Yankee Notions #6, Improved Nine Patch
by Denniele Bohannon, 18" version.
Yankee Notion #6 is the idea of improving things --- from Transcendental spiritual ideas of trying to become a perfect human being to Yankee mechanics.
Nile's Weekly Register, 1831
We could discuss Ralph Waldo Emerson and philosophical/religious ideas about working on our personal perfection but let's begin at a more concrete level with one of America's most famous inventors and engineers Eli Whitney, born in Massachusetts, died in Connecticut---a Yankee through and through.
Most American children of the 19th and 20th centuries memorized Eli Whitney's accomplishment---"inventing the cotton gin." When we were young the engine/machine was lauded as a platform of America's economy; today it's decried as the foundation of slavery. Both concepts are true but the important point here is that Whitney did not invent a machine. He improved a machine.
Catherine Littlefield Greene (1755-1814)
in her 50s
The story: Whitney went to Georgia as a young man to tutor the children of a plantation family but digressed into his favored activity, Yankee tinkering. His cotton-farming neighbor Catherine Greene was impressed and their collaboration in the early 1790s resulted in Whitney's coming up with a way to mechanically comb the seeds out of the upland cotton she was growing.
The improved gin, a small model.
Whitney never made much money off this machine. His other
inventions and improvements made him rich, however.
Southerners were making an agricultural transition to upland cotton rather than the easier-to-clean but harder-to-grow Sea Island cotton. Mechanics of cleaning the seeds with an engine---a gin--- required a different mechanism. Whitney and Catherine Greene may have discussed a mechanism (she was born in Rhode Island and was perhaps a Yankee tinkerer herself) or she may have just encouraged him with enthusiasm and financial support.
Later cotton gin on the left.
Note the belts connecting it to a power source, probably a water wheel.
The basic Yankee notion was that handwork was inefficient. How to
Library of Congress
Photograph by George N. Barnard of cotton production at
Mount Pleasant in South Carolina.
The above view of labor in the 1870s illustrates the contrast between Yankee concepts of time use and lingering Southern attitudes about employing people to do tasks machines might do more efficiently. But then again---machines put people out of work. The transition to new forms of labor is always difficult.
A Lummus cotton gin (they still manufacture gins) from a company
founded by a New Yorker in 1863.
Improved Nine Patch by Becky Brown
We know who improved the cotton gin, but who improved the Nine-Patch? Perhaps someone writing about quilts for the farmer's magazine The Rural New Yorker in 1930, so far the earliest reference to the pattern in print.
Most Improved Nine Patch quilts are constructed
like a Wedding Ring pattern with squeezed squares and ellipse shapes,
no square blocks.
But we are doing it as a block.
It may be the most difficult pattern in the series as it's made up mostly of curves. You could design your own block---improve a nine-patch in your own fashion (No Y seams, no Curves) but the 1930s version is a cool pattern, and Eli Whitney did not flinch from a challenge.
Improved Nine Patch by Dorry Emmer
You can rotary cut piece A but the others are cut
For a 12" Block- Cut 1 A 3-1/8"
For an 18" Block - Cut 1 A 4-3/8"
Tangible Yankee Notion
The Safety Pin
New Yorker Walter Hunt obtained a patent in 1849 for his safety pin. He twisted a piece of wire to form a clasp at one end, a point at the other and a coil in between. The coil pressured the sharp end to stay in the clasp.
Walter Hunt 1797-1859
Walter Hunt invented many items including the lock-stitch sewing machine. He was not much of a business man, however. Others improved the sewing machine and made fortunes.
And that's why there is a sewing machine in Dorry's block.
Denniele's sketch, Blocks 1-6.
Becky Collis sends photos of her machine quilting on Denniele's.
See a post about the Improved Nine Patch here: