Saturday, October 18, 2014

Abolitionist Image on the Wistar Quilt

"Remember the Slave. Rebecca S. Hart"

This month's block Lancaster Star recalls a Quaker quilt with a printed image of the kneeling slave. (Scroll down to see the September 27th post.)

Another version, this one hand-drawn, is inked on a quilt by Sarah Wistar in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum.

Wistar Family Tree Quilt, blocks inscribed 1842-1843
IQSC collection #2005.059.0001

The Wistars were a prominent Quaker family in Philadelphia.

Rebecca S. Hart's block may have been
drawn from this image in the Liberator,
a leading abolitionist periodical.

Note that the figure is a woman. This kneeling slave headed the Ladies' Department in the paper during the 1830s.

See the quilt at IQSC's website here:

Read more about it at Quaker Quilt History:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Emma Safford's Inked Civil War Quilt

"Commenced March 22' 1862
Emma S. Safford"

The great-great grandniece of Emma Safford inherited this quilt (it looks like an unquilted, bound coverlet) and has shown it in the past decade or so.

Each of the Turkey red and white blocks is inscribed
with an outline-embroidered initial E or S, or a pair of crossed flags.
In the white strips are inked inscriptions and drawings.
This block commemorates Abraham Lincoln and announces
the quilt was "Commenced March 22, 1862."

Articles about the quilt say that the inscriptions contain portraits of the first 16 (or more accurately---22) Presidents of the U.S. in the edge triangles. The quilt was probably finished before 1889 when 23rd President Benjamin Harrison took office. The 22nd and 24th President was Grover Cleveland. Each portrait is accompanied by the politician's birthday and date of election.

Other inscriptions recall major Civil War battles and items such as the 1862 national debt of $491 million dollars.

The quilt seems to have been begun during the Civil War, or at least the inked inscriptions on the white cotton were commenced in 1862. One can guess that Emma continued inking for decades. The fact that her initial E is embroidered in  flowery, outline fashion is a clue to a post-1880 date, however. This type of embroidery and patterns for such monograms tend to be after 1880.

Outline embroidered "S" on a crazy quilt.

Photo of Emma Safford passed down with the quilt.

The family knew little about her. I found two possible candidates as quiltmaker.

A woman from Massachusetts:
 Emma S. Safford (1837-1911) married to Henry H. Safford (his second marriage) and buried in the Main Street Cemetery, Hudson, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.
Here's the link:

And one from Illinois:
Emma Safford Pettit (1853-1928) born in Marengo Illinois, married in 1876 to Daniel Barton Pettit Jr. and buried in Belvidere Cemetery, Boone County, Illinois. She died at the home of her son in Columbia Falls, Montana.

I'm betting on the Massachusetts woman, about 24 in 1862, rather than the Illinois Emma who was only 9 then.

See stories about this quilt here:

Saturday, October 4, 2014

"Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War" at the Shelburne

Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War is currently on view at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont through January 1, 2015. 

The exhibit "highlights a broad range of textile artifacts and other objects to explore the Civil War. Textiles from collections across the United States, including quilts from Shelburne Museum, tell the political, economic and social histories of the Civil War through fabric and cloth."

You may have viewed the show in New York (above at the New York Historical Society) or
at the American Textile History Museum in Massachusetts but the Shelburne will be adding quilts from their collection, so this venue is worth another view.

Detail of a stuffed work flag quilt by 
Mary Green McPherson, Arkansas

Read posts I've done about this quilt here:

This show, curated by Madelyn Shaw and Lynne Zacek Bassett, originated at the American Textile History Museum. The next venue is scheduled for the Nebraska State Historical Society in Lincoln, opening February 1, 2015.

The prize-winning catalog is available on
line from the American Textile History Museum store:

(A reader posted this comment about ordering the catalog: You can email or call Sandra Price at 978-441-0400.)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Threads of Memory 9: Lancaster Star for Deborah Simmons Coates

Lancaster Star by Becky Brown

Silk quilt by Deborah Simmons Coates, 
Collection of The Heritage Center of Lancaster County.

The triangle design along the Lancaster Star's edges recalls Deborah Coates's quilt. The silk quilt, pictured in the book Heart and Hands: Women, Quilts, and American Society, was cut in half for two descendants.

Read more about the book here:
Photograph: The Heritage Center of Lancaster County
This recent photo shows the color more accurately.

The block is often called Birds in the Air. This month's new design Lancaster Star honors the Coates family and others  in Lancaster County who resisted slavery's laws.

