Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Message in a Civil War Spool of Thread


The Huntington Library has an interesting item in their collection:
A wooden spool of thread (looks like a Coats & Clark's spool.)
Inside the hole is a coiled piece of paper.

The curators and staff unfurled it in this video:

(Those white cords are like small book snakes to gently hold the note in place)

Some time ago the message was typed.
It's some kind of military order---issued before the Civil War began
in April, but probably having to do with the future Confederates gathering their
assets in the face of Union threats to confiscate them.

General David E. Twiggs (1790-1862),
commander of the U.S. Army's Dept. of Texas.
After surrendering his army and armaments to the secessionists
he was dismissed from the army as a traitor.

William Augustus Nichols (1818-1869) during the 
Mexican War of the 1840s
During the Civil War he served under Union Generals Sherman & Sheridan

Major W.A. Nichols was aware of Twiggs's plans and seems to have had other ideas. The message in the spool appears to be an attempt to foil Twiggs's plot. Perhaps the spool was passed by Nichols's wife Clara DeRussey Nichols. Or perhaps the message was never read---why is it still coiled in the spool?

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Washington Whirlwind #4: Next Door Neighbor


Washington Whirlwind #4: Next Door Neighbor by Becky Collis

We've been looking at the Lincoln White House from the view of the Taft family who lived close by. Julia recalled cutting through the grounds on her walk to school. The official gardener welcomed her shortcut through an unlocked gate. 

It seems a little hard to believe now but the grounds and building were open to the public. In the theory that the mansion was the "people's house" anyone could walk in day or night as they wished, too many picking up knick-knacks and cutting swatches out of the drapes for souvenirs.

The "President's House" is below the purple star 
in the "President's Park."in this 1861 map from Margaret Leech's
Reveille in Washington. (See more below.)

Julia Taft Bayne (1845-1933)
She was in her mid-teens when she met the Lincolns.

When her younger brothers were invited to play with the Lincoln children Julia was encouraged to accompany them, perhaps to do some supervising. She enjoyed the visits, remembering how the Lincoln library was full of novels, reading material forbidden at home by her mother Mary Cook Taft. While the boys disrupted cabinet meetings with drums and horns Julia spent time chatting with Mary Todd Lincoln, whose kind company she appreciated. 

The President also encountered Julia in the library or parlor.
" I was sitting on the sofa with some silk and velvet pieces on my lap, out of which I was trying to make a pin-cushion. The President came into the room. I rose at once, my pieces falling on the floor. When the President went out, I picked them up and was just getting them sorted out again when he came in the second time. True to my training, I again rose and the silk once more scattered to the floor.
‘You needn’t get up, Julia, every time Abram comes in the room,’ said Mrs. Lincoln.
‘Why, Julie,’ said the President, noticing my silk pieces on the floor, ‘that’s too bad.’ Before I knew what he was about, he had knelt on the floor and was picking up the pieces of silk for me."

In her memoir Julia recalled attending Madame Smith's French School (west of the White House in the current map here) during the Civil War years but a little fact checking reveals that Madame Smith's school was closed by the time Julia joined her family in Washington. Her father's diary mentioned that the empty Smith school was housing soldiers and Julia had begun schooling with a Miss Douglas on H Street as the war began.

National Museum of American History
Dress worn by Mary Todd Lincoln
Purple was a favorite color of the First Lady and
other fashionable women at the time.

In the 1850s Englishman William Perkin invented a colorfast aniline purple dye for silk and wool that revolutionized the textile industry. He named the purple Mauve. Other chemists developed Fuschia, Solferino and Magenta, the last two names commemorating European battles waged by French Emperor Napoleon III, whose wife Eugenie often wore the new shades. 

Empress Eugenie of France (1826-1920)
by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

Mary Lincoln considered herself the American version of the Empress and directed her seamstresses to copy Eugenie's style. Julia Taft remembered that Mary Todd Lincoln was wearing "lilac organdy" when they met. 

Next Door Neighbor by Becky Brown

Despite her mother's conservative nature and refusal to wear a crinoline (an "abiding grievance" to Julia) Mrs. Taft also liked the new purples and bought a particularly elegant bonnet at Willian's on Pennsylvania Avenue. 


Her ensemble of bonnet with purple ribbons, a purple and white silk gown and lavender kid gloves attracted Mary Lincoln's attention, but rather than complimenting Mary Taft on her taste Mary Lincoln demanded the ribbons. Willian's was out of that particular "riband" (as they termed them) and the First Lady wanted some. Julia overheard her mother discussing the request. "I suppose I'll have to let her have it and it's provoking, for I really did like this bonnet."

Next Door Neighbor by Denniele Bohannon

William Howard Russell, British correspondent for the London Times, attended the theatre in November,1861 noting the first lady's attire in his diary: "Mrs. Lincoln in an awful bonnet."
The next day he hadn't recovered, recalling her as "the most preposterous looking female I ever saw."

The fashion for purple in wartime Washington may inspire color choices for your Next Door Neighbor block.

The Block

At the end of the 19th century the Ladies Art Company was calling this block of triangles
Next Door Neighbor.

