Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Domestic Manufacture in 1839

Collection of the International Quilt Museum, dated 1839

The dark square with white streaks shows fabric that crimped in
the roller, hardly high quality printing.

One window into early American cotton manufacturing just before our cotton fabric industry really matured in the 1840s is in the exhibitions and fairs that manufacturers staged. 

The Mechanic's Fair was held at Boston's 
Quincy Hall September 23-October 5, 1839

Records of Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association Fairs give us some insight into American cottons and their relative quality compared to European goods. In 1839 the organization held it second bi-annual fair displaying manufactures by factories and individuals. Nearly 1200 contributors sent articles for display and judging. Many New England women sent quilts---

but that's another topic.... Discussed here:

The up-and-coming New England mills sent samples of their domestically produced cloth, wool, silk, cotton and linen to vie for medals and diplomas (certificates). The judges produced critiques as well as lists of winners.

Wessacumcon Mills changed their name to Bartlet Steam Mills in 1840.

Newburyport's Wessacumcon Steam Mill entered their Bleached and Brown Cottons---the most basic of domestic cloth. The just-opened steam-powered mill won a silver medal and compliments.
"The goods here exhibited are of a very superior order, remarkably even and closely wove; and altogether of a better fabric than has ever before been produced in this country. They are in all respects equal to any British fabric of the kind that the Committee has ever seen."

We most often see the domestic sturdy cottons on the back
of quilts. It's often called homespun, and technically it is---
Spun in factories here rather than in Europe.

Finally---in 1839--- an American mill using British-invented steam spinners and looms had produced a plain unprinted, undyed cotton sheeting that was as good as one could import.

Display of coarse cotton cloth woven at the Boott Mills.
In the middle bleached and brown sheetings?

Lowell's Boott Cotton Mills also entered Brown Sheetings and earned a diploma.
"Well known in the market, and in good repute with consumers, which is sufficient proof of their good qualities. The specimens here exhibited are finer and closer than they ordinarily produce, and show a farther improvement in the manufacture." So Boott's cloth was also improving.

The Boott Mill buildings are part of the Lowell National Historical Park. 
The mill specialized in simple cloth, the sturdy cotton of everyday life.

A later Boott specialty was toweling.
The pictures are from the museum at the park.

A Wilmington, Delaware shop advertised at the bottom of its list
of dry goods "brown and bleached Domestic Muslin" in 1823.
Several small mills produced domestic cloth in the early 19th century.

Management at the Palmer (Massachusetts) Manufacturing Company must have been mortified to receive their critique. L. P. Whitman entered one piece of White Cambric a plain weave, rather fine cotton like a cotton lawn.
"The piece exhibited was uneven and not well finished; the fabric and general appearance, however, is sufficient to shew that such goods must soon take the place of British cambrics, which at this day are imported in great quantities." A rather confusing assessment with perhaps some misplaced optimism.

Back of a quilt dated 1808 from Julie Silber's inventory

I couldn't find any more about Whitman's Palmer Mill. Was poor quality cloth their downfall?

Photo of  the 1878 Massachusetts Fair
New York Public Library
Photography became viable in 1839

More elegant fabric was still not up to par. The American Print Works in Fall River exhibited Chintz Furnitures---the kinds of large-scale fabrics used for slipcovers, drapes and fancy quilts. 
"The drawing and printing of these goods exhibit great skill and perfection; and the colors are very brilliant and rich. The designs, however, are not so light and airy as is desirable in such goods; and they are not so well dressed as they should be; but in the main they are fine specimens of workmanship, and entitled to much commendation."
They received a paper diploma for one set of "Chintz Prints. Rich goods — clear and fast colors and exceedingly well printed — good finish, and do great credit to the manufacturer."

We can wonder if some of these large-scale florals in limited colors
were American.

 Merrimack Mills, years later. Quality fabric led to success.

Lowell's Merrimack Mills did a more impressive job, winning a silver medal. Judges enthused:
"Blue Ground Chintz Prints. A gorgeous production. The width, durability and beauty of texture, the rich and original designs, the superior execution, and the brilliancy of coloring, are beyond any work of the kind that has before been brought to the notice of the Committee.

