Friday, May 17, 2024

Octagonal Star Block--Or Not


Quilt that looks to be 1940-1960

Unusual pattern in that the star is in an octagonal block, which alternates with a small square. 

Similar to Eveline Foland's pattern for an octagonal pillow in the Kansas City Star in 1931.

But Foland's star points are split in half so the star and the shapes around it are the same.

The colors chosen create an odd result---rather noisy.

Blue calms things down.

And you might prefer a square block.

So here's a pattern for Celestial, a very calm 10" Star in a square block.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Samantha at the World's Fair in 1893

Samantha and husband Josiah Allen at the 1893 
Columbian Exposition in Chicago. 

Next year we are going to piece a Block-of-the-Month based on women journalists who covered the Civil War and I've been reading about "The Petticoat Press." Marietta Holley was of a younger generation so I am not including her in the group of 12 female newspaper reporters. She wasn't a reporter but a successful feature writer who did humorous pieces, collected into books.

I was pleased to find her book-length account of country bumpkin Samantha, "Josiah Allen's Wife's"  visit to the 1893 World's Fair. For years Merikay Waldvogel and I have been studying the displays at that influential fair and have concluded that although many family tales and newspaper accounts mention a quilt hung there----very few were.

You had to be royalty as Samantha reported.

The most remarked upon textile was attributed to Mary Queen of Scots. See a post here on this elusive artifact: https://barbarabrackman.blogspot.com/2021/10/1893-columbian-exposition-quilts-2-16th.html

The illustrations are by Baron Constantin De Grimm who
did a great job imagining Queen Victoria packing up a few things.

 Like everyone else the Allens were impressed by the new Ferris wheel,
which was the inspiration for a name for these popular name quilts arranged
in wheel fashion....

Quilt dated 1909, Nebraska Project & the Quilt Index

...Perhaps the most significant quilt-related piece of history to come from that fair.

Quilt with many dates, probably from 1907.
Massachusetts project & the Quilt Index.

More posts on the 1893 fair:

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Anglo-Saxon Quilts #3: The "American Quilt"


 British Quilters’ Guild Collection
Detail, silk patchwork quilt dated 1718 found in Aldbourne, 
England in Wiltshire, about 75 miles west of London, 
showing English patchwork tradition,
quite familiar to the American eye.

At a time when bigots and pseudo-scientists emphasized difference in world cultures by gathering evidence in head shapes and facial characteristics....

Phrenologist measuring potential, Frank Dadd,1882

...Faddish misinformation became the "scientific" support of much bigotry.

In the midst of misinformation about potential and racially-inherited character, one could find many observable differences in U.S. regional customs and folkways. Nature rather than nurture was the popular theory explaining variety in living styles such as food choices, agriculture and how a home was set up and furnished. We now look more to "nurture' believing it's culture rather than genetics that dictates ideas as to whether pork is edible and how the bed was made.

Bedding and beds (our emphasis here) were quite diverse.

Museum Kastenbett
Traditional Austrian bed in a cabinet

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Embroidered bedcover, a colcha, signed & dated 1786 by 
Rosa Solís y Menéndez of Mexico

Nederlands Openlucht Museum
Dutch doll quilt, 18" wide, about 1800

Before 1800 patchwork bedding was not a common international solution to keeping warm at night. We could generalize and say the earlier pieced quilts were a product of the Netherlands and the British Isles, early colonizers of North America. The Dutch who sold their east coast real estate early to the English are often forgotten as patchworkers with most credit going to New England's crafters, descendants of the English refugees of the 17th century. New Englanders were ready to assemble scraps of cotton into bedding as soon as cotton scraps became common on both sides of the Atlantic in the last quarter of the 18th century.

Other immigrant groups and colonizers such as the French in Louisiana, the Pennsylvania Germans and the Californios had few pre-1830 traditions of patchwork bedding. Their descendants adopted patchwork from British neighbors. 

Freeman Auction
Quilt associated with the Vickers and Dare families, Maryland,
 dated 1845 a year before war with Mexico was declared. 
1840s innovations included red and green color schemes
and signed blocks assembled into patchwork albums.

In the last posts we looked at patchwork ideas during the 1840s, the decade of the Mexican War, when jingoistic ideas were used to make an argument for taking the vast southwest from Mexico. Americans were superior to Mexicans due to elite British genetics and culture. Patchwork quilts fit neatly into this hierarchy as they derived from a bedding style most associated with the British.

Lovely Lane Museum
1848, Baltimore

Mid-19th century political attitudes may have influenced the look of quilts---it's tough to find the threads of cause and effect. But the attitude certainly affected the way we look at quilts into the present day.

New Englander Harriet Beecher Stowe had much to do with quilts' association with English virtues and New England social life. In her 1859 novel The Minister's Wooing a quilting party is a major event. She had praise for the thrifty good wives of New England who created "stores of beauty and utility" in patchwork spreads. And praise for the descendants of Puritans with their Puritan educations and "solemn Puritan dwellings."

Stars in an 1844 sampler from Bangor, Maine

Of her heroine: "Mary had at heart the Puritan seed of heroism—never absent from the souls of true New England women." New Englanders were also Anglo-Saxons: Mary had an "Anglo-Saxon constitution, with its strong, firm intensity, its singleness of nature, wonders at the mobile, many-sided existence of warmer races...."

"The Minster's Wooing" was serialized in the Atlantic Monthly, a magazine founded in 1857 to advance what the New England founders called "The American Idea," from the region they consider the Olympus of U.S. culture. Stowe's initial serial novel contributed to that mythification, noted Joan D. Hedrick in her Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Stowe:

Colonial couple imagined in the 1940s
If one is going to believe in elite hierarchies, one also sees hierarchies within the social ladder. Anglo-Saxons were apparently the elite of the elite. 

That attitude was summarized in a mid-1840s endorsement for war hero Winfield Scott, "the very fellow for the head of [Mexican] government... Mexico will soon be Anglo-Saxonized." Not just Americanized or Britishized but Anglo-Saxonized. Take that you Celts and Normans, etc.!

1868 Virginia editorial looking back at 
Anglo-Saxon triumph in the Mexican War

Mexican War veterans First Lieutenant Pierre G.T. Beauregard and Major John Charles Frémont might disagree.

Anglo-Saxon quilts in the 14th & 15th centuries in
rather sloppy popular history from 1884. 
Readers would assume that Anglo-Saxons supplied
servants with the old patchwork quilt typical of the 1880s.

Quilt patterns and fabrics were designed to celebrate the connections. Most familiar may be what we still call a Lone Star, the symbol of the Texas Republic. See the last post:

Lone Star quilt with a Mexican War battle scene chintz
International Quilt Museum, 
Byron & Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection

Ruth Finley's chronology of politics is suspect but to her we owe
a good many of our ideas about pattern names and their supposed meaning.

Quilt date-inscribed 1832 & signed by Eunice Bailey 
What did quilters of Eunice's time call this pattern?
Ruth Finley professed to know a century later.

It's unsettling to see a craft used to support white/Anglo-Saxon supremacy but that connection became the standard verbiage, which tends to increase in intensity during periods of immigration from non-British countries.

In the early to mid-20th century popular quilt writing was valued more for mythology than accuracy. Nostalgia for an imagined colonial and pioneer past fed a sense of national pride. Patchwork quilts were survivors that seemed to support that argument. Curators, popular historians and pattern companies shaped their stories to fit the myth.

1934 Chicago Tribune

The fictional Nancy Cabot of the Chicago Tribune's quilt column was among the most fanciful of history writers. This pattern---an heirloom of the English colonist? unlikely---but a genteel association that at base is rather insidious.

Illustrations from The New Physiognomy by Samuel Wells
Too bad for you Scandinavians--- frankly, it's your chins.

Anglo-Saxons were, according to Anglo-Saxons, the apex of human development.

1826 lecture, Henry Thomas Alken

These three posts on the Anglo-Saxon quilt give us a little insight into our accepted versions of quilt history and why quilts are so pervasively associated with American identity. We aren't going to change the negative aspects of that but at least we can get a glimpse of why it's so.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Anglo-Saxon Quilts #2: The Mexican War

Baltimore, St. Louis Art Museum Collection
Quilt dated 1848, the year the United States & Mexico signed
 a treaty to formalize annexation of southwestern
 land from Texas to California.

George Washington watching over a quilting
bee revival during the Civil War.

 How indeed did quilts become propaganda?

Trying to read symbolism into needlework created almost 200 years ago is probably unwise but some of the messages we see in quilts from the 1840s and '50s do seem to remember the national argument on America's "Manifest Destiny" and English genetic superiority that resulted in aggression and war.

Most familiar may be what we call a Lone Star, the symbol of the Texas Republic, a name that is found as early as 1853 when a Louisville, Kentucky fair described a Logan County "Lone Star Quilt" as quite an attraction (probably a silk version made by Mrs. John First of Russellville.)

More obviously symbolic is this cotton version:

Lone Star quilt with a Mexican War battle scene chintz
International Quilt Museum, 
Byron & Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection

The print features General Zachary Taylor (some think it's Winfield Scott) at the Battle of Buena Vista. Victory in Mexico qualified them both to be nominated for President in future elections. (Scott did not win.)

One of several Mexican War battle prints, the fabric came in several colorways.

Two other victory celebrations

Taylor or Scott? 
Taylor the elder was born in 1784; Scott in 1786, both in their late fifties during the war.

Seen at a Virginia Quilt Museum show

Quilt associated with Sarah Langford, Colonial Williamsburg
Representation of Samuel Ringgold's monument.

Major Samuel Ringgold (1800-1846) 

Wars result in casualties who may become heroes in the popular mind. Major Samuel Ringgold of Hagerstown, Maryland was killed in May, 1846 at the Battle of Palo Alto.

 Lt. Colonel William H. Watson (1808-1846)

A few months later another Baltimore soldier William H. Watson died.

Baltimore album block from Old Hope Antiques

International Quilt Museum
 Inscribed in "Memory of Major Ringgold"

Quilt associated with Samuel Williams in collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art

Ringgold's memorial blocks survive in more Baltimore quilts than Watson's (I have only two Watson memorials in the files.) Ringgold was buried in Mexico but in December, 1846 his remains were disinterred and brought home in a ceremony of national mourning.

Washingtonians could view the body for a day in December.
And then a parade in Baltimore where the viewing lasted a few days.
"Thousands of both sexes [dropped] a sympathizing tear over the bier."

December 23, 1846

International Quilt Museum

We may assume this repeated image represents Ringgold's final resting spot but no monument to him was built at the time.

He's remembered with a flat stone at Baltimore's Green Mount Cemetery.

Ringgold and Watson are remembered in early versions of Maryland's state song:

“With Ringgold’s spirit for the fray,/With Watson’s blood at Monterey . . ./Maryland! My Maryland!” 

UPDATE: An anonymous and knowledgeable correspondent writes me:

"The Mexican War hero monuments were temporary structures in the open space of the Baltimore Merchants Exchange. The rifles were leaned up against the "fence" around the structures with the names [to keep] the public at a distance...."

And sure enough here is a description of Ringgold's temporary memorial! Baltimore Sun, December 18, 1846.
A cenotaph 26 feet tall.

Shelburne Museum Collection

13,000 U.S. soldiers and sailors died in the Mexican War. There must have been a cause for all that sacrifice. More on Manifest Destiny in the next post.