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Iris Garland Quilt

Iris Garland is perhaps the most spectacular quilt in the museum's large collection of bedcovers.

Hannah Headlee's Iris Garland quilt

This complicated quilt was designed and appliqued by Hannah Haynes Headlee of Topeka around 1935. An unknown needleworker did the quilting.

Headlee was influenced by a small group of women in Emporia, Kansas, who produced some of the 20th century's finest quilts. Two with international reputations are Rose Kretsinger and Charlotte Jane Whitehill. From about 1925 to 1950 they designed prize-winning quilts and influenced others to do the same. Many of their quilts are in museum collections today.

The designer of Iris Garland was acquainted with several of the famed Emporia quilters and often shopped for fabric in that city. Her family members described Headlee as having a "one-track mind" about applique during the last years of her life. In 15 years, she completed seven quilts and finished the borders for an eighth. 

As an artist who taught watercolor and china painting, Headlee had a keen eye for color and design.  Quilt historian Barbara Brackman wrote of Headlee in her essay, "Emporia, 1925-1950: Reflections on a Community" in the book, Kansas Quilts and Quilters:

The Iris, her masterpiece, reflects a watercolorist's love of transparent, clear colors and a sophisticated eye in the choice of complementary red-violets and yellow-greens. For the lush iris blooms she found nine shades of violet cotton and dyed the tenth herself. After her first Grandmother's Flower Garden she drew her own applique designs, inspired by Kretsinger.

Born in Topeka in the mid-19th century, Headlee married three times and supported herself as an art teacher, mainly through private lessons. She did not enter her quilts in contests because, her family believed,  "she knew exhibiting her quilts at fairs would encourage copies and she loved being an original." Headlee recognized brilliance in others, and rewarded it by judging at least one national contest in which she and two other judges gave Josephine Craig's Garden quilt a first prize.

Iris Garland is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Iris Garland Quilt

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: May 2001

Date Modified: January 2019

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.