Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Cassandra's Circle #2: Mulberry Wreath for Mary Boykin Chesnut

Cassandra's Circle Block #2 
Mulberry Wreath by Denniele Bohannon
Denniele changed the proportions of leaf to rose, which
meant she could fit only 5 leaves in her wreath.
You get the idea.

Painting of Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut (1823-1886)

Mary Chesnut is the Cassandra of our Circle, cast as a figure in a Greek tragedy, a woman who could predict the future only to be ignored by those around her in the Confederate court.

Five of the women in Cassandra's Circle

I had fun Photoshopping dresses and color into a silly background. Mary is in the green dress to the
right of the central figure Varina Howell Davis.

Mary spent a good deal of her life at her husband’s family’s plantation Mulberry in Kershaw County near Camden, South Carolina. The block recalls the place, home to one of the South’s richest families before the war and to hundreds of slaves (including Molly on the right above).  

The Chesnut's house at Mulberry, built by Mary's father-in-law about 1820.
When Mary lived there the plantation occupied 5 square miles,
one of the state's largest.

Mulberry Wreath by Becky Brown
There's a lot of variation possible here---longer stems to fill the corners.
Notice Becky's pieced background.

South Carolina Historic Properties photo of
the entrance hall at Mulberry house

As it was never really her home, Mary did not care to live there. Other houses in more lively places beckoned.
Mulberry about 1900. Broken shutters indicate 
post-Civil-War poverty continued at Mulberry for many
decades. The house stood empty for years in the late 19th-century.

Mary and James Chesnut, 1840
Read more about Mary's youth here:

Mary Boykin Miller married James Chesnut II in April, 1840 when she was just 17 years old. His family was one of the wealthiest in the United States. He became a United States Senator in 1858 but walked out after South Carolina seceded to become an aide to General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard and then to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Mary and James were at the center of the Confederate government throughout the war.

The Block
Mulberry Wreath

A simple wreath with six repeats and the classic rose in the center

Mulberry leaf & fruit

I couldn't find a mulberry wreath in traditional applique.

Here's a sassafras and clover (?) that was the inspiration.

The Pattern

How to print:
Create a word file or a new empty JPG file that is 8-1/2" x 11".
Click on the image above.
Right click on it and save it to your file.
Print that file out 8-1/2" x 11". Note the inch square block for reference.
Adjust the printed page size if necessary.
Add seams.

The rose in the center is the same 6" rose from
Block #1 Washington's Plume.

Mulberry fruit appears in three colors, purplish black, red and white.

Mulberry Wreath by Pat Styring
Pat changed the fruit to dots and made the leaf edges more complex.

Becky is working on her border. She's setting the blocks
with aqua strips. That darker background triangle in the Mulberry Wreath goes in the lower corner.

Mulberry about 1910
Mary & James had a second-story corner bedroom at his parents' home.
"My sleeping apartment is large and airy--has windows opening on the lawn east and south; in those deep window seats, idly looking out, I spend much time. A part of the yard which was a deer park once has the appearance of the primeval forest--the forest trees having been unmolested...are now of immense size. In the spring the air is laden with opopanaz (myrrh), violets, jasmine, crab apple blossoms, roses....And yet there hangs here as in every Southern landscape the saddest pall."
The front porch, no date. 
Mulberry, a private home, is on the National Register of Historic Properties.

Mulberry Today

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Dolly Keys McClanahan's Civil War

Dorothea Keys McClanahan 1802-1892
Her quilt was recorded in the Texas project and pictured in their book Lone Stars.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861 Dolly Keyes McClanahan had been living in Lee County, Texas for about 15 years. She and her husband John Milton McClanahan, known by his middle name, had immigrated from Danville in North Central Alabama to Texas in 1846.

Huntsville Alabama Democrat, 1841

Milton, a veteran of the War of 1812, had been an Alabama state senator in the early 1840s but family stories implied he left for Texas due to a weariness for politics. With their children and enslaved people they settled in the new state northeast of Austin, which eventually became Lee and Burleson Counties...

...Somewhere close to the red star near Yegua Creek.

Yegua Creek land today

Southerners brought a version of the Old South to the Texas plains, planting cotton and corn
on small plantations worked by slaves. The year the McClanahans settled 866 white people and 330 enslaved African-Americans lived in Burleson County.

1860 Census from

All nine McClanahan children were born in Alabama where
Dolly and Milton met and married.

Dolly's son John Milton McClanahan II ready to fight 
Yankees with two guns and a Bowie knife

In 1861 Dolly had just turned sixty; in the fall of that year her 65-year-old husband Milton died.

John Milton McClanahan (1796-1861)

She was apparently living in comfort on the "old homestead" in what was then Burleson County with sons James and William Henry, daughters and servants and farm workers still in slavery. Both James and John Milton II had joined the Confederacy. Oldest John, married and farming nearby, served in Waul's Legion, Commissary Division and may have gone to Vicksburg with them. Second son John served for a short while with the 2nd Texas Infantry Company H in Galveston, but became disabled enough to be sent home. He is recalled as missing a leg.

Dolly's 1864 Tax Assessment 

War and widowhood may have reduced Dolly's fortunes and increased her anxieties but the 1864 tax records for Burleson County indicated she owned 321 acres worth about $1,000. Her greatest wealth was in her "Negroes" 17 people worth $5,100. In that last year of slavery there were 2,905 slaves in the county.

