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Quilt History
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Quilt History

Excerpts from QuiltersBee E-mail regarding Quilt History, page 1

For more Quilt History discussions, join the Quilt History List


 


Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Slave and Abolitionist Quilts
  3. Indigo and White
  4. Crazy Quilting
  5. 1971
  6. Broderie Perse
  7. Quilts in Time of War
  8. Quilt Bees
  9. Singer and The Sewing Machine, A Capitalist Romance
  10. The Drunkard's Path
  11. Signature Quilts/Album Quilts/Friendship Quilts
  12. The Rose of Sharon
  13. New England (or Where do You Live?)
  14. 54-40 or Fight
  15. Transitions
  16. Star of Bethlehem
  17. A Note From June Slattery on Early English and Scottish Quilting




1. Introduction

Okay, you all seem to be interested in history! I had a request not to leave out other countries so I promise to see what I can do about that. I know that almost all countries have a quilting tradition as even when quilting was not used for bedding it was used for Armor and for warm clothing.

I'll start with a brief note on early American quilting. Despite popular belief it is highly unlikely that quilts came on the Mayflower. At that time a quilt was a luxury item and only the very rich possessed them. The Mayflower passengers were neither rich nor ostentatious, being puritans! They probably brought woven coverlets with them. The Virginia settlements probably saw quilts long before the New Englanders. They were more wealthy and more class concious than the New Englanders. The earliest quilts in America were Indian chintz quilts and Palamplores. These were either made wholecloth or, more frequently, the expensive chintzes and calicos were cut into large peices and appliqued into Tree Of Life type designs for quilts, coverlets and bed hangings. The introduction of less expensive colorfast cottons at the end of the eighteenth century set the stage for the explosive growth of the American quilting tradition in the nineteenth century. We have the English, Welsh, and Dutch settlers to thank for introducing quilting to the new world, as they brought a strong quilting tradition with them from their own countries and that tradition spread very rapidly to their friends and neighbors.

I hope you find this interesting and that others with something to add will jump in!

Book recommendation for today: The American Quilt: A History Of Cloth And Comfort, by Rod Kiracofe, pub. Clarkson Potter, 1993. Originally $60.00 it may be available cheaper now that it has been out for a while.

Christina

 

2. Slave and Abolitionist Quilts

In the pre-civil war south the children of slaves went to work when scarcely out of infancy. Some went to work in the master's household. The big plantations had "sewing slaves', who made the clothing for the members of the household and also made quilts. Sometimes these women sewed quilts alongside the mistress of the house. Pre-Civil war southern quilts speak of leisure and refinement. Endless hours of time went into the making of this elaborate appliquéd quilts. Many of those hours were either put in by slaves or made possible by the fact that slaves did all the household tasks, leaving the mistress free to do needlework. At the same time these slave women were making quilts for their own use. Their African languages and Religions were banned but they used their African designs in the appliqué quilts that they made and the sense of color and style in their pieced quilts was also inspired by African tradition. A slave might be given a blanket once every three years, quilts were a necessity. These women knew from their mothers how to make vegetable dyes and could turn rough slave cloth into every color of the rainbow. They used worn clothes and scraps from the mistress of the house. Few of these quilts survived, they were used until they wore out. As the abolitionist movement grew in the north quilts were sold to raise money for the abolitionist cause. Women inscribed their needlecases with the phrase "May the work of our needles prick the conscience of the slaveholder ". Quilt patterns associated with the abolitionist cause include, Underground Railroad, Jacob's Ladder, North Star, and Slave Chain. It is said that quilts hung on the line designated a safe stop on the underground railroad. 

Harriet Powers, while a slave, made one of the most treasured quilts in the American quilt tradition, The Harriet Powers Bible Quilt.  This quilt is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. The licensing of the image of this quilt for reproduction by foreign companies for import into this country contributed to a massive furor and scandal which rocked the Smithsonian. Quilters from all over the country flooded the museum with complaints and boycotts. This lead directly to the RJR collection of reproduction Smithsonian fabrics. The museum discovered that this was a much more acceptable way of using their collection to raise funds!

