Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Hands All Around #1: Hidden Nine Patch for Abigail May Alcott


#1 Hidden Nine Patch remembering Abigail May Alcott by Pat Styring

Pat is rubber-stamping some of her fabrics with Tsukeniko blue ink.

I named this unpublished block Hidden Nine Patch to represent true tales of the underground railroad
when people in Concord, Massachusetts like Abba Alcott hid runaways in their houses.

Abigail May Alcott 

Abigail May Alcott's famous daughter Louisa May Alcott gave us many pictures of her New England  mother in her fiction and letters. Louisa created the enduring portrait of her Marmee in Little Women but left out shadings of the strong-willed woman who managed and essentially supported a difficult husband, suffered through three or four unsuccessful pregnancies and four very successful ones, inspired that sturdy family of four girls through 22 moves in 30 years and practiced a life-long devotion to abolition and the needs of society's unfortunates. 

Her daughter recalled her own commitment to the antislavery cause learned from her mother's actions. Louisa remembered finding an escaped slave in the oven when she was a child.

Oven large enough to hide a grown man

The man in the oven at their Hillside House in Concord, Massachusetts may have been a Maryland fugitive "named for the present John," according to Abba's diary in December, 1846, "an inmate in my family untill some place where work can be provided," By January 13 he was on his way to freedom in Canada. Abba's husband also mentioned "John" in his journal. Bronson Alcott, always the teacher, thought the visitor offered "an impressive lesson to my children, bringing before them the wrongs of the black man."

#1 Hidden Nine Patch by Denniele Bohannon
She's doing two versions. This one is 8".

Louisa remembered the time of Boston's Garrison riot in 1835 (she was three) when she found an incendiary portrait of British abolitionist George Thompson hidden under the bed. She was familiar with "the poor man who had been good to the slaves" and comforted the framed picture under their Boston bed. 

The Alcotts probably kept this print of George Thompson
in their Boston home until caution advised
taking it off parlor display.
"I became an Abolitionist at a very early age, but have never been able to decide whether I was made so by seeing the portrait of George Thompson hidden under a bed... or because I was saved from drowning in the Frog Pond [in Boston] some years later by a colored boy. However that may be, the conversion was genuine; and my greatest pride is in the fact that I lived to know the brave men and women who did so much for the cause, and that I had a very small share in the war which put an end to a great wrong." Louisa Alcott

Her mother was one of the brave women in Concord who welcomed more than one runaway into their own homes. During the Civil War, when Abba was in her early sixties, she's noted as a member not only of the local soldiers' aid societies, donating clothing and supplies to hospitalized Union troops, but also of the Concord's Ladies's Antislavery Society.

#1 By Becky Brown
Becky often makes quilts for her local veteran's home. This one
will be in reproduction prints, several from my Baltimore Blues
collection for Moda a few years ago.

Many in Concord firmly believed from the first shot that the Civil War must end in slavery's abolition. Yet, as Canadian Samuel Gale wrote in 1862 with a hundred dollar contribution for Boston's Ladies Anti-Slavery "Anniversary" event:

"Civil war has broken out, and the Government of the United States appears wrongfully averse to banish slavery from amongst them."
#1 Hidden Nine Patch by Dorry Emmer.
Dorry's doing two sizes too. Her 8" blocks will be a 
Christmas quilt. A couple of people have told me it's
a family Christmas tradition to watch Little Women. 

Before the war women's antislavery groups had raised money to help fugitives, fund public education and support like-minded politicians with antislavery fairs each Christmas season but Lydia Maria Child, head of the Massachusetts groups, changed tactics in the late 1850s by initiating a subscription-only one-day event every January. The Anti-Slavery Subscription Anniversary parties, which continued through the war and after, raised more money than the fairs. 

Rather than spending weeks making items to sell and soliciting donations of food, hardware and knicknacks, the women asked supporters to send cash. 

Abba's sister-in-law Mary Goddard May was one of the women behind the first no-nonsense event inviting people to Boston's Music Hall for a day and evening of conversation, consultation and "addresses"---inspirational speeches.

The Block

Dorry Emmer's 8" blocks were inspired by a snowy day in her Virginia yard last month.

 "One small bush was still holding onto it's red leaves so there will be just a flash of red in each block along with the browns for the deciduous trees and green for the evergreens with a white with some gloss to it for the snowy background."

The month's block has no BlockBase number, no published pattern source or name, but a nine-patch hidden inside a variable star is so logical we'll begin with this variation and call it Hidden Star to remember John in the Alcott's oven. (Just remember I made this up and don't be telling anybody it's an Underground Railroad code.)

An antique nine-patch of a different proportion hidden inside
a variable star from the Civil War era.

A look you'll be able to capture when my latest Civil War
collection Ladies' Legacy arrives in shops in the next few weeks.

Each month you get instructions for rotary cutting 3 sizes:

8” Block (2” Grid)
A—Cut squares 2-1/2” 
B—Cut squares 5-1/4”. Cut each into 4 triangles with two diagonal cuts. 
C—Cut squares 2-7/8”. Cut each into 2 triangles with one diagonal cut. 
D - Cut 9 squares 1-7/8”.

