Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Three Fates: A Morris Tapestry

The Three Fates or the Triumph of Death
Netherlands, Early 16th century
Victoria and Albert Museum

I've been reading about William Morris, the tapestries his workshops wove and what influenced Morris and his partners. I came across this 16th-century piece in the collection of London's V&A and was surprised to find a classical reference to textiles as a metaphor for life.

The three fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, are based on Greek mythology. They control human life. Clotho, on the left with her spindle, spins the thread of life. Lachesis on the right draws lots on how long one will live. Atropos in the center cuts the thread.....Fate.

The tapestry in the Victoria and Albert Museum, a fragment from a larger piece, is  based on an Italian poem from the 14th century. Petrarch's poem The Triumphs contains six allegories: the Triumph of Death (the tapestry at the top of the page) Triumph of Love, the Triumph of Chastity, the Triumph of Fame (below), the Triumph of Time and the Triumph of Eternity.

The Triumph of Fame over Death

William Morris and his friends were undoubtedly familiar with these tapestries, which seem to be a sort of scissors/paper/stone analogy---one thing triumphs over another.
It's always something.

Several of the Morris prints, such as Daisy (1864), feature florals drawn from the old tapestries. The flowers and the repeat are in the backgrounds of the woven pieces.

But....back to Clotho and Atropos, one who spins the thread, the other who cuts it.

Inspired by the original tapestry, Morris's daisy print (I found a reproduction) and my Photoshopping program, I created a Three Fates embroidered tapestry.

Three Fates, Barbara Brackman
Embroidered and altered photography on cotton

A detail of Atropos and Lachesis, otherwise known as Zsa-Zsa and Eva.

Now I have fate hanging over my sewing machine.

See more about the Triumph of Death tapestry by clicking here:


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Botch Handle/Devil's Claws

Or why I never get anything done around here....
Botch Handle quilt 
Shown in Quilting Traditions: The Art of the Amish,  from the collection of Tom and Marsha French, at the Dairy Barn last summer. 

Bonita writes:

Recently took in an exhibit of Amish Quilts at the Dairy Barn in Athens, OH. Wonderful collection in a most perfect setting! I was curious about one quilt named "Botch Handle". Looked it up in your Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns and found it also called Lily and Des Moines. A friend of mine said she knew it as Devil's Claw. So, do you have any clue as to why or how it came to be titled Botch Handle and what it may mean?
I could have said all I know is in that Encyclopedia. Even though I wrote it 30 years ago, I haven't found much new about quilt pattern names and their sources since then. The name Botch Handle comes from Robert Bishop and Elizabeth Safanda's Gallery of Amish Quilts. I do not know their source for the name, but it is used commonly now for Amish quilts in the pattern. I could have said that.

But no-o-o-o, although I should be mulching the roses I started looking at the whole picture.

In the Encyclopedia I listed several published names for the design (#2058a and 2058b) with Bishop and Safanda's being the most recently published. About 1900 the Ladies Art Company, a pattern sales company, published it as the Lily Quilt Pattern and Hearth and Home magazine published it as Des Moines. In 1934 the Kansas City Star quilt column suggested you embroider your name across the center in album quilt fashion and called it Cluster of Lilies. A smaller source the Needlecraft Supply Company published it in 1938 as Pond Lily.


The Amish may very well call this Botch Handle. I don't know a thing about Amish language. I guessed botch might be a German word, but I looked in several dictionaries and found it as an Americanism. In the 1830 American Dictionary of the English Language Noah Webster defined a botch as

1) A swelling on the skin
2) Patch
3) The part of a garment patched or mended in clumsy manner, ill finished work in mending.

Which is still the same meaning we attach to botch. So what is a botch handle? A bad repair?

For more botched automobile repairs click here:

As far as the Devil's Puzzle Pattern. It's similar, also based on four stars.

This pattern was published as Devil's Claws by the Ladies' Art Company.
Other names include Idaho Beauty and Cross Plains.

The name Devil's Claws refers to a number of plants with spiky parts, particularly a South African creeper
with an alarming seed pod.
There are probably many American plants also referred to as Devil's Claws, so we can imagine that is the source of the Ladies' Art Company name. (Roseanne sent a link to an American Devil's Claw plant that grows in the western U.S. http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_prpa2.pdf )

Quilts in both designs go back to about the 1890s, the time when the Ladies' Art Company started selling quilt patterns.

See four vintage versions of the Botch Handle/Lily made by women who were not Amish by looking at these references from the Quilt Index.

Well this was more fun than mulching the roses, and maybe someone who has interviewed Amish quilt makers can tell us more.
Me. I'm getting back to my sewing room and finishing a  botchwork quilt I've been working on.
P.S. Chris Jurd sent a photo of her recently finished Devil's Claws

See her blog:

UPDATE on November 29th in the afternoon.
Someone in the Comments said that her grandmother used the term Botch Handle for what your grandmother might have called a meat tenderizer. I found some pictures of antique tools. Now we know what a botch handle is and why the pattern would be called that. Thanks.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Abolitionist Embroidery 2

The last post discussed the imagery in Reed's 19th-century embroidered picture, primarily in the kneeling figure. She also asked about the stars and moon at the top of the piece.
"It occurred to me yesterday that the stars are actually a very common quilt pattern, which I discovered is the 'Ohio Star' pattern, I have since gone on to read about the underground railway quilts, which appears to be widely discredited. I was curious to know if the 'Ohio Star' pattern was commonly used as a symbol of freedom, if these stars do represent the 'Ohio Star' it would at least place this textiles origin in the US. The backwards moon is a mystery and if the stars do represent the 'Ohio Star', then why are there three?"

Eight-pointed stars ARE common quilt patterns, one of the oldest and most popular designs. We see them in quilts from the 1770s and in quilts on design walls today. But rather than the quilt patterns influencing the anonymous embroiderer, we have to assume quilters and embroiderers obtained their imagery from the same traditions.

Eighteenth-century rug

Eight-pointed stars are geometric shorthand that can represent the stars in the skies, flowers, and all manner of natural imagery. They can also represent nothing more than pleasing design. We see them in embroidery, rugs and mosaics going back centuries.

Black work embroidery design

German family record

Embroidery from the U.S.

The North Star did have meaning to the abolitionist movement in the U.S. Fredrick Douglass's newspaper The North Star began publishing in 1847.

The North Star masthead
The artwork in the center pictures a man running towards a bright star in the sky. The symbolism of the name was often discussed in print. Escaping slaves were advised to head for the North Star and freedom in the free states.

The stars in Reed's embroidery may have meant something to the artist, but we should be careful about projecting meaning. Stars are just too common and too universal an idea. The angels with their golden trumpets, on the other hand, remain an easy-to-read symbol.

Pennsylvania German painted tinware

Why three stars? We can imagine that Christian artists considered three a sacred number, relevant to the Trinity. But three is also a balanced composition. Artists throughout history have known how to arrange three objects for effect.

Victorian miniature furniture with three strawberries

Back to the quilt pattern: I looked up the stars in my Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns, an index to pattern names and when they were first published. Both star patterns above were published as Ohio Star by Carrie Hall in her 1935 book The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt. I have found no earlier sources than this mid-20th century reference. I have to conclude that 19th-century quiltmakers did not call these stars Ohio Star, so looking for some connection to the underground railroad mythology in Ohio is rather far-fetched.

And what about the moon?
Is it backwards?
UPDATE: See the comments for mention that this is a waning moon. Perhaps a hope that slavery is a waning institution?

Thanks to Reed for sharing the pictures of her treasure. She says she also inherited several American quilts. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Abolitionist Embroidery

Reed in England wrote with a few questions about an embroidered piece:
"I recently inherited this unusual textile from my mother, and I was trying to find some information on it. My mother collected folk art, and was originally American, although we moved to Britain in the 1970's. I thought she bought this in Britain and always thought it was British (slavery was abolished in 1833 in Britain)....

It occurred to me yesterday that the stars are actually a very common quilt pattern, which I discovered is the 'Ohio Star' pattern, I have since gone on to read about the underground railway quilts, which appears to be widely discredited. I was curious to know if the 'Ohio Star' pattern was commonly used as a symbol of freedom, if these stars do represent the 'Ohio Star' it would at least place this textiles origin in the US. The backwards moon is a mystery and if the stars do represent the 'Ohio Star'. then why are there three? I would be very interested in your thoughts on this subject."
That's a lot of questions to answer, specially for a person who is sitting there gape-mouthed in front of her computer screen. Gape-mouthed and envious. How come I never inherit any 19th-century abolitionist embroidery?
This is going to have to be a two-part blog. We'll deal with the symbolism of the details next time.

The symbolism of the human figure is far more important. The kneeling black man with shackled hands and feet was the popular image of the late-18th and 19th-century abolitionist movements in Britain and America. Also in the logo are the words: "Am I not a man and a brother?"

