Saturday, October 24, 2020

A Union Quilt in Virginia

A pair of embroidered flags and the words

Six-pointed Star Quilt, Albemarle County, Virginia
92" x 75"
Collection of Ash Lawn Highland, the Monroe House Museum

The embroidered vignette is along the right border here, second space up from the bottom right corner. There is also a Masonic embroidered image in the opposite edge.

The Virginia Consortium of Quilters set about documenting quilts in museum collections around the state, a rather daunting task in an area with so long a history. This one is pictured on page 126

They pictured this quilt which is pieced of cottons and wools and embroidered
but not much is known about it.

We can see from the closeups that the star clusters are pieced and then
appliqued to a background that looks to be wool. It's back with a pink
silk that sounds like it's one of the machine quilted fabrics sold as coat lining.

They thought the piece might date to 1810-1850 but the Union image inclines
one to guess more like 1850-1870.

We wish we knew more about the quilt and who in Albemarle County was such
a strong advocate of the Union in the mid-19th-century.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Yankee Notions Blocks: Free Patterns


Our Facebook Group: Ask to Join

2020's pieced monthly pattern at CivilWarQuilts is Yankee Notions, in which we look at cultural ideas across the Mason Dixon line and some tangible Yankee Notions, consumer necessities. Here are links to the monthly patterns so you can catch up with sewing and history.

Blocks 1-10 by Becky Brown
Introduction, Yardage and Set

Block #1 by Jean
Open Book

Block #2 by Cindy

Block #3 by Dena
Water Wheel

Block #4 by Stacy
New Water Wheel

Block #5 by Laura
New England

Block #6 by Sara
Improved Nine Patch

Block #7 by Elsie
Liberty Star

Block #8 by Sharon
Union Star

Block #9 by Susan
Yankee Puzzle

Block #10 by Dorry

You can also buy a 26-page color PDF and print it yourself for $12 at my Etsy shop.

Or if you and your printer are not simpatico I will print them on mine in black and white and mail them to you (in the US) for $16. Here's that link:

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Varina Davis's Drapes?

Fair goers in 1918
Lincoln, Nebraska

Quilts have always been a state fair feature. Visitors to Nebraska's 1916 State Fair viewed 18 "woven quilts"---antique bedcoverings, we can guess, lumped together in the reporter's view.

"One of the patchwork coverings, has the following little story pinned on it:

'During the civil war a raid was made on Jeff Davis' home. The red pieces in the quilt are from the curtain in his library. My father George W. Thompson, a soldier in the civil war, sent this home after the raid. The quilt was made fifty years ago (1866).' 
Note and quilt from Mrs. W. R. Davis of University Place.

University Place, adjacent to Nebraska Wesleyan University

The Confederate White House in Richmond,
occupied by the Union Army in April 1865.

Did George Thompson take a scissors to the drapes at the Davis home in Richmond in 1865?

Maj.General George Ord and staff on the South Portico of the 
White House of the Confederacy, 1865, Library of Congress.
Lace curtains flutter in the breeze here.

A few days after the capture of Richmond Abraham Lincoln and son Tad visited the Davis house.

Civil War memory....
How accurate?
With common names like Davis and Thompson it's difficult to follow up.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Yankee Notions #10: Thrifty

Yankee Notions #10: Thrifty by Denniele Bohannon

This simple nine-patch with four-patches in the corners can symbolize
the quilt's iconic role as a thrifty craft.

From the collections of Historic New England

While Southerners might view Yankees as avaricious and miserly
Northerners liked to think of themselves as thrifty.

"What's more thrifty than a scrappy quilt?" ask those who've never paid $12.50 for a yard of fabric.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, the New England villain in many a Southern mind, gave readers a "little preliminary instruction" in regional quilt traditions in her 1859 book The Minister's Wooing.
"The good wives of New England, impressed with that thrifty orthodoxy of economy which forbids to waste the merest trifle, had a habit of saving every scrap clipped out in the fashioning of household garments, and these they cut into fanciful pattems and constructed of these rainbow shapes and quaint traceries, the arrangement of which became one of their few fine arts. Many a maiden, as she sorted and arranged fluttering bits of green, yellow, red, and blue, felt rising in her breast a passion for somewhat vague and unknown, which came out at length in a new pattern of patchwork. 

Lockport Batting booklet 1930s
Thanks, Harriet, for the durable imagery
of Colonial New England
"Collections of these tiny fragments were always ready to fill an hour when there was nothing else to do; and as the maiden chatted with her beau, her busy flying needle stitched together those pretty bits, which, little in themselves, were destined, by gradual unions and accretions, to bring about at last substantial beauty, warmth, and comfort,— emblems thus of that household life which is to be brought to stability and beauty by reverent economy in husbanding and tact in arranging the little useful and agreeable morsels of daily existence."
Where is Dorothy Parker when you need her?

The Block

 Thrifty by Becky Brown

The simple arrangement is not something you see in the 19th century.
 It was first published in the Kansas City Star in 1939.

Cutting the 12" Finished Block
A - Cut 16 squares 2-1/2"
B - Cut 5 squares 4-1/2"

Cutting the 18" Finished Block
A - Cut 16 squares 3-1/2"
B - Cut 5 squares 6-1/2"

Thrifty by Dorry Emmer

Thrifty by Denniele Bohannon
Denniele used Connecting Threads Color Wheel Solids for her two versions of Yankee Notions.
See that color wheel here:

This Month's Tangible Yankee Notion 
Penny Banks

The first cast-iron mechanical bank, manufactured
by Connecticut's Stevens Foundry in 1869.

New Englander Benjamin Franklin told us in 1758 that "A penny saved is a penny got.” And the place to keep them was in a penny bank.

A politician hiding your money in a Stevens bank
from the 1870s

This collectible cast iron bank may cost you more
than your last actual sewing machine.

Thrifty by Dorry Emmer

This isn't a bank, it's a cast iron toy sewing machine. Turn the crank the
woman sews. 

Later sewing machine bank

Becky Brown's 1-10
Two blocks to go

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Dubious Slave Made Quilt

Quilt associated with the Long family, Gilmer, Texas,
Upshur County.

We have few quilts with accurate stories that enslaved seamstresses worked on them. Unfortunately many of the quilts with that pre-1865 history cannot be reliably dated to the years before the Civil War ended and slaves were freed.

This feathered star quilt attributed to slaves at the Long Plantation in Upshur County Texas by the donor in 1979 is quite typical of Texas quilts in style---but typical of the years 1880-1930 rather than the 1840s-1865.

68" x 83"

Their photo is difficult to see but a little light adjustment shows it to be a red (probably Turkey red) and tan quilt of five 28" blocks (one cut in half and pieced into the bottom), set with triple sashing and a star in the cornerstones. The sashing is extended to make a border but in some places the small star was not used. The quilting is utilitarian, primarily parallel lines echoing the patchwork; the batting looks thick and the quilting stitches (5 or 6 stitches per inch) are probably as small as one could do through the warm batt.

Elizabeth West Smith (1831-1905) & M.S. Long (1822-1906)
from their Find-A-Grave sites

The donor was granddaughter of Matthew Smith Long Sr. She described him as an Irish immigrant who first settled in Tennessee where he acquired slaves which he brought to Texas in the 1840s to work on his 1,000 acre plantation in Little Cypress Creek in Upshur County. She did not mention her grandmother Elizabeth West Long who accompanied him. They must have arrived in the late 1840s. By 1850 Upshur County, about 80 miles west of Shreveport, Louisiana, had nearly 4,000 residents, nearly 700 of whom were slaves. Eastern Texas economy was based on corn, cotton and tobacco. Most of the enslaved workers were likely agricultural workers.

The 1850 census tells us something about the Longs. They married young; Elizabeth was 15 when her first child Nancy was born in Texas. Both parents are listed as being born in Tennessee with all their children being native Texans born after 1847. Were M West and ME West who lived on the adjacent farm relatives of Elizabeth?

Matthew Long's Civil War record as a Confederate soldier in Co. G, Terry's Regiment, Texas Cavalry also indicates he was born in Tennessee.
I did not find any slaves listed in the 1850 census but the 1860 slave schedule for Upshur County shows M.S. Long with 3 enslaved people.

The quilt came to the donor (Bonnie L. Carroll) from her mother who'd received it from her mother-in-law, presumably accompanied by the family story of it's slave-made history. She also wrote:
"The cotton filling in the quilt was raised on the Long plantation....When first made and even after I received it, [quilt] was green, red and white... the green has faded out [to tan]. You will find some machine stitching on the border around the quilt, my mother did this a number of years ago as it became worn from use..."
The green fading to tan is quite typical (unfortunately) of solid colors favored by Southern quiltmakers after 1880. Bonnie Carroll remembered that the tan was once green but did not say whether washing, light or just age deteriorated the color.

Another style characteristic that dates the Long quilt to after 1880 is triple strip sashing, a fashion throughout the South seen in variations below from east Texas quilts dating to the late 19th and early 20th century. Turkey red was a popular choice.

A white strip seems to have been added over
the half stars---perhaps the machine stitching mentioned 
in the caption.

The caption also wonders if the edges haven't been cut down, as explanation for the partial blocks along the edge but that is also a Southern quilt style characteristic often seen after 1880.

Five blocks cut to fit a rectangular format in fading green and red,
east Texas, after 1880. This was a deliberate setting format, often seen.

All in all the feathered star quilt appears to date to about 1900. It possibly could have been made by Elizabeth West Long who lived until 1905 or by one of her daughters or daughters-in-law. 

We certainly need a history of African-American quiltmaking but an accurate history. Serious attention to corroborating evidence in fabrics and style would help develop that history.