Note from Pat: Harriet Powers actually made two Bible Quilts. One is in the Smithsonian and the other is located in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The block I find most interesting is one that has been documented to reflect the quiltmaker's intention of recalling the oral history, passed down through her family, regarding the "Dark Day of 1780". On that particular day, many people were under the impression that the world was about to end. The day was as dark as night because of the smoke generated by massive forest fires in the southern part of the U.S. By all reports, people were praying and calling out for mercy. They thought that they were about to witness the "Second Coming".

 

3. Indigo and White

In the late 1890's the trend was for blue and white quilts, particularly indigo blue and white. There was scarcely a quilter to be found who did not have at least one in her collection and many "best" quilts were indigo and white. This accounts for the fact that so many of these spectacular quilts survive. Many incorporated appliqué but the overwhelming majority were pieced. Trapunto and elaborate feather quilting was often used on these quilts. Blue and White were the colors of the WTCU (Women's Christian Temperance Union), a very powerful and popular group. As many surviving blue and white quilts are in the Drunkard's Path pattern there is speculation that many of these quilts were made for The Cause. This is not likely to be the case in fact, however, it is far more likely that this was simply a very popular combination due to it's striking beauty. Another reason this combination was so popular for "best" quilts was that indigo was a superior dye, the color was true and fast. Demand for indigo dyed fabrics was high and companies responded by printing large quantities of them. Blue and white remains popular to this day but has never been so popular as it was at the end of the 19th century.

 

4. Crazy Quilting

Crazy quilts are enjoying a comeback recently but it is nothing compared to the amazing popularity they enjoyed when they were first all the rage in the late Victorian era! The 1880"s were the high point of Crazy quilt making, though the style was born just before that and continues to this day. At one time many people attributed the beginnings of the crazy quilt to as early as the arrival of the colonists to the new world, it's advent was supposed to have risen out of the scarcity of fabric and the use of every little scrap. This theory is no longer considered to be likely and it is almost certain that the Crazy Quilt owes its start to the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, held in Philadelphia. It was at this exhibition that American women were first exposed to the arts and culture of Japan. For the first time they saw a style that was not strictly symmetrical, they saw beautiful fans and opulent embroidery. The Crazy Quilt came from these origins. It was just at this time that there was an increased supply of reasonably priced silk, bringing the silk crazy quilt into the sphere of the middle class. Crazy quilts are not, in fact, quilts. They were intended as parlor throws or piano scarves. They typically have no batting or filler and are tacked invisibly, not quilted. These spectacular quilts took a long time to make, decades not being unusual. Scraps of dress silks, wedding gowns, silk souvenirs, cigar bands and more found their way into crazy quilts. When the foundation was complete the embellishment began, and often did not end until the maker's death! The embellishments included elaborate embroidery, beads even painted designs. During the high point of the rage patterns for everything from the supposedly random foundations to the embroidered and painted designs were printed in the ladies magazines of the day. A crazy quilt was not just a thing of beauty but a status symbol. A Crazy Quilt required more than just material, it required a huge amount of leisure time, and leisure time was something only found in a prosperous household. If a man could invite associates and neighbors into his home and it contained visible signs of his wife's leisure activities it was a sure sign of his success and prosperity. He was able to provide her with both household help and luxurious materials, her accomplishments reflected well on him. Many crazy quilts survive to this day, they were treasured objects then and remain so today. Because of their freewheeling nature some are not as lovely as others but all have great charm and some of the most beautiful of all quilts are Crazy Quilts.

This weeks book review:

Crazy Quilt Handbook, and Crazy Quilt Odyssey, both by Judith Montano, published my C&T.