Light Plate Prints. These goods have been long known, and universally admired, for their superior fabric and inimitable printing. The specimens exhibited have attracted much notice on account of the great simplicity of the designs, and finished execution....The work approaches so nearly to the most delicate of France, as almost entirely to have superseded the use of French Plates; and to judge from the present specimens, the importation of foreign articles of competition must soon be entirely abandoned."
Again some misplaced if patriotic optimism.

It's interesting to hear that American-made plates (actually large copper plates??? I doubt it---more likely metal rollers) are compared to the French Plates, which the mills had apparently been using. One could import French pattern machinery and perhaps the patterned plates and do a competitive print---if one could print as well as the French.

Quilt signed Mary Julian, dated 1839

Detail of the border shows how poor the registration is on the blues.
No prize for this print.

 But sophisticated printing in general was still a problem. Printers who produced paper goods like art prints also showed their wares only to receive a rap on their ink-stained knuckles.
"There is much yet to be done, in the art of Copperplate-Printing, before perfection will be attained. One of the best qualities of a good printer, is, an ability to keep his work always of about the same uniform shade of color. The English engravings have a uniformity, in this particular, which we do not see in the generality of impressions from American-printed plates; and we wish all our Printers would direct their attention, more particularly, to this important point. There were some specimens in this Exhibition, which were very beautiful; but yet there is great room for improvement."

Toile (plate print monochrome cotton) memorializing Benjamin Franklin. 
The subject was American but it was not printed here.

Plate printing with ink on paper is a skill; plate printing on cotton with mordants and dyes---even more complex---one reason we don't see American toiles of any quality.

Small-scale calico prints were also exhibited. New Hampshire's Cocheco Mill showed "Fall Prints,"  winning praise and a silver medal.

English prints from about 1840, complex
calico printing with sharp registration, many colors
and sophisticated if busy design.
"In appearance these Prints are strikingly like English work. The designs are very simple and effective; they are skillfully and delicately executed, and the colors are very brilliant and permanent. They are, in the whole, a beautiful specimen of Calico Printings, and do great credit to the source whence they came, and must find favor in the eyes of the consumer."
Swatches from an 1880s Cocheco sample book in the
collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum


Calicoes became the specialty product of American mills, but it took a few trade wars, an American Civil War and a lot of technological and artistic improvements to make the U.S. self-reliant in cotton manufacturing towards the end of the 19th century.

A. Robeson of Fall River received a mixed critique for "Chintz prints" or "calico printing."
One set: "These are beautiful goods. There is about them a nicety of design and coloring that renders them a decidedly genteel Print. They do great credit to the taste and skill of the contributor, and must be well received in the market."
Another was faulted on design. "The design, coloring, and execution of these, exhibit first rate workmanship; but the figures are too much crowded together to make them a popular or desirable style."
English prints from the 1820s. Collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.

We can see by the criticism here by Massachusetts professional men who wanted to compliment local industry that the New England mills in 1839 still had a long way to go to compete with English and French manufacturers in luxury imports.

Not a quality piece of fabric

Poor greige [gray] goods---the basic cotton fabric,
rather unsophisticated melding of background and figures,
limited color, prone to fading. Could be American but Europe
exported cheap prints too.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Divided Hearts: Plan for an Inking Class

Susan Vachino inked her ancestors' names on her Antebellum Album quilt

C&T Publishing has a page full of class plans coordinated with books. Here's one for my Divided Hearts book---using the inked inscriptions in the book in a drawing class for making labels or signing friendship blocks. I added a few pictures to the plan for this post. You could use it to teach others or experiment yourself with inking.

Lisa's ambitious copy of an anti-slavery image

Class Description

Gain confidence in your reproduction quiltmaking techniques in a drawing class where you'll ink traditional flourishes, names and sentiments on fabric perfect to stitch into your album blocks. Learn the basics and then some about how to get the look and how to make it permanent. We'll use the trace-able patterns in Divided Hearts for inspiration.

You'll leave class with a few inked squares you can use to wow your friends with signatures for group quilts and you'll improve your label-making design and skills for your own quilt backs (and fronts.)

Barbara Schaffer also used her quilt as a family ancestor record.

