Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Quilts and Traditional Jewish Culture

Detail from an embroidered quilt, ca 1900, in the collection
 of the Jewish Museum

My cousin sent an April 12, 2014 article from the Jewish Daily Forward called "Why Jews Suffer from a Quilt Complex?" Author Jenna Weissman Joselit discussed why her Jewish "home and ... parents’ home and ... grandparents’ homes were entirely quilt-free."
"East European Jews and their descendants, as I've just discovered, had little truck with quilting. Feather bedding was one thing; patchwork quilts quite another."
The article:

This is true in my personal experience too. My Jewish grandmother's house (and my Irish-Catholic grandmother's house---both in New York City) were entirely quilt-free.

My Jewish grandmother loved handwork, 
knitting full outfits (skirt, cardigan and shell) and 
crocheting doilies similar to this by the dozens.

It's a question I have considered for awhile. To discuss it we first need to divide the quilts and quilters into two categories.
  • One: Contemporary quilters working after 1960
  • Two: Historical quilts made before 1960.
Then we have to define "quilt."

 A layered patchwork textile with layers held together by quilting or tying.

 Contemporary quilters working after 1960

Rosh Hashana by Linda Frost, 2010
This quilt traveled in a 2012-13 Smith-Kramer exhibit 
America Celebrates! Quilts of Joy and Remembrance.

Linda can represent the thousands of Jewish quiltmakers working after 1960 during the current revival of interest in the form. There is no lack of contemporary Jewish quilt artists making bed coverings and art quilts, so we shall move on to the second category.

Historical quilts made before 1960

The Reiter/Freidman family Baltimore Album quilt
1848-1850, Baltimore
Collection of the American Folk Art Museum
One of three similar Baltimore album quilts attributed to Baltimore's Jewish community about 1850.
Read more here:
Quilt photographed during the Kansas Quilt Project

In 1986 I participated in the Kansas Quilt Project, which documented about 13,000 quilts made in Kansas or brought to Kansas up to that date. The majority were vintage quilts made before 1950.

We looked at the quiltmaker's religion. About 59 percent of the quilts were identified as being made by a quiltmaker with a known religious affiliation. The number: about 7,700 quilts. The highest percentage (22.5%) was made by Methodists followed by people identified as generic Christians, then Roman Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians and Lutherans---not surprising as these specific denominations ranked highest among Kansans in general in the 1980s.

Fundraising quilt made by members of the Sunday School, 
First Methodist Episcopal Church, Topeka, Kansas, 1883. 
Collection of the Kansas State Historical Society.
Church members paid a dime to have their names included.

The contrast between Roman Catholics and Methodists was interesting, however. Catholics made up the highest percentage of Kansans (34.6%) at the time, with Methodists at 26.9%. Yet Catholics did not make quilts in proportion to their numbers either in 1886 or 1986. Catholics made 7% of our total; Methodists over three times as many.

I did the accounting and was surprised to find that of all those quilts only six were made by Jews: Six quilts made by 1-1/2 quilt makers identifying themselves as Jewish. I know it was 1-1/2 because I was the half and a friend was the whole. We both began after 1960.

The Kansas Quilt Project also asked about quiltmakers' ethnic origins and found over 8,000 identifications. British heritage was first with 41% reporting that background, German ethnicity was a close second at 38% and then the numbers dropped to 13% for Scandinavian, 5% for French and 1% for Czech. Ethnicity such as Italian, Mexican, Amish and Jewish were insignificant at less than 1% each.

Fundraising quilt made by women of the
First Baptist Church, Jamestown, Tennessee
1937-1939. From the Quilt Index.
Community members paid a dime for each embroidered name 
raising $22.10. The quilt then sold  for $10.00. The $32.10 bought chairs
 for Sunday School.

My theory at the time of writing the book on the findings of the Kansas Quilt Project:
"Protestant church activities, such as Sunday School quilts and Ladies' Aid Society quilting groups traditionally were a strong influence on quilting." 

Lititz, Pennsylvania, 1942
Photo by Marjory Collins. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
The caption: "The Moravian sewing circle quilts for anyone at one cent a yard of thread and donates the money to the church."
The Moravians in the photo, like many Protestant women's church groups, raised money for church improvements and maintenance by taking in quilting, an activity still carried out in church basements. Women also raised money by charging for signatures, and by raffling (if such gambling was allowed) and auctioning quilts.

Quilt auctions raise significant funds for the 
Mennonite Relief Services.

Based on data from the Kansas Quilt Project and personal observation I would have to agree with Jenna Weissman Joselit that quiltmaking was not a popular activity among Jewish women in the past.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Bertha Stenge was one of the most prominent quiltmakers of the 1940's and '50s, winning national prizes with her work.

Bertha Sheramsky Stenge (1891-1957)

Bertha Stenge, The Quilt Show
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago

See more of Stenge's quilts here at the Art Institute
And read a biography here:

Berger/Miller quilt
Another of the 1850 Jewish Baltimore Albums
from the collection of Jane Katcher

Bertha Neiden 1914

Bayla Schuchman, born in Gorodish, Russia, emigrated to the U.S. in 1909. By 1914 when this photo was taken her name was Bertha and she was Americanized enough to enter her quilt in the Nebraska State Fair. Her wool patchwork seems to have more in common with the European tradition of tailor's patchwork or intarsia patchwork than the American quilts of her era.

Read more about Bertha Neiden and her quilt:

And read more about wool intarsia quilts here at this post I did a few year ago:

As far as reasons for the general lack of traditional Jewish quilts in America: Jenna Weissman Joselit discusses European bedding, immigrant culture, access to cotton versus goose down, etc.

Quilt dated 1880 by an unknown maker in classic American applique style.
One does not find this style of bedding in traditional European cultures.

Quilt historians have looked at quilts and immigrants from many angles. The consensus is that the typical American patchwork quilt derived from a few sources, particularly the tradition of patchwork in India and its trading partners Holland and Britain, combined with a widespread European/Asian tradition of quilted bedding.

"Armenians make quilts Alexandropol,"
probably early 20th century, photo from the Library of Congress

Japanese quilted bedding about 1930
from the Library of Congress.
People all over the world have slept under and on quilted and tied bedding.

American quilts are distinctive in their combination of the two techniques, so distinctive that we can view the acquisition of the techniques and designs as a sign of American acculturation. 

European immigrants from the Pennsylvania Germans of the 1600s to the Ashkenazi Jews at the turn of the last century did not bring the patchwork quilt tradition with them.

 In the early-19th century the Pennsylvania Germans adapted the bedding of their "English" neighbors to their traditional design sense. It is probably this combination of German folk arts and British bedding format that had the most significant impact on the traditional American quilt.

Unfinished top by Mary Jane Lewis Scruggs
Collection of the Kansas Museum of History

We can see much Germanic design influence in the flat, stylized flowers, red and green colors and mirror-image symmetries in Scrugg's top, evidence of the Pennsylvania-German impact in the American quilt. It is also evidence of this particular African-American quiltmaker's American culture. She was born right after the Civil War to former slaves.

Read more about her quilt top here:

Embroidered quilt, ca 1900, in the collection
 of the Jewish Museum

The Museum's caption:
Quilt. Russia and United States, c. 1899 Velvet: embroidered with wool, silk, and metallic thread; glass beads 81 1/2 x 65 in. (207 x 165.1 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Purchase: Judaica Acquisitions Fund

Cross-stitched embroidery detail showing
European dress and dance

My first thought in seeing this quilt was that it was a crazy quilt, a very popular style from 1880-1920.

Detail showing cross-stitched rooster 
and seam-covered patchwork on the patchwork triangles.

Looking closer at the embroidery I realized that much of it is cross-stitched pictorial work, not typical of the American crazy quilt, which usually features irregular pieces, outlined pictures,satin stitches and seam-covering, linear stitches.

An American crazy quilt

Perhaps the cross-stitch embroidery was done in Russia and the pieces assembled into patchwork in the U.S., a rather unusual example of Americanization in a single quilt.

See another quilt in the Jewish Museum's collection here:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Free Album Pattern at the Fat Quarter Shop Blog

Album block, about 1875
Check the Fat Quarter Shop's Jolly Jabber blog for a free pattern
that Kathe Dougherty made up in my Ladies's Album fabric line.

We used one of my favorite blocks, this classic design called Album Block.

Ladies' Album by Kathe Dougherty, 
quilted by Sandy Morgan Cockrum.
44" square.

Mid-19th century album quilt

That central square offered a great place for names and many, many groups
of quiltmakers used the design to gather signatures and memories.

Mid-19th century

In one variation you use a strip to replace the 3 center squares.
Here is a 1920's block from the Carrie Hall collection at the Spencer
Museum of Art at the University of Kansas.

Block set with buff and blue chintz print
about 1850

Another mid-19th-century version with blocks on point
from Laura Fisher at Fisher Heritage.

Quilt dated 1903

Mid-19th century

Mid-19th century

Mid-19th century
See what you can do with the block!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Good Dogs at AQS Show in Paducah

Good Dogs by the Sewhatevers

 If you go to the AQS show in Paducah this week look for our Good Dogs quilt.

Several of us Sewhatevers have been working on
a group portrait of our pets. 

Not only did we get accepted we WON second prize in the Group Quilts.

GROUP QUILTS: sponsored by Innova
1ST      #3-1011 LEARN AND GROW, Sugar Cube Quilters, Floral City, Florida
2ND     #3-1010 GOOD DOGS, Sew Whatevers, Lawrence, Kansas
3RD     #3-1009 A PIECE OF PUZZLE, Yukie Sato & 11 Friends, Setagaya, Tokyo, Japan
HM       #3-1006 BLUE SKY IN ALSACE, Shigeko Kobori & 7 Friends, Setagaya, Tokyo, Japan

As Janet says: WOWZA!

See a list of all the winners here:

Jesse the collie by Roseanne Smith

We photographed our dogs, made line drawings from
the photos and appliqued them. The rules were:
No black, no white and use the Jane Sassaman dot for background.

It took awhile.....

Wendy Turnbull's Zoe and Max on the left, 
Janet Perkins's Boston Bull on the right.
The dogs are NOT to scale.

Minnie the mini-poodle by Georgann Eglinski

Roseanne set our blocks together, quilted it and entered it in the AQS show.

Sumo the large by Georgann Eglinski
Not everyone made her own dog.

Note Roseanne quilted dog names into each block.
It says Sumo above her ear on the left.

Dorothy Barker the approx-a-dox by Barbara Brackman

Harry the Jack Russell by Kathe Dougherty

Zoe the sheepdog by Wendy Turnbull

Either Lucy or Ethel---Boston Bull Terriers
by Janet Perkins


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lone Star

Quilt about 1880-1930

A few years ago I curated a show on quilts and modernism, which got me thinking about the effects of fine art's modern aesthetic on quiltmaking. One of the first things I noticed was that the taste for simple, plain colors we see in the modern movement after 1880 or so is reflected in a taste for simple quilts we might call Lone Stars, a single large star with no patchwork in the empty spaces.

Quilt about 1930-1960

This one may be silk, the blue background is so light-reflective.

Some of these large stars are masterpieces
of modernism

but there is no way to determine if a taste for spareness in the fine arts
affected quiltmakers. There isn't any way to show a cause and effect.

The pattern itself goes back to the early 19th century.
Here's an early example framed in chintz from the collection
of the Winterthur Museum.  The pattern wasn't published
until the turn of the 20th century.

It's #4005 in BlockBase. I indexed several names
for it, with the most common name being Lone Star from
the Ladies Art Company, Carlie Sexton and Ruby McKim's
pattern catalogs in the early 20th century.

The look evolved over the 19th century.
Quiltmakers working before 1880 or so
often favored pattern on pattern.

Here's a perfect clash of patchwork pattern and fabric pattern
in a star pieced into a background of Mexican War victory print
about 1850. 
The quilt is from the Dillow collection at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum.

A glimpse of a splashy mid-19th-century example
at an antique show.

This star from the collection of the Charleston Museum
combines two looks: the bold star
with the chintz-era's love of a busy border.

Pennsylvania Mennonite quilt dated 1881
from the Flack Collection

In the 1880s a new look appears.

Dated September 15, 1887 by  CCR,
She just couldn't resist putting those diamonds in the corners.

Rather than modernism affecting quilts it's probably more a case of a parallel shift ---simplicity holding a new appeal for people weary of visual clutter.

Some of the boldest examples of the late-19th/early-20th-century stars
were made in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

 If you look close you'll see light streaking in the background. The problem  is
that quilters were looking for contrasting solid colors in the era 
of unstable solid-colored cottons. The blue-greens often faded to
khaki with any exposure to light, even folded up on a shelf.
You can see the fold marks where light hit the edges.

Washing was hard on the new solids too.

Here's one dated 1879 that probably  had a lot more impact before it faded.

Top dated 1926 

Several threads came together in the late 1920s to make a simple Lone Star one of the more popular patterns of the new thirties-style:

Quilt date-inscribed 1934

1) More reliable dyes in new shades.

McKim promoted the pattern and sold kits in the '30s.
Ready Cut Lone Star $4.50

2) Artists like Ruby Short McKim who knew a lot about modernism. They saw in these compositions a new approach to old-fashioned patchwork.

3) Several pattern companies sold patterns and/or kits. Here Hubert Ver Mehren advertised it as a Star of Bethlehem.

Like the Broken Star pattern, the Lone Star trend was
influenced by die-cut kits.

See Ann Champion's blog post on an Aunt Martha kit.

And read Jinny Beyer's thoughts on color and fragmenting