Saturday, February 26, 2011

9 Birds in the Air

Birds in the Air
by Becky Brown who writes:

"My 'birds' are a little flock of blue birds - my grandmother called them the blue birds of happiness!"
In 1861, as Southern states seceded, leaders justified their actions by expressing fears their Northern sisters were determined to abolish slavery in the entire Union. Florida's secession proclamation cited, "recent indications of the strength of the anti-slavery sentiment of the free States.” 

In fact, most Northerners continued to ignore slavery's injustices and posed no threat to the South's "peculiar institution." Yet the minority who felt obligated to oppose human bondage were persistent and vocal.

Abolitionist was the name for an activist who demanded the end of slavery. In 1784 the "Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage" was organized to reflect Quaker resistance to slavery.

The Philadelphia Antislavery Society photographed in 1851
Women were active members of the antislavery societies.

A cartoon satirizing Martin VanBuren's attempt
to reach out to anti-slavery activitists
features a female abolitionist, a favorite caricature.

Abolitionists used a symbolic image of a kneeling slave, which had been designed to represent English anti-slavery societies and produced as a ceramic medallion by English potter Josiah Wedgwood in 1787. The idea of a durable, small china logo was brilliant publicity.

Copies of the kneeling slave (and a female equivalent) are found on all manner of goods---posters, dinnerware, and textiles---on both sides of the Atlantic.

The shackled woman on abolitionist china.

One antislavery activist recalled purchasing "children's handkerchiefs at auction. Among them were those on the subjects of temperance, Sunday-schools, and abolition of slavery. The latter were particularly striking---a negro kneeling and chained, with the motto, 'Am I Not A Man and A Brother?' "

Quilt attributed to the years 1830-1860,
made by Deborah Coates, Pennsylvania.

Quaker Deborah Coates might have cut a piece from a similar handkerchief for her silk quilt, one of the few surviving quilts with a reference to slavery. Deborah and her husband Lindley were active in anti-slavery politics and the Underground Railroad.

In a central patch is a small copy of the abolitionist image with the words
"Deliver me from the oppression of man."

After Deborah's death in the 1880s, her offspring cut the abolitionist quilt in half, one side for each branch of the family. When their descendents decided to rejoin the pieces, they removed the binding and found the small image of the African man, which had been cut in half and hidden for decades.

The quilt pattern she used was a variation of a popular block pieced of triangles. In 1929 quilt historian Ruth Finley listed names: Birds in the Air, Flying Birds or Flock of Geese. Although we cannot know what Deborah Coates called the pattern, the idea of birds in the air seems particularly appropriate for a block to recall the abolition societies.

Patti Butcher Poe made this adaptation of
Deborah Coate's quilt for my book
Quilts From the Civil War.

Cutting the 8" Finished Block

A - Cut 3 light and 2 dark squares 3-1/2"
Cut each in half with a single diagonal cut. You need 6 light triangles and 3 dark.

B - Cut one dark square 8-7/8". Cut it in half with a single diagonal cut. You need one of those triangles.
Becky wrote that she sprayed starch on the triangles to stabilize them as the seams are on the bias.

The Coates quilt is now in the collection of the Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum. See more about the museum at their website.
Read more about the antislavery image on two blogposts I've done.

And read more about Deborah Coates on the Sesquicentennial Blog maintained by the State Library of Kansas. Scroll down a bit.


Cheryl said...

Interesting that someone would actually cut a quilt in half! Always a great Sat. history lesson.

kathyinozarks said...

I am so enjoying reading and learning from your civil war posts thank you

Anonymous said...

I once saw a quilt at a quilt show which was half of a quilt. Sisters argued over who got it and that was their solution. The second half was lost, but the first half was gorgeous. I wondered what the maker would have thought! Thank you for this new block.

KatieQ said...

Thank you for this wonderful post. I really enjoy reading each installment. It is just amazing that a family would cut a quilt like this in half. I'm glad the quilt was not lost and we are able to learn from it today.

YankeeQuilter said...

Great quilt history lesson...thanks for all you do!

(I just bought a birds in the air quilt top at auction a few weeks ago so this will be a fun block for me!)

Connie said...

Thanks again for the story and block!Can't wait for the Saturday to come!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Enjoy the stories accompanying each block. I have completed my block and posted it along with a how-to on my blog.

Lucky Duck Dreams said...

Fascinating history! I love this block and the bluebirds of happiness!

Mary said...

It would help to know the unfinished size of the Triangles for this block. I would rather oversize them and trim them down to make them match better.

Judy-JDQ said...

I also oversize and trim and knowing the unfinished size would be great!

Das Quiltmonster said...

The story of this block reminds of the magazine "The Art of Vintage Quilts" I bought at e.... some years ago! I remember that the "devided" quilt was touching me, it seems so cruel....
Thanks for sharing your knowledge with all of us!!
Greetings from Regina

Cheryl said...

Another great block, thanks. My local quilt shop has started a group to work on the blocks, swap ideas, help each other out and generally have a good time. She had so many show at the first meeting that she split the group into two classes and may add a third! We're all having so much fun. Thanks again.

Queen Of The Armchair aka Dzintra Stitcheries said...

thank you so much barbara, i'm going to do this...but i will be way behind as i broke my arm...i have recently bought one of your books too...fabrics from the 1800's...i am loving all that goes with these blocks...i'm sure we here in australia are learning much about this era...thanks again, in appreciation...dzintra

Debbie said...

Love this site!! I have done 5 1/2 blocks so far. I discovered that if you set the blocks on point,set 6 x 6 they fit 52 blocks with a large hole in the centre for a block approx 24" (more if you add sashing). Any Ideas for a feature block, perhaps a mariners compass or some applique???

Jacque Wright said...

I think a large applique block would be nice - and I have just the one in mind! Thanks for the idea.

Nat Palaskas said...

Sorry Barbara, I was late thanking you. I only did mine tonight just before you post block 10. Thanks for a fun block of the week. You are so generous. I do appreciate it - Hugs Nat

Nann said...

Funny coincidence -- the Coates quilt was the subject of a story in Am Quilters, Spring '87. That issue was on the giveaway table at our guild meeting this month, and I took it. So within two weeks I have heard about it twice!