.
    (In fact, my husband said it would be cool to put a quilt block on the gable end of our garage–and I’ll be doing an Estonian star much the one in your story!)

  • Jackie Iannarelli said:

    Thanks for the ideas. A lot of cultures do not have a quilt legacy as we do in the US. Germany and Italy come to mine.
    A big thank you for the memories of the Baltic Sea cruise.


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