Lancaster Star by Jean Stanclift

Deborah Coates's silk quilt  featured an image on a central triangle, an African man in chains kneeling under the words: "Deliver me from the oppression of man." The kneeling slave was a common symbol for the abolitionist movement, originating in England where Josiah Wedgewood manufactured small blue and white medallions in his china works. 

Easily shipped and easily adapted to all manner of decorative arts, the cameos were worn by abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic. The kneeling slave was translated to posters, dinnerware, and textiles.

Brocade handkerchief with kneeling slave. Source?
For her quilt Deborah Coates may have cut a piece from a similar handkerchief. There is no doubt that she meant to make a statement. The Coates farm in Lancaster County on the northern border of Maryland was one of the many Pennsylvania links in the chain to freedom in Canada.

Deborah Simmons Coates 1801-1888
From the Massachusetts Historical Society Collection

Born a Quaker in 1801, Deborah T. Simmons married Lindley Coates when she was eighteen years old. Like the rest of the large religious community in southeastern Pennsylvania they followed the Quaker conscience by refusing to own slaves. For the Coates family, passive abstention was not enough. Lindley tried futile political attempts to change the laws before he and Deborah  decided to resist the law by hiding fugitives.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 increased dangers to runaways and those who helped them. Vigilantes retaliated against antislavery neighbors, burning the Coates' barn. Posses kidnapped Northern blacks to sell them into slavery or collect "rewards" from Southerners claiming to be aggrieved owners. A black man recalled that people in the area lived "in constant fear" of kidnapping. When a free girl was waylaid by local slave-nabbers known as the Gap Gang, a group of blacks resisted. "The girl was rescued and her captors terribly, if not fatally, beaten," according to local historian Robert Clemens Smedley.

Lancaster Star by Becky Brown

Soon American newspapers were full of reports about a violent confrontation in the nearby town of Christiana where Southerners intent upon retrieving a young man met resistance from Pennsylvanians, black and white. "The Christiana Riot" was seen as treason as well as murder when the slave owner was killed and his quarry helped to escape to Canada.

The Slave Riot, Baltimore Sun, 1851

Posses "scoured [the country arresting] every colored man that they could find," recorded Smedley.

Terrified blacks sought refuge at the Coates farm, where they "were taken to the corn field and hidden under the shocks." While the men in the family were away, Deborah played host to "a party of these ruffians, for such they were, [who] searched the house from cellar to garret, and that without a warrant."

Christiana, Lancaster County, at the end of the century

After the Christiana Riot, 41 men faced indictment, including several Quakers charged with the undeniably illegal activity of refusing to assist the Marshal in retrieving the fugitives. As Quaker passivity became high treason, the rift between North and South widened.

Cutting a 12" Block
A - Cut 4 squares 3 1/2" x 3 1/2".

B  - Cut 6 squares  4 1/4" x 4 1/4" of various shades.

Cut each into 4 triangles with 2 cuts. You'll need 24 triangles.

C - Cut 4 squares 3 7/8" x 3 7/8" for the star points.

Cut each into 2 triangles with a diagonal cut. You need 8 triangles.

D – Cut 1 square 4 1/2" x 4 1/2". UPDATE: Some readers say try 5" if it doesn't fit.


What We Can Learn About the Underground Railroad from Deborah Simmons Coates Story

The figure inked on Deborah's quilt was familiar in antislavery literature, an early example of an image uniting a group and raising public awareness of its reformist goals. The picture on her quilt was a visual code, although not a secret code. If a runaway was looking for a friend in Lancaster County a Wedgewood cameo pin would be a good clue.

Make a Quilt a Month

Set nine Lancaster Star blocks with 3" finished sashing and a 3" border to create a 54" quilt. Experiment with shading to get different looks. Here the shading emphasizes a central pinwheel in each block.

To read a full text version of Robert Clemens Smedley's 1888 book History of the Underground Railroad in Chester and the Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania click on this link:
Once the full text page comes up you can read more about the Coates family by searching in the book on the right for the name Coates.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Lincoln Crazy Quilt

Dealer Julie Silber had an exceptional crazy quilt for
sale last week at the American Quilt Study Group meeting
in Milwaukee. It's dated 1882-1884.

The seamstress included several political ribbons
such as a Garfield/Arthur ribbon from 1880.
By 1882 Arthur was President; Garfield had
died, a victim of a gunshot wound.

Another indication of mourning:
a ribbon with a portrait of President
Lincoln, "Our Martyred Father! We
Mourn His Loss." This looks like
silk but the only example I can find online
was paper.

Paper example

The most important ribbons were two from
Lincoln's presidential campaign. The blue
ribbon on the left is in poor condition (as is my photo)
but I recall it was from the Lincoln/Hamlin campaign
of 1860.