Class Length
For the drawing class 2 hours; if you want to add piecing make it 3.

Susan Vachino
Add a class section on teaching this challenging block #3

Class Supply List
Required text: Divided Hearts: A Civil War Friendship Quilt
An 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of washed white fabric backed with freezer paper. (Make these yourself to hand out or sell or have them bring one or two---we can get at least 4 vignettes on each sheet.
A sheet of tracing paper (again have them bring it or supply it.)
A permanent pen (Use what you sell or see options below*.) Give them black and brown options and colored choices of different widths to buy.

Sara Farley's inked quilt on the cover

Classroom Preparation
This is a drawing class, not a sewing class (although you could link it to pieced blocks in Divided Hearts. Blocks 1, 5, 11 & 12 are good for inking.)
A light table to share would be nice to have but not necessary.
Several irons as you want to heat set the inking.

Dorry Emmer

Class Agenda
1) Introduce the traditional idea of inking, popular about 1840 to 1880. People love accurate historical information so you might want to read up on what kinds of inks people used before the Civil War and why they sometimes deteriorate.
Link: http://barbarabrackman.blogspot.com/2014/06/ladies-album-inked-signatures.html

2) Show some examples (plenty in the book Divided Hearts)

Barbara Schaffer

3) Students also love accurate comparison shopping information so you might want to read up on the different kinds of permanent pens available today.
  • Don't use a Laundry Marker, they fade.
  • Heat set the finished inking.
Barbara Schaffer

4) Have each student choose and trace four of the inked drawings in the book. For beginners: Pages 17 & 36. For more confident inkers: Pages 80 & 86.

Kay Gentry

5) It's hard to trace fabric from a book, so trace the flourish from book onto tracing paper and then place fabric on the tracing paper. This gives a chance to practice drawing and they can take the paper home to trace again.

6) Space the flourishes out on the fabric. Tell them to remove the freezer paper, heat set and trim as necessary for block centers or labels.

Treadle Stitches

*Suggested Markers
Most shops carry Pigma Micron pens and these work great. But do have students heat set the inked flourishes in class or at home (Some recommend waiting 24 hours to apply a hot iron for a minute or so.) Width: 05 is fine, but do notice that some of the flourishes use two line widths and some a thicker point.

Another option: Pentel Arts Gel Roller for Fabric. Heat setting never hurts.

Dorry Emmer

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Rosie Lee Tompkins Review

Quilt, 1985
Irene Howard quilted many of Effie's tops.

I belong to a small group of amateur critics (Fabulous Five of us) who email often about politics, the museum world, textiles and general fatuousness of fellow humans. Servers California to D.C. were buzzing last week when the New York Times published an article called "The Radical Quilting of Rosie Lee Tompkins."
The Link:

Header photo of Rosie Lee Tompkins (1936-2006)
whose name was actually Effie Mae Martin Howard, 
the name we will use for her here. 

Julie Silber began with two words:
Virginia Vis tried to calm us (an unusual position vis-à-vis Ms Vis*):
"I  was impressed the NY Times gave that much page space to quilts - with pics. While the white male thing infuriated me re: the Gees Bend quilt phenomena, once deep into the article I felt better about the attitude of the white male involved here."
From the Eli Leon collection
Effie often used synthetic fabrics of velvet and satinweave, 
textured weaves that take color and reflect and absorb light
 more dramatically than the usual cotton broadcloth.

Julie pointed out the author was not your white male critic but Roberta Smith, the newspaper's female co-chief art critic. Ms. Smith had been to see a show by the artist in Berkeley in 1987 and was impressed enough to recall it lyrically almost 35 years later.

Julie circled this sentence in the second paragraph:
"They were crafted objects that transcended quilting, with the power of painting."

Three words
Julie's interpretation of what Smith was saying:

"These quilts are great because they are almost like paintings" a statement she described as
"demeaning, condescending, dismissive (even contradictory.)"
Julie's opinion:
"Quilts are not great because they look like other forms. They stand on their own---and the makers who excelled (reaching aesthetic heights) need to be acknowledged as 'masters' ('mistresses)?' "


Now, me---I glanced at the story last week. I try to avoid reading about quilts in the New York Times---well, actually any newspaper. I have my blood pressure to worry about. I'm sick of cliches about women's work, of knee-jerk cultural condescension, of Painters' Privilege in the art world.