Next Door Neighbor by Jeanne Arnieri

Further Reading

Margaret Leech (Pulitzer) won a Pulitzer Prize for history with her 1941 book in which the District of Columbia is the lead character. It's a great read 80 years later---just wish someone had said: "Peggy! Footnotes, please."
Extensive preview:

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Mary Smith's Sad Tale


Caroline Healey Dall tells us one more tale of the heartbreak of slavery in her diary in December, 1842.
Caroline from Massachusetts had taken a position as Assistant Principal at Miss Lydia English's Female Seminary in Washington City, a Southern town that permitted slavery, an economic cruelty Miss English embraced.

Massachusetts Historical Society
Caroline Healey (later Dall) (1822-1812)
About the time she took a teaching position in Washington due to family financial troubles.

Caroline, always self-confident, broke many Washington rules, teaching one of the enslaved servants at the school to read and helping another write a difficult letter. Caroline tried opening a sewing school for free Black women but found no place that would host it.

A sympathetic New Englander must have been a welcome
staff member for the enslaved servants. Lydia S. English was
enough of a believer in slavery and secession that her
school was confiscated for a Union hospital when the Civil War broke out.

Miss English's school building still stands although
its last "restoration" as the Colonial Apartments in 1953 is a bit dated.

One evening servant 18-year-old Mary Smith knocked at the teacher's door asking her to write a letter. Caroline prepared to take dictation but Mary did not know how to compose a letter. She told Caroline her tale and between them they wrote an eloquent refusal of marriage to a suitor James.

Eastman Johnson's 1859 glimpse of a courtship
in a Washington courtyard.

They addressed the letter:

And that is all we know. We can't follow up on Mary Smith, her name is too common, and James Everinboro' (might be Everingborough) is a name that doesn't seem to exist in either form.

 This may be Mary listed at 27 eight years later in the 
1850 Slave Schedule under L. English's name. 
The census's Slave Schedule did not list slaves' names.

Miss English's Female Seminary occupied as a Union hospital
during the Civil War.

Daughter of Boston: The Extraordinary Diary of a Nineteenth-century 
Woman, edited by Helen Deese

See Mary's story by clicking here on the preview of Caroline Healey Dall's published diary:

Mary's story part 1

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Kentucky Classic #1: Kentucky Reel & Amanda Estill Moran

Kentucky Classic #1: Kentucky Reel by Becky Collis

We begin a rather complicated applique block of the month series for 2024 today with the first block of our Kentucky Classic.

Becky C. will be glad to tell you how many little points you have to tuck in the buds.
You could leave those edges smooth or see the actual pattern below with a "More Casual Approach."

The inspiration: a Kentucky quilt associated with 
Amanda Malvine Estill Moran (1810-1888)

The Kentucky project recorded this applique quilt attributed to Amanda who lived in the Paint Lick community in Garrard County, Kentucky.  There are relatives to the quilt, a true Kentucky classic.

Read more about Amanda Moran's life at this post:

 We have 9 blocks planned. This is the first which can be set in two ways.
Our pattern based on Amanda's.

Her center floral, a Kentucky Reel, we can call it.

English actress Fanny Kemble came to America in the late 1830s and attended a small party where
she danced an English Country Dance that was familiar---"What they called a Kentucky reel, which is nothing more than Sir Roger de Coverley turned Backwoodsman."

The family member who brought in Amanda's quilt for documentation forty years ago thought it might be an original pattern. It does show the rather spontaneous and quirky composition of an artist placing design elements to suit herself.

But since then three almost identical quilts have been discovered: Same design units of roses, rose trees, carnations and a golden flower we are calling a goldenrod. Each has a similar 8-lobed floral in the center, which is the first pattern in our series to celebrate the extraordinary quilts of Garrard County.

This year's block-of-the-month will be more complicated than most because Becky Brown, Becky Collis and I are each showing a somewhat different quilt. 


The regular 9-block setting 
A 45" square quilt with 15" finished blocks.

I have adapted the components to a nine-block square---a 14/15" block every month through 2024. Every other month we'll show you the medallion format too.

Ms. Collis is following Amanda's ideas with a medallion style pattern and some applique that will cover seams. The medallion plan uses every other block, 1, 3, 5, 7.

Sizes and shapes change for the medallion. Edge blocks are rectangular and Block #7 will be layered over other blocks' seams.

Becky Brown's medallion with Kentucky Reel in the center.

Becky Brown is going off on her own with much additional applique!
We'll show her progress every other month. It's going to be spectacular.

Kentucky Classic #1: Kentucky Reel by Becky Brown
She's added a few things!

Ms. Brown designed a medallion format like Amanda's.  


Kentucky Reel 
Pattern for the block-by-block quilt.
For the medallion set enlarge the pattern by 213%.

An even more casual approach to the floral bud in a quilt Barb Eikmeier found in Missouri

Years ago Terry Thompson did a stand-alone pattern for 36" blocks.

The late Martha Skelton of Mississippi may have used Terry's pattern
for her four-block quilt.


Cover of Quilters Newsletter
November/December 1983

Ever since we put this quilt on the cover of Quilters Newsletter forty years ago I have wondered how two such similar quilts came to be. The cover quilt was supposedly from Massachusetts, but I doubt it.  And here is a third that collector Polly Mello found in an online auction.


QNM cover
You could add a rather loose serpentine vine around the center if you liked.
Looks risky, though, getting it to flow.
We'll be looking at many cousins here over the next 8 months.

Meghan Leslie's version of Deb King's pattern

Do look at our Facebook group where I'll post some other reproduction quilts inspired by Amanda's.

You can buy the pattern at my Etsy shop for $12 and see where you want to go with it.

And here's an introduction to the pattern: