QUILTS & FABRIC: PAST & PRESENT

QUILTS & FABRIC: PAST & PRESENT By Quilt Historian Barbara Brackman Above: Moda's Baltimore Blues. It's not all blue.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Quilting Bees: Romance and Magic

 Enoch Wood Perry: The Two Sewers (A Quilting Party), 1875

The social aspects of cooperative quilting around
a frame have captured the eye of many painters of "Americana."
Perry's paintings reflects a post-Civil-War nostalgia for the past.

One of his sewers tells us a lot about how body language
changes. I'd swear she was answering her cell phone,
but she's holding a spool of thread to her head.
Why, I do not know.

UPDATE: Nicole has a clue.
The woman with cell phone is measuring out a length of thread. Look at her other hand! I measure mine hand to heart, but hand to ear works as well.

I measure mine to my elbow (doubled)

UPDATE 2
Jayne has another clue

 I think cell phone lady is cutting the thread with her teeth. See how her mouth is held, and her teeth are showing? I would never have noticed it if you hadn't updated about measuring a length of thread. Yes, I have done that, and I used to be able to cut thread with my teeth.


The other sewer is intent on her work (she's probably got her phone turned off). 
The magic here is in the frame. What is holding it up?

For my Civil War Quilts blog I've been writing about
authentic mid-19th-century quilting frames and I found
out quickly that one gets a lot more information from
photographs than paintings.

Perry's Girl Quilting, date-inscribed 1885,
indicates his interest in the subject. But
over ten years he didn't learn a thing about
how quilting frames are supported.

The quilt top looks historically accurate. As does the pegged frame
with holes, but I've not seen anyone put the peg
in at a diagonal.

I cannot read the signature on this image
but the artist uses the same artistic license
as Perry. The frame's strong horizontal line
is reason enough to paint it. Who cares how
it's held up?
UPDATE: I see the signature is E.W. Perry
so it's a third of his quilting images. Again the cross
bar is pegged at an angle.

Morgan Weistling is a contemporary painter who often uses quilts in his nostalgic imagery. It's the kind of image that makes a historian wince. The kid's shiny face under the quilt gives me the cynical willies too.The quilt's wrong for the era he's attempting to depict, but the whole thing is a historical mishmash...

including the magic of the frame's suspension. Note that
rickety hand-made chair.
The whole idea would make Dorothy Parker frow up.
But I digress...

Edgar Melville Ward, Quilting Party, 1892
Collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum

Other artists seem more attentive to the actual
mechanics of the quilting party.

Henry Mosler's  Quilting Bee, painted about 1890,
depicts an 18th-century event.

The quilter on the left uses the ladder-back
chair that holds up the frame as a worktable.

(In looking at this a little closer I am confused. Is
the chair holding up the frame or the frame holding
the chair?)

On the right the frame is supported by the
arm of a larger chair. I wouldn't want
to be the woman who has to share my chair
with the frame. You couldn't wiggle much.

Quilting nostalgia at an 1864 Sanitary Fair

The woman in the center foreground here
has the same problem. I'd be bringing my folding
chair if I had to sit like this.

Quilting Party by Pauline Jackson, about 1955

Jackson's frame has sturdy supports and everybody
gets their own chair.

The Quilting Bee by Anna Mary Robertson, 1940s.

The painter known as Grandma Moses had trouble
depicting real space, part of the charm of her naive
paintings. The dining table and the quilting frame
are held up in similar, rather unbelievable fashion,

Don't lean on the end of either.

The artist's best bet is to just ignore
the mechanics and focus on the
quilt. (I hope the bottled beverages
here never fizz over.)

Of course, these painters are "artists," and each has an artistic
license. Faith Ringold has invited Vincent Van Gogh
to her quilting bee, and you KNOW you
can't really do that. You also KNOW the quilt
is not a magic carpet.

See more serious discussion of the mechanics of the quilting frame at my Civil War Quilts
blog last weekend.



12 comments:

Gene Black said...

Those mysterious floating quilt frames baffle me too.
My grandmother's frame was held up by ropes that hung from the rafters.

Jeanne said...

Laughing about the magic floating frames and scary seating :) Great article, as always!

Lori said...

What a fun way to get my Monday morning started!

WoolenSails said...

Those are fun photos and I think a lot of them are more of folk art style where things are not in perspective.

Debbie

Nicole said...

The first painting: Enoch Wood Perry: The Two Sewers (A Quilting Party), 1875 - the woman with cell phone is measuring out a length of thread. Look at her other hand! I measure mine hand to heart, but hand to ear works as well.

And maybe the frame is balanced on chairs out of sight?

Jacqueline said...

Sort of like watching a tv show. I keep reminding the kids, this isn't real, it is just a movie, made up by a human...

Jayne Honnold said...

I have an additional supposition for the Enoch Wood Perry painting: I think cell phone lady is cutting the thread with her teeth. See how her mouth is held, and her teeth are showing? I would never have noticed it if you hadn't updated about measuring a length of thread. Yes, I have done that, and I used to be able to cut thread with my teeth.

ktsgram2 said...

I helped my grandmothers quilt with the frames balanced on chairs or stacks of books due to tight quarters. Which leads me to think that perhaps the artists were not too far from the truth in the images they created. "Needs must" and quilters always find a way.

Pam said...

Love this! The whole piece made me laugh, but the phrase 'cynical willies' was the absolute best. Just for the record, I measure my thread hand to shoulder and I don't think I've ever cut thread with my teeth, nor have I ever used my cell phone while quilting. I can't multi-task to save my life and I'm proud of it! Take care, Pam

Suzanne A said...

OMG. My otherwise elegant mother, b. 1909, used to cut her sewing thread with her teeth, an image I'd completely forgotten. One of four girls close in age, she probably found it much more efficient than looking for the scissors. You can't do that with polyester, silk or nylon-'only 100% cotton:-)

Cynthia@aquilterbynight said...

What a great post, as always. You teach us so much! These images are so charming - thank you for putting them in context.

Judymc said...

Really enjoyed this post. Isn't it funny how we tend to look at things in the context of our own times. I saw an exhibit of Grandma Moses paintings in San Diego and it was wonderful.