I got as far as the words "transcended quilting." I've been fighting the attitude since I was 21 years old and turned in a full-size quilt for my senior art education project and was told it didn't count as art. I substituted a few cranked-out paintings/collages and passed with a B.

Alden translates "transcended quilting" to mean these pieces are "something better, because trust me, we would NEVER claim QUILTS are worth talking about as art."

Looking at this quilt I realize it's a family history quilt. 
It says Effie 36 & Mark, John, Barrett, Luke, etc.
 probably with birthdates & Richmond.

Debby Cooney highlighted the article's comparisons to male painters---Klee, Van Gogh---something we see constantly. Alden's translation: "It reminds me of oil paintings done by a white man in the modern canon, therefore it's worth talking about." 

Not only are such comparisons patronizing---implying the textile is just as good (or almost as good) as paintings by men, it's using short-hand cliches of visual imagery rather than fresh words to  describe a work of art---sloppy art criticism.

Collection of the Whitney Museum of Art, 1986
Effie seems to have worked in series, using different shapes at times.
We must assume much of her fabric was found or given
rather than purchased as yardage.
Eli Leon supplied her with some.

Collection of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
They accepted the 400 quilts from Leon's collection.

Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

So should we be pleased the New York Times has featured quilts on the art pages? 

 "As for the article going far and wide... I disagree that this is good. Bad news. SO many people will now miss the point. 'Legitimizes' the wrong ideas."

Well, at least it's been enjoyable to look at the color & composition.
The artist in me will undoubtedly steal that set and 
come to believe it was my idea.

Virginia remained calm:
"This discussion has made me really examine why I'm not outraged--- and I am sorry to say it is at least partly because I don't expect any better from...Public Opinion of Textile Arts in general."
She's worked in the art world.

1997 catalog by Eli Leon & Lawrence Rinder

We can view Eli Leon as Effie's partner like her quilter Irene Banks. He gave Effie her pseudonym, promoted the work of a woman who requested privacy and collected her quilts as obsessively as she sewed them. (He had 400 when he died last year.)

1987 catalog by Eli Leon: 
Who'd A Thought It: Improvisation in African-American Quiltmaking. 
San Francisco Craft & Folk Art Museum

Effie Mae Martin Howard (1936-2006)

Relevant quilt by Joe Cunningham

*Sorry, VV

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Sophia Coltrane: A Quilt & A House

Medallion quilt attributed to Sophia McGee Coltrane (1783-1882)
76” x 80”

The North Carolina project documented this medallion, brought in by one of Sophia’s many descendants.

The bedcover shows style characteristics of an early quilt, likely made before 1820. Patchwork design is typical of the time--- medallion format, simple patchwork, large-scale prints. That center design (14" square)  has been a popular pattern for two hundred years. We would probably call it a Sunflower.

Borders are the basic shapes, square, circle and triangle. The border of circles is not common but is seen in a few early quilts. 

See posts on the border designs here:

Fabrics: Limited colors of blues and browns (although some browns might have once been more colorful). Toiles and the reddish-brown foulard print in the central design are rather limited in print style and dyes. The maker may have had a good deal of each fabric but not much variety. Border shapes are cut from monochrome prints in blue and brown, toiles.

Outer borders

Reverse of a quilt dated 1804

Monochrome prints with classical, literary or country imagery were quite popular for decorating. Many scenic designs were made in France (toiles de Jouy), printed with large copper plates.

But England soon copied the style of scenic landscapes with roller prints.
The roller-printed repeat would then be about 15 inches from cow nose to cow nose.

It looks like Sophia's blue prints are more like this roller-printed floral, probably English prints,
which gives us a little more help in dating: After 1800 when Sophia was in her 20s, but before 1840.

Sophia McGee Coltrane (1783-1882)
She lived to be 99.

It's certainly one of the oldest quilts the North Carolina project recorded. If it was indeed made between 1800 and 1820 near Asheboro in what is now Randolph County in central North Carolina , it would be an landmark North Carolina quilt, but it's also possible it is a Maryland quilt..

Map from the application for a 
Local Landmark Designation for Sophia's house

Sophia lived north of  the town of Asheboro, about 50 miles southwest of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Both her quilt and her home have survived the centuries.

She was born in 1783 in Dorchester County in Maryland’s Eastern Shore to Rebecca Busick & Samuel Newton McGee. That year her father is listed as owning two 100 acre-parcels in Maryland but he seems to have owned North Carolina land too as he sold some of it when Sophia was about ten. The McGees may have visited North Carolina and made connections. Sophia married Daniel Coltrane of Randolph County, North Carolina on July 29th, 1808 when they were both in their mid-twenties. 

Did Sophia (and her family) make this quilt in anticipation of her 1808 marriage? The fabrics could easily be that early and so could the style. If so, it would be a very old quilt indeed---even for more sophisticated Maryland..

This medallion by Mary Eby dated 1803 on the quilt is the earliest quilt documented by the Maryland project. See it in their book A Maryland Album by Gloria Seaman Allen and Nancy Gibson Tuckhorn.

Sophia's quilt is similar in several ways to the 1803 quilt
 in medallion format, narrow range of colors in similar shades and 
borders of squares pieced on point.

The William Coltrane House
William deeded his house to son Daniel in 1811.

Because the William Coltrane house has survived (William was Sophia's father-in-law) we can learn a lot more about Sophia from the Local Landmark architectural application, which tells us:
"The William Coltrane House, built between 1785 and 1800, is the oldest known frame house still standing in Randolph County....Coltrane, a Scottish émigré, was a prosperous farmer, one of the county’s early leading citizens, and patriarch of a prominent family that remained in the residence well into the 20th Century."

Jazz-icon John Coltrane about 1930

The Coltranes owned slaves and it is interesting that the most famous Coltrane, saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-1967) was born about 50 miles south of this house, perhaps a descendant of people owned by Sophia's husband's family. His grandfather, another William Coltrane, was born about 1860.

Interior woodwork was quite elegant
 William Coltrane "built his well-appointed farmhouse between 1785 and 1800 (probably closer to the former) on 400 acres granted to him by the State of North Carolina in 1783. By the time of his death in 1814, he owned at least 2,800 acres of land in Randolph, Rowan and Orange counties, making him one of the largest landowners not just in Randolph County but in the Piedmont as well. 
Sophia's husband Daniel's tombstone.
He was a man of substance.
"William’s son Daniel carried on successfully his father’s footsteps. On Daniel’s death in 1835, he held over 1,500 acres of land and his estate was valued at $9,960.  
Daniel must have been married before as he brought two sons, David Branson Coltrane born in 1795 and John born in 1802, to the 1808 marriage. He and Sophia had eight more children after 1809, including a second David born soon after his half-brother died in 1815.

Flame grained mahogany door

When he was about 50 Daniel bought a grist mill on the Deep River. He and his sons ran the mill until November, 1835 when he was caught in the machinery, thrown into the mill pond and drowned, leaving Sophia with children ranging from about ten to grown boys who took over the mill. David (1816-1884) inherited the house.

Son Jesse in front of the Coltrane Mill, which has been covered by a reservoir.
He and brother David ran the family mill.

Sophia was dependent on her boys for the rest of her long life. She died in 1882 while living with son Jesse Franklin Coltrane (1821-1916) and his family.
MESDA collection

A walnut corner cupboard similar to this one by
local craftsman Henry Macy was once built into the house.

We cannot guess whether Sophia's quilt was made in Maryland before her 1808 wedding or in North Carolina or after. It certainly has the look of a quilt made in Tidewater Virginia or Maryland's Eastern Shore region, but Sophia could easily have carried that taste with her to North Carolina.

Similar style in a quilt top attributed to 
Martha Washington Dandridge Halyburton, Virginia, about 1805

Collection of the Ladies' Mt. Vernon Association

Read about the family home:
 L. McKay Whatley Jr., Randolph County Historic Landmark Preservation Commission 

See Sophia's grave:

Top attributed to Frances Washington Ball, Virginia
Ladies' Mt. Vernon Association