Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Civil War Survivor

Detail of a signature quilt dated 1862

Quilts reliably attributed to the years 1861-1865 are in short supply. Fabric shortages during the Civil War, the use of quilts by soldiers in camp and hospitals, and confiscation by foraging soldiers reduced the numbers made and those that survived.

Earlier this year Regina wrote with questions about a signature quilt dated 1862, found in a Cape Cod attic and donated to a thrift shop. Someone there recognized its historical value as it was signed by women with old Dutch names familiar to local historians in New York and New Jersey. One block had the town name Nyack, New York, which is north of Yonkers on the west side of the Hudson.


Regina had a question about the unusual pattern. I did find a version in my Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns,  BlockBase #3760, published about 1910 by Massachusetts pattern merchant Clara Stone under the name Sailor's Joy.

 But Clara Stone's version design is pieced and the Nyack quilt is appliqued in the center.

Regina did some more research on the design and found that quilt historian Susan Price Miller was also interested in the pattern.

Susan Price Miller, detail
Star Signature Quilt

For the American Quilt Study Group's 2010 Study of Star Quilts, Susan reproduced a quilt from her collection dated 1877. At the AQSG web site picturing her quilt she writes:

" The thirty-six 10-inch blocks probably came from northern New Jersey, the home of most of the signers, and were joined with wide sashing a generation later. The center points of the stars are cut away in convex curves, providing space for signatures. I discovered a small group of published examples of similar eight and six pointed stars. All have narrow sashing and borders and were made in the New York/New Jersey area before the Civil War."

Susan's quilt is patterned in the book Stars: A Study of 19th Century Star Quilts, so if you are looking for a Civil War reproduction design consider the star made of teardrop shapes, which can be appliqued or pieced. Click here to find out more about the book.

Regina has published her research on the Nyack quilt at her web site:

The quilt is now in the collection of the Historical Society of the Nyacks and on display. Click here for more information about their new museum. http://nyackhistory.org/welcome.html

My favorite book this month is a history of the colony of Nieuw Amsterdam which explains how all those Dutch names came to New York and New Jersey.
See more about Russel Shorto's The Island at the Center of the World by clicking here:

The contrast between the Dutch culture and the English culture that tried to replace it and erase it is fascinating. Another book about Nieuw Amesterdam is Jean Zimmerman's The Women of the House, which focuses on one family and women's lives and rights under Dutch law.


  1. Wow, what a wonderful post. The Nyack quilt is sooo pretty and the signature images are wonderful.

  2. Another very interesting post, I have an Aunt who lives in Nyack NY.
    I love all the History, for me that is the icing on the cake so to speak when it comes to quilting!

  3. I am a descendent of the first settlers in NY, love reading the history and stories. I don't have any memories of items like quilts or crafts from them, though.


  4. thanks so much for sharing the Rockland/ Bergen County quilt square info & links. this is where my family settled long ago. I love the square and can't wait to make my own quilt.
    Best, Meg

  5. A collection of star quilts are on exhibit at the New England Quilt Museum, Lowell, MA, through Aug 31, 2011. See details at http://www.nequiltmuseum.org/

  6. Very interesting post about the 1862 signature quilt from Nyack. I have a camelback trunk that belonged to my Great-Grandmother and the paper lining inside the trunk has this 8-pointed star design. There is a patent on the trunk (perhaps for the lock). I should check it, I think it dates to about 1860. The paper lining was my inspiration for a quilt I drafted based on that design. I wonder if that could have been the original source for the Nyack quilt

  7. This quilt reminds me of the Savery Friendship quilt made in Pennsylvania in 1844. It doesn't have the curves next to the names but it is a star with signitures in the middle of the block.

  8. See the link to that Rebecca Savery quilt here. It is a star, but based on a hexagon.

  9. I've read The Island at the Center of the World, too. I loved! that book! I was born in Manhattan and live in New Jersey. The very early history of European society in this country was fascinating.