Tomorrow I'll post the first pattern in my 2016 Block of the Month Series Westering Women. Today: An introduction, discussing the format for the free pattern, a suggested set, history behind the posts and sources.
1) The Format
It's a free Block-of-the-Month, easy to access. No signing in or signing up. Just check this blog on the last Wednesday of every month in 2016. Or subscribe by email so the info goes into your mail box.
2) The Set
If you want to plan ahead: You'll be getting 12 blocks, finishing to 12". Here's a suggested set based on tradition.
3” sash & cornerstones, 9” Borders
66” x 81”
Yardage from EQ7
Cornerstones - 1/4 yard
Sashing - 1-1/8 yards
Border - 2 yards
For the blocks---if you are starting from scratch---
6 half-yard pieces or 12 quarter yard pieces will give you the variety you need (3 yards). It just depends on how scrappy a look you want.
Cutting the Cornerstones: Cut 20 squares 3-1/2" x 3-1/2".
Cutting the Sashing: Cut 47 strips 3-1/2" x 12-1/2".
Cutting the Border:Cut 2 strips 9-1/2" x 66-1/2" for the top and bottom.
Cut 2 strips 9-1/2" x 63-1/2" for the sides.
I originally wrote this series for my quilt guild in eastern Kansas. The Oregon/California/Santa Fe Trails are local history to us. We're surrounded with references to the overland roads. For example, many of our members live in the city of Overland Park, Kansas, near streets named Santa Fe and Mission Road.
Madonna of the Trail sculpture by August Leimbach.
The DAR situated these monuments
along the trail from Maryland to California in the 1920s.
The series is skewed geographically to our local history (if we lived in Iowa I'd be talking more about the Mormon Trail and Council Bluffs).
A life-size stone buffalo by James Patti is a
landmark in my neighborhood.
The block-of-the-month also supposes you readers know a lot about the trail. Most Americans understand why people left the east, how they settled the west and how that massive migration became a pillar of our past.
If you would like to read more background see the references at the bottom of the page.
Silent Movie Poster
3) History and Mythology.
Because the stories of the western settlement are so important to our identity they are full of mythological heroism, dangers, triumph and suffering. A good deal of what we know is myth based on 20th-century imagery and stories from sculpture, movies and television westerns.
12 Quilts of the Covered Wagon
Quilts and quiltmaking tend to become part of any American story of hardship from the Civil War and the Great Depression to frontier living and log cabins. I will address a few myths about the trail, and the role of quiltmaking in the lives of travelers over the year.
I've occasionally seen Ruby McKim's 20th-century
embroidered Colonial History quilt advertised
as an authentic wagon-train-made quilt.
Detail. Quilt made from Oregon Pioneer Association Ribbons, 1923.
Collection of the American Folk Art Museum
Women brought quilts; they made quilts when they found new homes and they continue to remember the migration story through quilts.
Abut 1940 the Omaha World Herald printed a
pattern for a pioneer embroidered quilt featuring The Covered Wagon States.
Block from an online listing
See a quilt made from this pattern at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum website:
If you are hoping to hear stories about quilts actually made on the trip west, you will have to look elsewhere. The quilt blocks we'll be making were named in the 20th century, part of the nostalgic re-telling of the migration history.
Historical Sources for the Women's Words.
When I first became interested in following the trails west I read many women's diaries and letters looking for descriptions of local landmarks. I was struck by the lack of mention of sewing in these diaries since I'd taken it for granted that quiltmaking was part of all frontier experience. After reading dozens I realized patchwork or quilting was rare while traveling and I wrote a paper on the topic for the American Quilt Study Group. It's not online but read it in Uncoverings 13, 1992.
Barbara Brackman, "Quiltmaking on the Overland Trails: Evidence From Women's Writing,"
Uncoverings 1992, Volume 13 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group. Edited by Laurel Horton.
Buy the book here:
Many of the individual documents are now available online and I will provide links to them in the posts.
Warning--this photo is probably about 1900
In the posts I'll try to use original period illustrations such as engravings and paintings from the era. Photographs are always suspect. Many are reproduction photo setups or from old movies. I have to confess to falling for many of the reproduction pictures. You can tell from the women's clothing and hair styles that it's not 1860 or even 1880, but the photos look so great. I'll try to warn you when I use reproduction set-ups and late photos of women and wagons.
I hope not to upset your wagon of preconceived notions about women on the way west, but I've always felt that knowing a true history is far more interesting than the noble myth. I hope you find that true too.
Ezra Meeker did a lot of wagon train recreations in the early 20th century.
It looks pretty good but it's 1900 in downtown Seattle.
You quickly learn to recognize Ezra Meeker (on the left) who set up and sold these postcards.
More background to read---these references are decades old but still important.
Glenda Riley, "The Frontier in Process: Iowa 's Trail Women As a Paradigm," The Annals of Iowa Volume 46 Number 3 (Winter, 1982) pps. 167-197. Available online:
Merrill J. Mattes, The Great Platte River Road: The Covered Wagon Mainline via Fort Kearny to Fort Laramie, 1987.
John Mack Faragher, Women and Men on the Overland Trail, 2001.