Saturday, May 28, 2016

Buying a Chariot Wheel Quilt

A chariot wheel?
Estimated date 1840-1880

Eliza Suggs was born after the Civil War to parents who had been slaves in North Carolina. In 1906 she published Shadows and Sunshine, a book about her family and the stories she'd heard of life before emancipation.

Most of the tales were quite sad. Her father James disappeared during the Civil War, leaving wife Malinda with four children. Their owner Mr. Suggs removed two of the children to another place so Malinda would not try to escape. He knew she would not leave her children.

After the war James Suggs returned. He'd escaped and joined the Union Army, serving as a private in the 27th Colored Infantry.The family moved west to Illinois and on to Kansas and Nebraska.

 Eliza was born with a bone disease and never grew correctly. She is on the left below with her sisters. She required a good deal of care since she could not walk and her sister Katie in the center was responsible for that care.

One story Eliza recorded tells of her parents' marriage:
"While James was still quite young [he was born in 1831], Mr. Suggs bought a little slave girl, named Malinda Filbrick. In time, James and Malinda came to love each other, and were married while yet in their teens.

Malinda and James Suggs long after the war.

The same pride of heart which had manifested itself in his own stylish appearance, now prompted him to lavish his extra earnings on his young bride."

Ear-drops on an unknown woman,
what we call earrings
"One instance of his extravagant indulgence was the purchase of a $7.00 pair of ear-drops, which doubtless afforded him much gratification until the ill-fated day when they proved too strong a temptation to a party of Union soldiers, who carried them off as spoils. 
"Another outlay of his surplus earnings was in the purchase, for his wife, of a remarkable quilt, made after the pattern known as 'the chariot-wheel.' This was truly a masterpiece of skill, and was highly prized by my mother. It seemed about to share the same fate as the ear-drops and was in the hands of a Union soldier, when the earnest pleadings of my mother prevailed upon the kind-hearted officer in charge to give orders for its restoration."
Soldiers stealing bedding in a detail from George Caleb Bingham's
Order Number 11.

It is interesting to hear that Eliza's father had cash to buy luxuries for his young wife. Eliza did not describe the chariot wheel quilt any further and it may not have survived into her lifetime.

My first thought when I hear of a chariot wheel quilt is a pieced wheel of fortune type such as the purple and green quilt (BlockBase 3388) but those quilts tend to be late in the 19th century.

A pieced wheel about 1900

This 1917 fictional piece described several old Kentucky quilts that were not pictured, including

 "the chariot-wheel pattern, she pieced when she was but 9 years old. I looked at the hundreds of tiny pieces, which comprised the wheels of the chariot..." 

That sounds similar to the picture above, an intricate pieced quilt.

But what would a Chariot Wheel quilt from before the Civil War look like?

Carrie Hall's "Ben Hur's Chariot Wheel" in the collection of the Spencer Museum of Art.

In 1935 Carrie Hall showed an elaborate applique quilt we might call Princess Feather and named it Ben Hur's Chariot Wheel. That allusion to a popular book published in 1880 seems obscure now. Perhaps this was the kind of quilt that James Suggs bought for Malinda.

The quilt shown above in Georgia Quilts: Piecing Together a History was thought by the family to have been made by Granny James in 1845 and captioned Princess Feather or Chariot Wheel. The fabrics and style look post-Civil War but the pattern goes back to the early 19th century.

Quilt called Chariot Wheel from Warman's Vintage Quilts
another late-19th century example.

Read Eliza Suggs's Shadows and Sunshine here at Documenting the American South:

Chariot wheel is also the name of a common weaving pattern that looks like the above. Another quilt pattern possibility.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Westering Women 5: The Platte River

Westering Women Block 5: The Platte River by Becky Brown
Becky says she tries to make a story each month with the fabric. "The center is the murky river water, surrounded by the dark muddy banks. . .the trail eventually leads to land where crops are prosperous (the Orchard print). That's my story, and I'm sticking to it." She's using my Old Cambridge Pike prints. 
Whatever “jumping off place” they chose---St. Joseph, Westport, Independence or Kanesville near today’s Council Bluffs, Iowa, travelers along the Oregon Trail finally joined up at the Platte River. The wide river and its bed provided a natural trail to the west.
“We are traveling up Platte river bottom, the north side” wrote Amelia Knight in 1853. “It is a beautiful river about a mile across, full of Islands and sand bars. As far as the eye can reach the road is covered with teams.”
The trails to Portland, Oregon showing the Platte River in red in what
is now the state of Nebraska.

Crossing the Platte River by William Henry Jackson, 1930 (detail)
Jackson photographed the overland trails beginning in the 1870s.  Six decades later when in his 90's he painted recollections and imaginary recreations of the scenes. This one of the Platte may exaggerate it's width. Jackson didn't seem to remember many women on the trail.

The Platte in eastern Nebraska

The river provided not only a roadway but grass for the teams and water for all.

Abigail Jane Scott Duniway, camped near Grand Island, described its many uses.
May 28, 1852
"We drove our cattle on to this island to graze and the men waded across to it and got wood for cooking purposes. The stream where they crossed over to the island was about three feet deep and one hundred yards in width with a quick-sand bottom; the water is thick with sand. We mixed [corn] meal with it and after it settles a while strain it, and it becomes tolerably clear."
Tolerable enough to drink.

 Platte River

Block 5 is an original for the series, adapted from a complex design called Nebraska that appeared about a century ago in the magazine Hearth & Home, which asked readers for a block for each state.

Nebraska is BlockBase #1941
The simpler block drawn from its center represents Nebraska’s great river, the Platte, the focus of the trail to the west coast.

Cutting a 12" Finished Block
A - Cut squares (or strips-see below) 1-1/2" x 1-1/2" .
B - Cut strips 1-1/2" x 6-1/2".
C - Cut 1 square 6-1/2".