Penny McMorris wrote an excellent book on Crazy Quilting but it is out of print, check your local library,


5. 1971

I can almost hear you all thinking, "1971? What on Earth does that have to do with quilt history?", well, quite a lot actually! Quiltmaking started a decline in the late forties and fifties. By the sixties there was little fine quilting fabric to be had and not many women were quilting. With the "back to Earth" movement of the sixties, however, quiltmaking started it's comeback. Many people began looking at the traditional crafts of America and quiltmaking above all. Quilts were still not taken particularly seriously however until 1971. Why 1971? Because of a singular seminal event. In 1971 Jonathan Holstein and Gail Van Der Hoof managed to convince the prestigious Whitney Museum of American Art to hang an exhibition of their collection of antique American quilts. The now famous exhibition was called "Abstract Design in American Quilts". It was an incredible achievement on the part of Holstein and Van Der Hoof to get the Whitney to agree to the exhibition as craft arts in general and quilts in particular had little respect at that time. The Whitney exhibit caused a sensation, it was one of the most popular exhibits in the museum's history and received rave reviews from all quarters. In addition to it's successful run at the Whitney the exhibit traveled for nearly four years, all over the USA and Europe. It sparked a huge renewal of interest in quiltmaking and quilts, and coming as it did on the eve of the United States Bicentennial it was a huge factor in the resurgence of quiltmaking in America. Following the Whitney exhibit many magazines began featuring quilts, other museums sponsored exhibits, and galleries began displaying quilts. Many people had never actually seen quilts before this time, or if they had seen them it was as strictly old fashioned utilitarian household items. The Whitney exhibit was not the first exhibit but it was the most prestigious and highly publicized up to that time. This magnificent exhibit was recently re-hung at a museum in Kentucky (I think!) and the catalogue reprinted. If you can lay your hands on "Abstract Design in American Quilts" by Jonathan Holstein, please don't pass up the chance to purchase it! You may owe the fact that you quilt at all to this magnificent curatorial achievement!

This weeks book recommendation: The Art Quilt, by Penny McMorris and

Michael Kile, pub. The Quilt Digest Press

 

6. Broderie Perse

This is one of the earliest forms of quiltmaking. The origins of Borderie Perse are in the 1700's when chintz was the queen of fabrics. Beautiful chintz fabrics were being imported into England and France from the east Indies in huge numbers. These fabrics were glazed, block printed fabrics featuring designs of flowers, figures and Tree of Life designs, they were a true fad and often used as bed hangings and draperies, as well as parlor furnishings. European companies and guilds finally rebelled against the fad and demanded protection against these imports. When governments stepped in with restrictions these already expensive fabrics became a very rare and costly extravagance. Europen made copies were equally rare and expensive, and even the wealthiest women did not use these fabrics wholecloth. Instead they were carefully cut up and the motifs appliquéd onto less expensive background materials. Lovely medallion, block and wreath designs were fashioned in this way, both in Europe and the colonies. A small amount of fabric could be stretched a long way, a good thing as chintz fabrics could cost the equivalent of many hundreds of 1990's dollars per yard. There were three predominant Broderie Perse styles, Tree of Life, Medallion, and all-over designs. Many of these fine quilts have survived and are displayed in museum collections to this day. They were among the most valued of household possessions then and are still highly prized today. Many of today's fabrics lend themselves to this technique and it is still occasionally seen, though not recognized! My friend has made a bright turquoise vest appliquéd with neon tropical fish, cut from a Hoffman print, I wonder if she realizes that she has used one of the oldest of quiltmaking techniques on this most modern looking of garments?!


7. Quilts in Time of War

Women have used quilts for charitable purposes and fund-raisers since at least the mid-nineteenth century and probably earlier. Some of the most organized and widespread charitable quilting activities took place in times of war. Women worked in the hundreds of thousands to send quilts to men going off to serve in the civil war. They joined Ladies Aid Societies, The US Sanitary Commission, Church groups and Sewing Circles to provide much needed bedding for soldiers, both in the field and in hospitals. Huge fund-raisers were held to raise money for supplies and many valuable family heirlooms were sacrificed in order to help the cause. Many soldiers in the civil war went off to fight with a quilt sent from home. Schoolchildren raised money and made quilts to send. In Alabama woman used quilts to raise money for gunboats! When the war was over quilts were made using fabrics from the uniforms of returning and lost soldiers. Some women inscribed their quilts with the dates and places of battles fought by the soldiers in their families. Fabric was scarce following the war and many quilts were made of homespun or much worn dress scraps. The cotton industry had been greatly disrupted by the war and took some time to recover. The Civil War was not the only war in which quilts played a part. Many quilts were made for soldiers in W.W.I and for war torn Europe following W.W.II. Church groups sent thousands of quilts to Europe in the years following the war. Quilts came through the United Nations and The Red Cross as well. The Church Relief Society of The Church Of Latter Day Saints had collected 5044 quilts by December 1945*. In times of trouble women often turned to the only option open to them to assist, their needles. To this day in times of war women often make quilts to keep occupied if nothing else. More than one quilt was made by women soldiers serving in the Gulf and by their mother's and sisters at home.

Recommended reading:

*Joyce B. Peadon, "Donated Quilts Warmed War Torn Europe", Quiltmaking in

America: Beyond The Myths, Rutledge Hill Press 1994

 

8. Quilt Bees

In the mid to late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries every community had it's quilt bees and most followed a similar pattern. Women spent long winter months piecing tops and over the summer months called on their friends and neighbors to help quilt them. No one wanted to miss a quilting as this was a major social occasion and chance for gossip, if you weren't there yours could be among the names bandied about over the frame! (or frames, often more than one quilt was worked on at a bee in the summer, when the quilting was outdoors). Children were called upon to keep the needles threaded and less skilled quilters and young ladies were often relegated to KP duty, it paid to polish your quilting stitch! Perhaps the most festive Quilting Bees were held to quilt a brides quilt. Traditionally this quilt would be the thirteenth quilt a young girl had made, and displayed her finest work. The time between engagement and wedding was a flurry of quiltings as none of the thirteen quilts were quilted before the engagement. The most expensive part of a quilt was the backing and batting and this investment was not made until it was certain the quilts would be needed to set up housekeeping. The quilt bee was a party as much if not more than a working occasion and a lady made every effort to put on her best for her friends and neighbors. At the end of the day the men joined the ladies for a festive supper and perhaps a barn dance. These events were particularly cherished by the women of the great plains and western states as it was a rare opportunity for them to see other women, they spent most of their days with their own families and chores and might only see others every few months and not at all in the winter. It might be a four or five hour or more journey to the nearest neighbor, a truly perilous trip in winter. Some women were very fussy as to who was invited to a quilting, wanting only the most skilled to work on her quilts. Occasionally the stitches of a less skilled quilter were removed after the bee and redone by the quilts owner. Pride was taken in ones stitches! Quilt Bees still take place today though they are more likely to take the form of a church or charity organization which quilts to raise funds for well deserving causes than as the social occasion which also resulted in the completion of a necessary but tedious task.

The recommended book is:

Quilting Together, by Paula Nadelstern and LynNell Handcock. Published by Crown Publishers,inc. 1988. $35.00

 

9. Singer and The Sewing Machine, A Capitalist Romance

Hello everyone. This is vaguely quilt connected so pass on if you aren't interested. I was lunchtime browsing in the library and found a book entitled SINGER AND THE SEWING MACHINE, A CAPITALIST ROMANCE by Ruth Brandon, published over here in Britain in l977 so I had a little read since the Singer machine is one of the better known names (no, no affiliation, and I don't have one). It made for VERY interesting reading, especially when incorporated into much of American history and the patent wars re early sewing machines. Singer himself was a real rogue in business and a rascal in his personal life, leaving behind 23 children (that we are certain of) when he died over here in England. He is buried in Torquay and also left a mansion, MORE than a mansion I am told, in Torquay called "The Wigwam" as he thought that meant "home". It outsized any castle for miles around and had its own separate theatre. Singer was always more interested in the acting profession and grand gestures than in being a mechanic though he was gifted that way also.

I thought some of the points were most interesting in that we often think of how liberating the sewing machine was in that women could make clothes, quilts, curtains etc at home so much quicker but it wasn't sold as a free-the-woman item, except that it might free her (as said some of the advertisements) to "look after the children better"; it was sold strictly on a money making basis. Since it sold mostly to factories who did not buy very many and Singer wanted it to be popular, it was decided that it must be made "respectable" so every minister's wife was offered one at half price if she could get her husband to buy it (husbands controlling the purse strings). This opened the doors widely as many minister's wives had large families and were in great need of a fast way to sew clothing for the children. Women were generally considered unable to operate ANY type of machinery so Singer got some of his nieces to demonstrate them in large shop windows to show that a woman COULD "master" the machine. All these sales tactics worked as we know today by the popularity of the sewing machine generally. All and all, it was an very enlightening book for summer reading.

 

10. The Drunkard's Path

The Drunkards Path is an interesting one. I believe it is also known as Rocky Road To Kansas among other things and belongs to the "Robbing Peter To Pay Paul" group of designs. These designs depend on a combination of blocks to achieve the full design. Drunkards Path (Usually done in blue and white) was a symbol of support for the temperance movement and drunkards path quilts were used to raise funds for the temperance society and often hung at society meetings. I will see if I can find out anything else about this block.

 

11. Signature Quilts/Album Quilts/Friendship Quilts

Signature quilts were a true nineteenth century fad. The trend began in the early 1840's, surged through the 1850's, faded during the 1860's and 70's and enjoyed a resurgence in the 1880's and 90's. The trend began on the eastern seaboard, between Northern New Jersey and Maryland, with the greatest popularity in the Philadelphia and Baltimore areas. It spread north to Lower New England and west to Ohio before moving south to Virginia and the Carolinas. The earliest known examples are from 1840 or 41. Most of these early signature quilts were of the album or sampler variety, with the single pattern version not seen until about ten years later. This single pattern version was never popular in the Delaware valley are and was more often seen in New York, New England and the western states (though albums were not seen at all in the west until after the civil war). These quilts were often inscribed with more than just signatures. Poems, bible verses and personal notes were all popular. Verses just for this purpose were published in the ladies magazines of the day.The classic "Baltimore" style album was first seen around 1845 or 46. The name Mary Evans is often associated with the Baltimore Album style, but it is certain that she did not make or even have a hand in every "Baltimore" album made, as was once thought. The Baltimore style album was, in fact made also in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Virginia and other Eastern seaboard states. The applique style album was the most popular syle for some time, and many applique patterns trace their origins to this time and trend. Later quilts were often pieced patterns, such as the appropriately named "album patch". Many of these patterns never survived the album craze and are rarely seen in any other quilts. The initial hotbed of album quilts, Eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey never really resumed an interest in these quilts after the civil war, the new popularity of these patterns was in the west, an area that had not participated in the first wave of the fad. Early album quilts found in these areas were brought there from the east and were not, in fact made there.

Just a note I meant to add to the article. The highest price ever paid at auction for an American quit was a Baltimore Album quilt, it sold for $275,000.00, and was immediatly resold for a higher, undisclosed amount. The previous high was also for a Baltimore Album and was $225,000.00.

Dear Janet, I'd have to check some old paperwork but as I recall that sale was at Sotheby's in 1988 or 1989.OOPS! I found it. It was sold first in 1987 for $175,000.00 then resold for something over $200,000.00. I may be mistaken about the $275,00 price as I can find no reference to it now. It may have been resold a third time or I may be thinking of a different quilt. To see a photograph of the quilt look in the color section of Baltimore Beauties and Beyond, Book 1. by Elly Sienkiewicz.

Suggested references:

Remember Me: Women and Their Friendship Quilts, by Linda Otto Lipsett. Published by The Quilt Digest Press

Quiltmaking In America: Beyond The Myth, selected writings from the

American Quilt Study Group. Edited by Laurel Horton, published by Rutledge Hill Press

 

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