Saturday, January 30, 2016

Persis Bradbury's Applique Table Cover

Detail of an appliqued table cover by Persis Ripley Bradbury
"Made by P.R.B. 1864."

You may recall seeing this patriotic appliqued piece in the 1994 book Classic Crib Quilts and How to Make Them by Thomas Woodard and Blanche Greenstein, which recorded many of the small quilts that passed through their dealer showroom.
The fifteen blocks add up to a finished size of  27" x 43", 
indicating each is about 8" square.

See a digital photo online at the Alliance for American Quilts website Quilt Treasures Presents: Woodard and Greenstein.

View more of the favorite quilts from their collection by clicking left and right at the site.

Norway, Maine about 1905

Persis Ripley Bradbury was about 30 years old when she appliqued the date. She lived in Oxford County, Maine, near the Vermont New Hampshire border and was married to Henry A.M. Bradbury, who'd been a private in the 23rd Maine Infantry in 1862. 

See a post on corrections to this post here:

A view of Paris Hill, Oxford County, from the Robert N. Dennis collection of
Stereoscopic Views

Persis was born in 1835 to Valentine and Lovina Ripley, near Buckfield, Maine. She married Henry in 1855 and when he enlisted he left her with baby Elton and three-year-old Ernest. Two older children Henry and Mary had died at 3 years and just a few days old.

Fortunately Henry's regiment never saw battle although many men died of disease in their service guarding the Potomac and other sites in Washington City, Maryland and Virginia. Persis's brother Eliphaz Ripley died in a hospital in Washington in December, 1863. 

The appliqued house

Henry was mustered out in July, 1863, and we hope returned home for the rest of the war. 

The family tombstone tells a sad story of Persis's children. Elton died six months after his father returned. Two later girls died young too.

The five children who died before they were five: 
Henry Woods, Sept 28, 1856 - Feb. 1859
Mary, May 22, 1858 - May 26, 1858
Elton Bird, Jan. 7, 1862-Jan. 23, 1864 [This date has been misread as 1904.]
Vina Ripley, Feb. 18, 1870-July 18,1870
Inez Pearl, Sept. 13, 1871-Feb. 25, 1873
Children of H.A.M. & Persis R. Bradbury

They seem to have had only one surviving child, Ernest Ambrose Bradbury who became a doctor of homeopathic medicine, practicing in Vermont. 

The tombstone was erected when Henry died in 1907.

Persis lived to be 80, dying in 1915. Her family is buried in the Norway Pine Grove Cemetery in Paris, Maine.

In the Woodard and Greenstein book Persis's name is spelled Persius.
(Persis without the U was a rather popular name in that small part of Maine at the time.)

Her small blocks on dark wool have much in common with cotton applique
quilts at the time of the Civil War.

Bed covering dated 1841,
Collection: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

The style is similar to a New England tradition of wool applique, found in large bedquilts.

Wool applique and embroidery on wool, about 1860, 158" x 112"
American Folk Art Museum.

Maine quilt
Collection: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

New England quilt, about 1800-1830. Collection: Winterthur Museum.

And a related tradition of smaller table covers
From Laura Fisher Quilts

Above and below from dealers Elliot  & Grace Snyder

Detail of the Bradbury piece, upper right corner.
Details in the Bradbury table clover, such as the blue seam-covering embroidery and the plaid binding (back brought over front?), however, might indicate that the piece was assembled after 1880 when the feather stitch was quite popular.

Here's a detail of a wool applique quilt from the collection of Historic New England. It's
dated 1854 on the right side in one of the blocks. This one is set together in period fashion. Each block was bound before it was joined---a potholder quilt, we'd call it.

See the whole quilt here at the Quilt Index:

In fact, these two quilts have so much in common,
it must go beyond coincidence.

But why I cannot say.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Westering Women Block 1: Independence Square

Westering Women Block 1
Independence Square
by Becky Brown

We'll begin our trip to the Pacific coast where the westering women began their real adventures, at the far edge of the United States. In the 1840s when the wave of western migration began, the land beyond the Missouri state line was Indian and Mexican Territory stretching to the Pacific.

The western trail began for many in Independence, Missouri, near a bend in the great Missouri River. 
Independence's town square in 1854, published by Herrmann J Meyer.
 The county courthouse was in the town square.

The most efficient way to get to the trailheads in the early years of the migration was to take river boats from eastern homes to the Missouri and Iowa borders. The Missouri River continued north while the immigrants headed over land west by northwest.

Clothing indicates photo from about 1900

The town of Independence was located far from the riverbank because flooding was an annual problem. Several entrepreneurs offered transportation from river boats to the town square.

Each spring travelers gathered in Independence waiting for May 1st. The prairie grasses needed time to grow to provide food for their animals. If a group left early their stock would have nothing to eat. If they left late the four-month trip would linger into fall snowstorms in the mountains.

Wagon train traffic photographed during the Civil War.

Thousands of wagons left Independence in the first few weeks of May every year. 
In 1849 Tamsen E. Donner wrote her sister from Independence:
"I am seated on the grass in the midst of the tent....My three daughters are around me one at my side trying to sew....I can give you no idea of the hurry of the place at this time, It is supposed there will be 7000 waggons start from this place this season. We go to California, to the bay of San Francisco. It is a four months trip. We have three wagons furnished with food and clothing &c, drawn by three yoke of oxen each."
Date unknown
Most travelers used oxen rather than horses to pull their wagons.

Two of Tamsen Donner's surviving
children with a foster mother after their parents perished on the trail.

Tamsen Donner's name may be familiar as she was the matriarch of the ill-fated Donner Party who were trapped in the snow-covered mountains because they strayed from the established trail. Tamsen was among those who died in the winter.

The courthouse is still on the Square in Independence, Missouri,
although it's not the same building.

Linda Mooney is using a red, white and blue color scheme.

In the 1970s, Mabel Obenchain of the Famous Features syndicate designed a quilt block Independence Square to honor Philadelphia during the American Bicentennial celebration. The 9-Patch can also celebrate the old square in Independence, Missouri.

It's BlockBase #1621

Independence Square by Denniele Bohannon

Cutting a 12" Block

A - Cut 4 squares 3-1/8"
B - Cut 16 rectangles 4-1/2" x 1-7/8"
C - Cut 4 rectangles 3-1/8" x 1-7/8" 
D - Cut 9 squares 1-7/8" x 17/8"

Sewing the Block

Make a Nine Patch

See the set information by clicking on the introduction yesterday here:

"Trying to Sew"
Do note Donner mentions that her daughter was "trying to sew" while camping in their tent in Independence. Women were more likely to mention sewing when they were temporarily settled for any length of time rather than when they were camping at noon and night. 

References and Links

I read Tamsen Donner's letters in Volume 1 of Kenneth L. Holmes Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, which includes documents from 1840 to 1849.

Here's a link to a Google Book preview:

A link to online excerpts from her writing:

Ric Burns and PBS did a documentary on the Donners. Read the introduction at this link, which gives us a good summary of the motivation behind the overland migration:
"If ever there was a moment when America seemed in the grip of some great, out-of-the-ordinary pull, it was in 1846. The whole mood was for movement, expansion, and the whole direction was westward."

If you are brave enough to watch it bring snacks and a couple of warm quilts. Just remember it's a worst case scenario.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Westering Women: Introduction

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.

2) Local History
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.

I do want to make it quite clear that I do not believe that women made quilts in any numbers while they were traveling.

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:

Most of the references to women's voices are taken from Kenneth Holmes's Covered Wagon Women, Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, a series of books reprinted by the Nebraska Press.,672466.aspx

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.