The family who've handed down her quilt believe it to have been made for the occasion of daughter Nancy's wedding to Samuel Pinkney Peebles on March 18, 1864. Nancy did not live long after her marriage, dying at 40 in 1877. Son Eugene, about 12 when he lost his mother, inherited it and passed it to his granddaughter.

The quilt looks to have a border of four strips of Turkey red, chrome orange and the overdyed green common in mid-19th century fancy quilts.

The quilting is triple parallel diagonals, also typical for the time, with some quilting following the rose design and leaves.

What is most interesting about the quilt is that much of the floral is pieced, rather than appliqued. Quilting highlights the circular repeat. See last week's post for another pieced floral that looks appliqued.

Leaves are pieced in there and the rose and buds may be too.

Tennessee quilters were fond of stuffed work quilting

The pattern is unusual but not unique. A similar Texas quilt is in the collection of the Sam Rayburn house near Bonham, Texas. Curators believe their Prairie Rose quilt to date from the 1850s, inherited by the Rayburn family from Tennessee ancestors.

This one, perhaps set later, is in the collection of Texas's
American/International Quilt Association. The peach may
have once been a red, fading in the characteristic manner than
synthetic red dyes after 1880 often did.

Quilt from Tennessee that remained in Tennessee.
Tennessee project & the Quilt Index

The pattern, pieced or appliqued, was popular and has many names. Rose Tree, Missouri Rose, etc. See a post here:

Dolly lived to be 89 years old, apparently still wearing the fashions of the early 19th century as her portrait in a cap above shows. Youngest son Henry never married. He and brother James and his family lived with their mother in the house. The story about Henry is that after his mother died he refused to leave the house because he was content with the "slaves" who waited on him there. By the 1890s those people had not been slaves for 30 years but some must have stayed on as paid servants.

Anytime we find a quilt attributed to a woman with 20 slaves on a cotton plantation we have to wonder who had a hand in the quilt.

Here's Dolly's Find A Grave site with a photo of her quilt included:

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Problem With Samplers

....IS the blocks never turn out the same size.

Reasons---inadequate pattern drawing (Sorry!)

Variations in sewing seams.

Trying to fit blocks based on a division of five into a 12" block.

It is all part of the equation.

If this causes you anxiety consider a face-saving set that will disguise any inadequacies in planning, patterning or sewing.


Cut strips large and piece around each block.
When all blocks are finished cut to the same size.

Set side by side; differences will be so small no one will notice.

Set with sashing. Choose fabrics of similar value to
minimize visual differences.
Do not trim any of the blocks until the end.


Cut large triangles and turn blocks on point

Make triangles large enough that blocks will float inside.
Don't forget to leave that seam allowance when you trim.

Trim the square-in-a-square blocks to the same size. Set on point and your blocks will be on the square. And you will have a very large quilt.

Again, do not trim the triangles until all the blocks are done.

Any other ideas?

Saturday, February 15, 2020

A Pieced Southern Beauty

Quilt associated with Mary Isabel Dickson Carlisle (1846-1934)

Ladies's Circle Patchwork Quilt magazine photographed this quilt with its chintz border at Atlanta's Tulley Smith House years ago. The quilt was donated to the Atlanta History Center with many family photographs, records and the story that it was made for Mary's wedding November 16, 1865 in Athens, Clarke County, Georgia. 

Athens in the early 20th century. The town had two economies,
cotton and education. Mary's family is listed in the 1850
slave schedule with two enslaved people.

Mary's Civil War was spent in Athens. She had a younger brother Henry Hill Dickson (1849-1935) whose obituary tells us had a short Confederate career. He ran away from home to join when he was 14 in 1863. "When discovered, he was presented with a musket and sent home." It does seem that ever after, however, he was known as Colonel Dickson.

Mary was 19 when she married First Lt. James Cozby (Cosby) Carlisle of Wade Hampton's Carolina Regiment. After their marriage and the Civil War's end Mary and James returned to his home in Lowndesville, just across the Savannah River in South Carolina.  The family with their four Carolina-born children moved to Georgia towards the end of the century.

Mary's postwar years in Atlanta were spent in a household with an extended family including her mother, her divorced daughter Annie May Carlisle Johnson (1877-1965) and Annie's children. Annie died a hundred years after her parents were married. 

J.C. Carlisle was active in the Confederate veteran's organizations, perhaps attending this 1886 Gettysburg reunion of Hampton's Legion. Hampton is in the center with the white handlebar moustache.

You cannot see much of Mary's pattern from the photo
but I am guessing it's pieced rather than appliqued....

with seams extending to the edges of the block.

I modified a pattern from Ladies' Circle Patchwork Quilts magazine, which always had the prettiest pattern drawings.

 Even the buds were pieced into the seams. It looks like Mary covered the seams with green embroidery to create stems, a common technique with this uncommon design.

Another version from the mid 19th century

I'd call it a Whig Rose although Mary's family might not have had much to do with Whig politics.

In the 1920s the magazine Household Journal published a similar design under the name Southern Beauty Rose.

We might assume these geometrical rose quilts are appliqued but when working on the Tennessee project Bets Ramsey realized that close examination revealed they are pieced or mostly pieced. Read her AQSG paper "Roses Real and Imaginary: Nineteenth Century Botanical Quilts of the Mid-South," in Uncoverings 1986:

I'm including a pair of pieced roses in the new edition of the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. Here's a pattern for an 18" pieced block.