Quilt Notes: According to Wikipedia, "Kankakee" is a Native American expression for "open land" or what was originally marshland. But the image that comes to mind, as regards KANKAKEE CHECKERS, might be of kids, or old-timers, sitting out on the front porch playing checkers in Kankakee, Illinois. Notice the beautiful rhythm of the two words, though, with the sound of the "ch's" and "ck's" in checkers and the triple "k's," in Kankakee — the resonance in the expression is enough to be poetic.
KANKAKEE CHECKERS debuted in Nancy Cabot's column in the Chicago Tribune on October 15, 1935. As an Illinois native, Cabot probably knew that town. She does not claim the design as an "old" pattern, as she usually does, and attempts no background or explanation for the title. In addition, there is no record of the pattern previous to her publication, so one might chance a guess that KANKAKEE CHECKERS is Cabot's own design, or perhaps contributed by her mother, a dress designer. In her column, Cabot comments on the "amazing" beauty of the tiling pattern (see below), and in addition, suggests the following:
"A most amazing pattern is this elaborate four patch design called KANKAKEE CHECKERS. It forms small pinwheels in diamond frames when set together with other blocks in a coverlet. A combination of printed and plain materials is recommended for the most effective reproduction of this pattern [...] with a border matching the frames in the design."
More quilt designs at this site celebrating American place names include:
ROAD TO OKLAHOMA
ROAD TO TENNESSEE
ROCKY ROAD TO KANSAS
(NY) CITY STREETS (with Georgia O'Keeffe)