The 1864 Lincoln/Johnson campaign ribbon is in great shape.

Two other examples

Here's a ribbon featuring Winfield Scott as
"Hero of Many Battles" from his failed 1852 campaign,

and one from the losing Winfield Scott Hancock/
William H. English ticket of 1880. The rooster
indicates they were Democrats.

The embroidered imagery on the quilt is
also striking,

particularly this painted portrait of an
older black man with two children.

Contact for Julie:

The Merchant's Mall at AQSG meetings is always

That's a temperance sampler on the left.

Next September in Indianapolis.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Period Quilting Frames Part 2

Last week I showed pictures of traditional quilt frames and how they were propped up parallel to the ground. The four boards that support the quilt were not permanently joined together.

The simplest way to hold the boards together may
be C Clamps as in the above photo from Canada about 1900.

C Clamps are adjustable hardware that looks like the letter C.
They can be manufactured as the metal antique above

or handmade as in these wooden clamps.

In this more recent picture manufactured metal clamps
seem to be holding the boards together. We can see by the
borders that the quilt is extended out as far as it goes.

The frame can be propped up in the back of the church
basement when not in use. Here the Methodist quilters
in Wheatland Texas pose with a Trip Around the World
quilt in a C clamped frame.

Cheyenne women using a frame supported by
sawhorses and C clamps in 1961. The frame
is clamped so a smaller area of the quilt
shows. Quilters usually begin in the center and work
out to the edges.

Here's a frame positioned to take up
the least amount of space. If working alone
or with one or two others, this is a good
solution to the space problem, a smaller footprint as we'd say today.

C-clamp upside down in
Saginaw, Michigan, perhaps about 1950. 
Does anybody quilt standing up? 
These women need
ladder-back chairs so they can lower the frame.
I wonder about the authenticity of this staged photo.

The history of manufactured C-clamps is as vague to me as the history of sawhorses. You might want to do a little hardware study to see what the typical C-clamp looked like in 1863.

The frame in Kimmel's 1813 painting is lashed together
with the same string or strips that fix the quilt to the frame.
This might be a good solution if you don't have 4 period C-clamps.

I also see regularly spaced holes in the boards above.

Similar to what's depicted in this quilting scene from Harper's Weekly
in 1863.

I have an old frame like this with holes down the middle of the boards.

LRStitched blogged about a pierced board she inherited
from her great-grandmother.

Those holes could serve several uses. One could thread the quilt to the frame using them, or hang the
frame from the ceiling with rope through the holes. The holes might intended for pegs. You'd line up the holes and peg them together as you rolled the quilt up.

H W. Pierce's "A Quilting Bee in the Olden Time," a nostalgic
print from 1876,  shows "colonial ladies" at a frame held together with pegs
and holes. He probably knew little about how 18th-century quilters
constructed frames, but this seems like an accurate representation
of a 19th-century frame.

The frame is held together perhaps with
pegs through the holes, resting on a middle
rung in a ladder back chair. Is that a reticule
(purse) hanging from the chair?

In this 1990 photograph from Florida Memory
Alma Bailey is quilting on a frame with what look to be home-made
wooden pegs holding the frame together. The holes in the frame are also used
to attach the sides of the quilt to the frame. The left-over string hanging down
will be laced to the frame and the quilt as the frame is extended and re-pegged.
See the photo here:

Again in Florida, women peg a frame together.
The Florida Memory site has dozens of
pictures from about 1990 showing quilting groups using
a variety of traditional quilting frames. Search for "Quilt" on their site.

Another way to roll the quilt up on the frame
is the cogwheel. See a discussion here:

The other board that LRStitched inherited is also full
of holes, but they don't pierce through the board and
the holes are very irregular.

Library of Congress
These smaller holes are probably made by tacks that
held the fabric that held the quilt to the frame.

You wouldn't want to tack the actual quilt or backing to the frame, but you'd tack a sturdy piece of fabric like the ticking in the above mid-20th century of quilters in Lititz, Pennsylvania. The quilt is pinned or basted to the striped ticking.

The Canadian women have wound strips to the frame
to support the quilt, rather than tacking the sturdy cloth to the frame.

These early 20th-century women have tied the
sides of the quilt to the frame with string. It doesn't look too stable,
but they are tying or tacking the piece rather than quilting it.

If I were looking for Civil-War-era accuracy, I'd stick with
home-made solutions rather than factory-built hardware
and frames.

Woman in White Springs, Florida
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

And don't even think about a hoop. It's a 20th-century idea.