In 1787 English potterJosiah Wedgwood created a medallion with the image and shipped some to anti-slavery sympathizers in the United States. The idea of a durable, small ceramic logo was brilliant publicity. Copies of the kneeling slave (and a female equivalent) are found on all manner of manufactured goods on both sides of the Atlantic.


Printed material

And handmade items, particularly needlework

Needlecase in the Manchester (England) Gallery of Craft and Design

Detail of a patch in a quilt by Deborah Coates, Pennsylvania
She may have cut the image from a silk handkerchief.

Embroidery from the collection of Colonial Williamsburg 

Sarah Sedgewick's embroidered
 sampler made to celebrate her own freedom

Embroidery in the Wilberforce House
at the Hull City Museum in Britain
Among other similarities to Reed's piece, the words in the Wilberforce embroidery are the same
 Biblical reference: "Thou, God, seest me"

Reed's embroidered picture
Reed's has two additional lines at the top:
"The Negros Prayer"
"Jesus who makest the meanest s"

Using Google Books to search for the lines I found "The Negro's Prayer" in an 1818 American periodical, the Evangelical Guardian and Review.* The poem begins
Jesus, who maks't the meanest soul
An object of thy care.
Attend to what my heart would speak,
Hear a poor Negro's prayer.
The American printing is probably not the first printing of "The Negro's Prayer." It may be British and older than 1818.

The embroiderer who did Reed's piece at the top apparently had high hopes of stitching at least the poem's initial verse, but never finished the first line. We can all relate. 

Needleprint, the excellent embroidery blog, offers a free download of a counted stitch image of the chained slave. Click here: http://needleprint.blogspot.com/2009/05/free-download-quaker-slavery-motif.html
It would be perfect for a little needlecase to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, an event that begins in January.

See more about antislavery imagery at the Colonial Williamsburg website. Click here:

* The reference for the poem is the Evangelical Guardian and Review, Volume 2, 1818, New York, page 364. Google Books

Monday, November 22, 2010

Double Wedding Rings

My Double Wedding Ring
by Keiko Goke

Judging by the blog postings, this wedding ring quilt by a Japanese artist was quite a hit at Quilt Market and Quilt Festival earlier this month. The color and the scale grabbed you as you walked by and the detail kept you there. 

It's always fun to look at an old pattern in a new way.

How old is the Double Wedding Ring pattern?

Here's the earliest date-inscribed wedding ring I've been able to find.

We're all used to seeing the typical 1930-1960 examples, usually small scraps of prints contrasted with plain white background and four-patches of solid colors.

And sometimes with plain pastels in the background.

Quilt historians agree the design developed in the 1920s,
a variation on an older design with spiky pieces in the arcs,
something we call pickle dish today.

Tied wedding ring, fabrics look to be 1900-1925

But could the Wedding Ring be older than the 1920s?
There is a small subcategory of Wedding Rings made up in the fashionable colors of the 1900-1925 era---indigoes, cadet blues, turkey reds, shirtings and double pinks.

Alice sent in a photo of these blocks she found in an online auction.
How old?
The fabrics look 1900-1925.

Quilt historians also agree that the earliest published pattern yet found for the design is October 20, 1928 in Capper's Weekly.

Capper's Weekly sketch for the pattern, 1928, from Quilt History Tidbits

This quilt looks like it was made from the Capper's Weekly pattern.
Or was the Capper's pattern drawn from a quilt like this? 
Note the alternating darks and lights in the arcs. The background, now tan, was probably bright red at one time.

Another example with the high contrast stripes in the arcs.
I bet the background here was once red too.

My guess is that the pattern designers picked up on a pattern that was being passed around hand-to-hand, a design that might go back to the teens or the 1900-1910 decade.
At the end of the 1920s quilts underwent a design change and so did the Wedding Rings.
The high contrast striped arc lost importance.

From Deb Rowden's collection
Prints very much in the 1900-1920 styles but the arcs aren't dark next to light.

Double Wedding Ring pattern from
Hubert VerMehren's Des Moines pattern company in the early 1930s.

It was important that the arcs be scrappy in the 1930s examples.
High contrast was no longer valued. And the modern pastel and bright prints were a necessity.

See more about the history of the pattern on Wilene Smith's webpage Quilt History Tidbits. She's done most of the research on the design.


And see Leigh's Hart Cottage quilts. She's quite interested in the design too because the Wedding Ring is supposed to be part of the Underground Railroad Quilt Code, which would mean that the pattern should date back to the mid 19th century. It's just not a possibility.

For related Double Wedding Rings click on the links below

Ann Champion's blog post

The James collection at IQSC

American Folk Art Museum