12” Block (3” Grid)
D - 2-1/2"

16” Block (4” Grid) 

D - 3-1/8" (Denniele cut 3-1/4" and trimmed.)

Make 4 B/C Units.
Add A to ends of 2 of those.
Make a Nine Patch of the D squares.
Add B/C Units to either side. 

Our youngest model maker is Denniele's granddaughter Addison
who is 10. She chose Dear Stella fabric with an array of insects,
perfect for Abba Alcott, a friend of naturalists like Henry Thoreau
and Minot Pratt.

Post Script

#1 Hidden Nine Patch by Denniele Bohannon,
18" version

After the war Louisa and youngest sister May were able to travel to Europe, a long-held dream for both. Louisa, more of a homebody than May, returned to find her mother had aged while she was gone.

"Marmee was much changed...wears caps."

Abba was photographed in her age-appropriate cap in the Orchard House library in 1875,
 a year or two before her death.

“Every woman with a feeling heart and thinking head is answerable to her God, if she do not plead the cause of the oppressed.” Abba's journal.

Abba also made quilts. 

Detail of a triangle quilt attributed to Abigail May Alcott in
the collection of Orchard House. Massachusetts Quilt Project &
the Quilt Index. Two fabrics, one a Prussian blue stripe that
must have been someone's very fashionable dress about 1850.

Here's another:

See a link here to a post on Abba's quilts.

She was badly burned on her hand and face when she was a baby and that scarred hand may have been a handicapping condition when it came to sewing---nevertheless, she persisted.

I once did a Moda fabric collection Old Cambridge Pike with three prints referring to the Alcotts. You may still have some in the scrapbag (scrap room.) 

Size without Borders 
8” Blocks = 40” 
12” Blocks = 60” 
16” Blocks = 80”

This month's set is basic: 12 sampler stars + 13 alternate unpieced squares. I used the paisley stripe from Ladies' Legacy in my EQ8 mock-up. (In shops in March.) Any large scale print would be a dramatic contrast.

Further Reading (& Watching:)

Eva LaPlante, descendant of Abba's family the Mays, has published two books about Abigail Alcott.

My Heart Is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother

Marmee & Louisa. See a preview of the biography here:

LaPlante's gone into detail about Abba and her Boston family, welcome information.

Watch a 45 minute You Tube presentation by Eva:

The book begins with Eva and daughter going through a trunk in an attic: "Inside the trunk, beneath feathered ladies's hats and a nineteenth-century quilt...."

Wait a minute! That's the last word in the book about the quilt. I am going to have to write her.

UPDATE: The programmers at Blogspot are so bad at preventing spam that I had to disable comments. Sorry as I enjoy reading them unless they are from voodoo doctors. I'll open it up again in late January and see what happens.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Dress Prints ---Portraits


Lucy Cottrell and her charge in Virginia,  about 1845

Lucy's dress probably looked much
like this in color, a very showy Prussian blue stripe,
fashionable in the 1840s and '50s.

The daguerreotype of Lucy is in the collection of the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center. A slave whose duty is childcare, she holds her toddler charge in a common pose. Lucy is probably more a prop to keep the baby still enough to photograph than a person, an individual to be recorded and recalled by the people who paid for the photo. However, she is dressed for the photographer in a fashionable striped dress. It's so crisp it looks like cotton.

Or her dress might be a wool combination fabric as
in this dress from Tasha Tudor's collection.

Almost out of the picture, the woman seems to have a
nine patch quilt in her lap. We'd like to see more of the textiles---
and of course more about the women's lives. Showing some period
 prints can bring the photos a little more to life.

Unknown woman in a checked apron and a striped floral dress.

Florals set in stripes

Most of these photos are from online auctions. I've
lightened them up to show the prints and the faces in the shadows.

Combination wool/silk weave---challis

Some women wear more formal wool and silk
street dress as in this carte-de-visite.

And older women often wear head scarves and something
like a uniform.

The uniform seems to become more standardized
after the war and emancipation when roles,
perhaps, were sharply defined in the new era of equality.

Many nannies of the 1840-1865 period are dressed in what may have been their
working wardrobe, at least when they were showing off the children, say to parents and
guests after supper.

Skinner auction.
Perhaps her best dress.

Document print for a repro in my Ladies Legacy
fabric collection for Moda, out soon.

Child care with flair.

This Philadelphia cabinet card looks like a post-war
photo but the dress print.....

with its wide stripes full of seaweedish vegetation...

Sleeves rolled up for work. Did that baby
just come out of the bathwater?

Short sleeves a practical solution.

Missouri Historical Society

Dresses one would wear to chase
after a toddler. Printed plaids or woven?

A printed plaid

Someone's hair saved in the metal case

Foulards (spotty figures in a diagonal repeat) were 
quite popular during the Civil War years.

Polka dots are a form of foulard.

We can hope that pudgy baby is just sleeping
but from the look on the woman's face---a post-mortem portrait.

National Humanities Center, Photographs of Enslaved African Americans, 1847-ca. 1863