Saturday, November 17, 2018

Quilts "In War Time" #1: Cotton Famine

1862 in the quilting, "Martha"
From Stella Rubin's inventory

I've been going through my files of quilts date-inscribed between 1861 and 1865, the years of the American Civil War. I have far fewer quilts dated in those five years than say from 1851-1855. 

Block dated 1862

The year 1863 has the fewest. I count 16 date-inscribed quilts, while my Pinterest page with quilts dated 1853 has well over 50.

Vermonter Jane Stickle dated her remarkable sampler "In War Time 1863."
Jane brings up the fact that some of these elaborate quilts took YEARS to
make, so a quilt begun in 1853 might have been dated 1863.

Here's a single block dated 1863
"George Douglas, Baltimore"
1863
What happened to the quilt fad of the fifties?
One good reason for fewer quilts (fancy work) was that women's sewing time was dedicated to war efforts---quilts and clothing for soldiers.

Quilt inscribed 1864 by Charlotte Fitzgerald Hussey
& Susan Hussey, Detroit Michigan
Collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum
 1997.007.0569

Update: I updated the information on this 1864 quilt
after getting a note from Assistant Curator Jonathan Gregory,
telling me that there is nothing to indicate this was actually
a quilt for the Sanitary Commission. But it is an 1864 quilt.


Another option---a lot of the quilts made during the Civil War were destroyed deliberately or accidentally in hospitals and occupied territories---but then again, quilts of all dates before 1865 were victims of sanitation, plunder and marauding troops. So destruction is probably not the primary cause of the lack of date-inscribed quilts during the 1860s.

Sophia L Beach, Granby, Connecticut, 1864


A third reason---cotton was scarce. Quilts with so much fabric wasted in their seam allowances grow out of an abundance of material rather than a scarcity. 

1864, Rockland, Maine

Just how scarce was cotton material between 1861 and 1865?

I thought I'd look at cotton production during the war so the next few Saturday posts will discuss King Cotton, the Cotton Famine and the price of a pound and a yard of cotton.

Quilt fabrics were abundant in Evansville, Indiana right before the war. Furniture prints (chintz), comfort prints (chintz), Patchwork Prints (not cheatercloth but inexpensive calicoes and solids appropriate for quilts), California shirtings, Bleached Muslins, Shirting Stripes....

3 comments:

Lynn Taylor said...

Very interesting. I'm from Evansville and currently live there. Thank you for posting this bit of our history.

Pieceful Lady said...

Very interesting.look forward to the rest of the history. Thank you

lissa said...

Always so interesting. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.