Friday, June 14, 2019

String Quilts #2---Dated Examples

String star pieced over a newspaper dated 1899

String quilts aren't often dated or signed. I've got a small file of dated examples that can help pinpoint when the style began and how it evolved.

Silk quilt dated 1883
The earliest date-inscribed example of a string quilt that I have in my picture files.

Probably started as embroidered silk squares in 1883 and finished years later with string
blocks along the edge. Does it count as a dated string quilt?

Collection: International Quilt Study Center & Museum
Crazy quilt dated 1883-1884 with some blocks I'd call more
string than crazy.

1885 Made in Athol, Massachusetts
Massachusetts Project & the Quilt Index

A few of the blocks look like string piecing to me.
Also one of the earliest cotton crazy quilts I've seen.

Collection: International Quilt Study Center & Museum

Crazy quilt with some string-pieced blocks and some regular patchwork.

String Star dated 1886
Several of the diamonds are indisputably string pieced.

1889, Collection of the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum

Now, this is a string quilt but it is interesting how the strings rotate
around a center in many of the blocks.
Detail of the quilt above

1893, Collection: International Quilt Study Center & Museum
Similar style but centers feature pictorial cretonne prints

1893, same year as above, a string-pieced star.

1894, covered with names, a fundraiser.

1897 by Felicia O Dessie Law
Noble Co. Ohio

I'd call it a Rocky Road to Kansas pattern.

1897 Mary Feldsend

See a post on Rocky Road to Kansas here:

 1898, Rocky Mountain Quilt Shop inventory

1898, Laura Fisher's shop inventory---a sampler of string
quilt styles.

1905, maybe silks

1905 Clara Wigman

1906, structure is getting looser

Wool embroidery

1909, first one I've found in the blue and checks and stripes style.

Made by Isa Salmon, Partridge, Kans.
Collection of the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum
Is it really a string quilt if the strips are cut to the
same size?
Rhetorical question. We each have our own opinion.

Another 1917 string star
of velvet with pom-poms.

1918, Julie Silber's Inventory

1925, Pat L. Nickols collection at the Mingei Museum


I'd have guessed 1910

1926 - a taste for pastels showing up.


1928---wools and combination fabrics

1932, for Alfred

It's kind of surprising how late some of these utilitarian examples are dated.
I'd have guessed ten or twenty years earlier.


1943, rather old-fashioned for 1943

1944, Deb Rowden's collection


The date-inscribed examples indicate the string quilt fashion paralleled the crazy quilt style,
beginning in the 1880s. Both are stitched to a foundation. String quilts, not so fancy, continued on
their own tangent and were probably most popular in the early 20th century. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

String Quilts #1: Memories

A string quilt pieced of odd shaped strips of fabric,
about 1910

String star about 1900

Six-Point String Quilt, Kansas City Star, 1940

String quilts aren't often found in the quilt pattern literature, although the folklore literature
contains information, such as the pattern sketch below from a 1920 issue of the Journal of American Folk-Lore.

Family with a similar quilt

Ruby Short McKim published a pattern for a String Quilt in her 1931 book 101 Patchwork Patterns, but she drew templates---not the traditional way to make a string quilt. And that is probably why so little was published about the topic. 

You don't need a pattern; therefore there was nothing to buy.

String quilt by an Illinois Amish quiltmaker

We can look at string quilts as the Cinderella of quilt history, with little published about them until they began to be appreciated at the end of the 20th century. But several quiltmakers recorded memories of string quilts, giving us some insight into the process and their status in the hierarchy of fancy versus plain quilts.

 Pecolia Warner (1901-1983) in 1975
with one of her "P Quilts"

Folklorist William Ferris interviewed Pecolia Warner of Mississippi for his book Afro-American Folk Art and Crafts. She told him the difference between a "fancy quilt" and a string quilt.
"You can sit down and make them string quilts real quick. For a string quilt, I just commence to piecing up blocks out of strings — they're scraps, you know, I have from sewing, and some that other people save for me. Like that Six Strips quilt I made, that ain't nothing but a lot of string sewn together. That way you won't throw away any pieces. See, when you get a box full of strings, you got about five or six quilts. With string quilts you ain't got nothing to throw."

Set of blocks pieced over magazine and newspaper pages

Cyrilla Miller Bencaz from the Louisiana project & the Quilt Index

Mary Washington Clarke talked to many Kentucky quiltmakers in the 1970s for her book Kentucky Quilts.
"No quilter interviewed considered a String quilt one of her show pieces, yet some are quite beautiful. 'It's just an old String quilt,' said one quilter, giving a typical response to an inquiry about a quilt using irregular shapes and sizes of brightly colored prints and solids. They had been sewed onto a square newspaper pattern with ends protruding around the edges at random. The squares were trimmed..."
Most people removed the paper although 
shreds sometimes cling to the back.

String blocks pieced over triangular foundations

Lest you think string quilts are limited to the South, I'll cite an interview with Wisconsin's Ivory Pitchford of Milwaukee in Passed to the Present: Folk Arts Along Wisconsin's Ethnic Settlement Trail:
"Ivory Pitchford's first quilt was a string quilt that her mother taught her to make. She started it at about the age of 16, constructing blocks about the size of a napkin from 'strings' of fabric. She quilted it herself, in 'shares' or sections, just as her mother did. Over the years, Pitchford has made quite a few string quilts, including one for each of her five boys."
Quilting in shares or sections might refer to quilting by the block rather than using an all over pattern.

From 1910-1940 perhaps, quite a mixture of fabrics

In a 1988 Threads magazine story Willia Ette Graham of Oakland, California explained "You don't have to cut for a string quilt," using the scraps as she found them.

In 1891 Annie Martin won a prize with her collection of Ladies' Work, including a string quilt. at a Clarksville, Tennessee fair. Mrs. Buckingham entered a calico quilt, a different item, apparently.

From Shelly Zegart's inventory

Strings are pieced over the paper and the paper trimmed to the correct shape.

Popular string quilt design sometimes called Snowball...

or Fireball if the quarter circle is red.
Those names were published in Quilt World magazine in 1979.