Sunday, August 30, 2009

Laura Wheeler Patterns

Gwen sent some photos for pattern identification.

"This quilt was given to me by a Mennonite friend, whose husband's great-aunt made this quilt…. It's an unusual pattern, one I've never seen except here in this quilt."

It's a complex design that looks to have been made in the heyday of polyester blends, the 1970s (when brown was a patchwork necessity). It is hard to identify the block but I noticed a seam in the dark brown sashing that defined a square so I drew it in EQ and here's what I saw.

It's actually a nine-patch so I looked up Nine-Patches with small center blocks in my Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. It was published as "Sunburst" by the company that used the name Laura Wheeler, probably in the 1930s. Their designer drafted a lot of really complex designs that rely on secondary patterning for effect. Some are so odd you rarely see them made.

Laura Wheeler is one of the names used for a needlework pattern source in New York City. Quilt pattern collectors know little about this company which was formed as Needlecraft Service in 1932. The name was changed to Reader Mail in 1944. Quilt historian Wilene Smith determined that Nathan Kogan, Max Levine and Anne Borne formed the business, but we have no idea who the actual pattern designers were.

Needlecraft's patterns appeared in dozens of newspapers in the 1930s and still run in papers today. The 1930s were the prime years for their quilt patterns and they also sold crochet, knitting, fashion and embroidery patterns. Fictional names like Carol Curtis or Alice Brooks gave a personal touch to the patterns that were neither a column nor an advertisement, but something called a "reader service feature." Readers sent a dime to a New York address at the Old Chelsea Station post office and received a full-size pattern in the mail.

The information on Laura Wheeler is from my Kansas City Star book called Women of Design: Quilts in the Newspaper. I drew a Block of the Month basket based on designs from important pattern sources of the thirties. Here's the block for Laura Wheeler, appliqued by debi shrader.

Ilyse Moore made the Women of Design sampler in batiks.

For more about the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns click here:
For more about Women of Design click here:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Piece and Plenty

Appliqued summer spread, signed J.H. Caspar, Pennsylvania, estimated date 1840-1860.

Piece and Plenty, by Cindy Vermillion Hamilton, Pagosa Springs, Colorado, 1999

I have an appliqued spread from Pennsylvania that is signed on the reverse J.A. Caspar (possibly J.H. Caspar or Gasper). Various flowers and fruit sprout from a basket with reverse appliqued diamonds. A swag border with strawberries frames three sides. The overdyed green has been damaged by washing, turning the green to yellow in streaks where the blue dye has bled out. Several years ago Cyndi Vermillion Hamilton borrowed the top to photograph and she came up with this interpretation, a spectacular red and green reproduction quilt. She had a good time finding a swirly batik to represent the damaged green.

You still have a few days to see an exhibit she's curated.
"Antique Quilts from the Trunk of Cindy Vermillion Hamilton" runs through September 19, 2009 at the San Juan Historical Society Museum in Pagosa Springs, CO. The museum is located at US 160 and 1st Street. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 am to 4 pm. About 30 quilts ranging from 1840 through one of Cindy's recent works are on display.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


This may be my favorite William Morris pattern, Pimpernel, ever since my sister wallpapered her stairway in it twenty years ago. I am luxuriating in having yards of reproduction fabric in three colorways from The Morris Workshop line.

"Pimpernel" is the name that the Morris workshop gave to their wallpaper in 1876. A pimpernel is a flower. Anagallis arvensis is an English plant that seems actually to be considered a weed. I always thought the flower in the wallpaper looked like a tulip since I had no idea what a pimpernel was. I did some quick and dirty research, brought up some pimpernel photographs on the web, and now I realize the pimpernels are the background flowers. Those are tulips with pimpernels creeping around behind them.

An English gardener has a blog with a photo that shows how they grow in the garden as they do in the Morris pattern.


All I know about pimpernels is a melodramatic 1930s movie called The Scarlet Pimpernel, which used to be on Million Dollar Movies in the afternoon when I was in grade school. I see it was drawn from a play by Baroness Emmuska Orczy about the French revolution. The hero, sort of like Zorro, assumed a mysterious identity to aid the suffering.

The reason I bring this all up, aside from an enjoyment of the word pimpernel, is that I had intended in The Morris Workshop fabric to include the designer's name and the date and name of the design on the selvage of each piece, but we ran out of room. People might like that information so I made a PDF and linked it to my website. You can download a sheet with an index to each print. Click here to download that file.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon. Hand appliqued and hand quilted by Bobbi Finley, San Jose, California, 1998-2001. 72 1/2" square.

On the masthead here you'll see the new cover of my reprinted Encyclopedia of Applique. I published the first edition in 1993 and it's been out of print for years. It was in such demand that used copies were bringing over $100, so C&T Publishing decided we'd republish it. It should be in quilt shops this week.

The new edition has the same index to 2,000 applique designs but with a new cover, more color, an updated history of applique and five projects. Bobbi's Rose of Sharon is one of the how-to projects (scallop and everything).

The striking color on this quilt was inspired by the flowers we call Rose of Sharon in my part of the world. These hardy hibiscus are in bloom right now, cheering up our sun-scorched August gardens. Bobbi says her idea of a Rose of Sharon is not the red and green of traditional applique but purple and yellow like the flowers outside her kitchen window.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Buff and Blue

EBay, like the rest of the economy, has been suffering from some deflation. It's encouraging (I think!) to see a quilt bid up to astronomical heights. I got a note yesterday that eBay is sorry I didn't win this album quilt for $3,349. I'm not sorry as I like to spend about $60 for a quilt.

It is a great quilt, over 100 inches square, possibly from the 1840s, sold by the eBay quilt dealer French Antiques. It is full of fondue or rainbow prints in the blue and buff color combination produced by Prussian blue dye. These large-scale stripes and plaids were quite popular for women's dresses in the 1840s and '50s. Dyers loved the palette because both shades came from the same dyestuff. The blues could be quite bright shaded to dull and the browns from rich caramel color to a light tan (buff).

In reading 18th-century English history I find there is political meaning as well as fashion sensibility to buff and blue. Those were the colors of the American revolutionary war uniform. The Whig party in England, opposed to King George III, also wore the color combination. The fabulous Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and her friend Frances Crewe wore buff and blue in electioneering for the Whigs, an activity that caused this cartoon backlash depicting Georgiana as trading kisses for votes. Mrs. Crewe, wearing buff and blue on the left, made a famous toast to the Whig politicians in 1784:"Buff and blue and all of you."

This quilt is fifty years later but the print's palette remained known by the alliterative name of Buff and Blue. So for those who bid on this quilt---a toast: "Buff and blue and all of you."