You will probably want to strip piece the little nine-patches made of the A squares.

Instead of square A, cut strips 1-1/2" x 10"
Assemble these into two different units

cut them into 1-1/2" strips and stitch them into 9 patches.

Piecing the Block

Five blocks!

Amelia Stewart Knight 1817-1896

Read Amelia Knight's diary at this link:
Abigail Scott Duniway 1834-1915.
She's probably in her late teens here or early twenties in the early 1860s.

Abigail Scott's is in Volume 5 of Covered Wagon Women, edited by Kenneth L. Holmes and David Duniway. See a preview of the book here:

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Minnie Sherman Fitch's Quilt

Grand Army Quilt by Minnie Sherman Fitch
About 1885-1910
This is the last weekend to see the crazy quilt with a Civil War theme that is on display at the New York Historical Society.
Threads of Women's History: Recent Needlework Acquisitions includes samplers and three quilts, featuring one by William T. Sherman's eldest daughter Maria Ewing Sherman Fitch. The show closes Sunday May 22, 2016.

Maria Ewing Sherman (1851-1913) and her grandmother Maria Ewing,
about 1855, Archives of the University of Notre Dame.

Maria (Minnie) Sherman grew up in Saint Louis with her grandparents. Her father's prominence as a Union General during the Civil War turned her into an American princess whose 1874 wedding was celebrated with lavish gifts and much publicity.

Newspaper rendering of Minnie's wedding to Lt. Thomas William Fitch
in Leslie's magazine.

Lieutenant Thomas William Fitch
served in the Union Navy during the Civil War.

The Fitches had seven children and spent much of their marriage in St. Louis. Minnie died in Gulfport, Mississippi, in 1913.

The center of the quilt shows veteran's ribbons
and various corps badges.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Quilted & Bound

Civil War Waves
by Carol Ann

92 Stars!
The stars are from last year's Time Warp series.

A clever set.
The waves are in the sashing.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Seven Sisters/Seven Stars 3---More Thoughts on Symbolism?

Quilt documented in the Quilts of Tennessee project.
Photo from the Quilt Index
A unique setting arrangement of the Seven Stars design

By Sarah Jane Myers
Another example from Quilts of Tennessee with an unusual shading.

From the Michigan Project
The pattern has been quite popular with quilters who have
created some original compositions using various sets and colorings.

From the Nebraska Project

From the Connecticut Project, 
set with a string star.

I've been interested in the patchwork pattern for years because
I wondered if it represented any Confederate nostalgia during the last
half of the 19th-century.

For the first few months of the Civil War the Confederate flag
had 3 stripes and 7 stars to represent the first seven seceding states

1861 flag at the Wisconsin Veteran's Museum captured
in Charleston, South Carolina

Similar flag raised over Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April, 1861

The seven-star flag was the official flag of the Confederacy from March 4, 1861 through May 21, 1861, after which more seceding states were represented. 

Confederate envelope mailed from Chapel Hill, North
Carolina, December, 1861

See this envelope and others with the same flag at the Brandon Collection of Confederate Patriotics

In  September, 1861 Harper's Weekly published an engraving of a Confederate sympathizer wearing a rebellious apron in Baltimore. 

Seven stars on a flag apron

The seven-star flag lasted for two or three months in a five-year war.

But I can't really find any written links
to the quilt pattern and the Civil War.

Seven Stars Block set with plain white hexagons and red diamonds.

I can hardly find any connections between the image of seven sisters and the Confederate flag.
Here's a poetic link:

A song with music by John Hill Hewitt (1801-1890) and lyrics by E. V. Sharp called Flag of the Sunny South was published perhaps in 1864.

Hail, symbol of the Sunny South!
 Bright Banner of the free! 
Our Southern hearts swell high with joy, 
 When glory points to thee. 
Thy Stars are like the Pleiades; 
 Undim'd by Tyrant's power; 
They'll deck thy Heav'n-dyed field of blue 
 Till freedom's latest hour.

Everyone with a minimal classical education in the mid-19th century would know that the song compared the flag's field to the Pleiades, a constellation named after Greek mythology.

The Pleiades by Elihu Vedder, 1885

The constellation is supposed to represent seven sisters in the night sky.

Favorite Greek Myths By Lilian Stoughton Hyde

The myth of the Seven Sisters has inspired poets, prose writers and geographers. Innumerable geographic features grouped into seven include the chalk cliffs at Seaford in England and seven Mississippi coastal cities, Biloxi to Waveland.

What might the words Seven Sisters have meant to Americans in the years 1860-1900?

During the Civil War the strongest reference North and South may have been a play produced by and starring celebrity Laura Keene. Her theatrical production "The Seven Sisters" was quite popular at the beginning of the War, popular primarily because of low necklines and legs in tights---early burlesque.

Laura Keene by the Brady Studio.
Her play Our American Cousin
was on stage when Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theater.

The story line involved seven sisters, daughters of Pluto king of the underworld, visiting New York City (out of the frying pan---into the fire???).

An 1863 ad on the road

The name The Seven Sisters was soon appropriated for an upscale New York brothel.

Lisa Simpson dreams in cliches of elite colleges

The image of Seven Sisters continues useful with more recent symbolism including Seven Sisters as a group of Northeastern women's colleges and a organization of oil-producing nations connected through OPEC.

It would seem that making any connection between the Seven Stars pattern and a Confederate sentiment is going too far. The pattern doesn't seem to have been called that in the 19th century or even the early 20th, and the image of the flag with seven stars, while apparent, is rather minor in war-time imagery.

Read an early 20th century retelling of the Greek myth of the Seven Sisters and how they were turned into stars in Favorite Greek Myths by Lilian Stoughton Hyde at Google Books: