Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Civil War Patchwork: Hexagons for Re-enactors

J. B. Marchais, Girl in a Blue Skirt, Sewing.

I got an email from Mel and Annette, which I thought I'd answer on the blogs.  Mel's note:
"My wife and I are Civil War reenactors and one of the things that she loves to do is hand quilt. It always draws lots of folks in who want to learn a little more about what she's doing. ...
We're both pretty serious about our authenticity and don't want to pass off anything that just sounds 'Oldie-Timey' but rather to try and portray 1860s material culture as authentically as we reasonably can. "
Jules Trayer, Embroidery Lesson

1) Can you tell us if a pattern like that would be something an upper-middle class Yankee lady might make? What we've seen so far has mostly been hex-shaped pieces.

2) For the paper piecing, would it be appropriate to cut (reproduction) Harper's Weeklies or some other such type publication?

I'll answer the first question here and the second one on my Civil War Quilts blog in a couple of weeks.

What kind of a paper-pieced pattern? The most common would be hexagon-shaped pieces, as Mel suggests.
What should it look like?

The Seamstress, John Everett Millais, 1860

My book Civil War Women talks about activities for re-enactors but not paper piecing.

Silk hexagon from the collection of the 
Montgomery County (MD) Historical Society
Made by two English-born sisters, Mary (1811-1877) and 
Esther (1814-1902) Wetherald of Sandy Spring Maryland

I'd do a web search for images by typing in these four words:
hexagon quilt massachusetts museum

And pick something interesting to click on:

The silk quilt from Maryland above is very typical of an 1860s hexagon quilt anywhere in the U.S. (and The U.K.) at the time.

In my book Quilt From the Civil War I show a similar quilt made by Mary Hughes Lord in Nashville  during the War.

Autograph quilt by  Mary Hughes Lord, Nashville Tennessee,
1860s, Collection of the National Museum of American History
Smithsonian Institution

See a Google Preview of Quilts From the Civil War here. Click on the book cover:

Both these quilts are silk, fabric an upper-middle-class
New Englander might have in her scrapbag.

The two pictures above show details of the Wetherald sisters' silk quilt.

But the problem with making a period silk quilt is there are so few reproduction silks available now
(to say nothing of the expense).

In the mid-19th century, quiltmakers also used fine wools
for their hexagons.

And mixed cotton/silk/wool fabrics such as delaines and challis.

But again, reproductions of these dress-weight, light wools are
very difficult to find.

Alice's Scrapbag from Moda
I'm only too glad to tell you that reproduction cottons
are very easy to find.

And cotton paper piecing continued popular into the 1860s.

Detail of a cotton friendship quilt date-inscribed 1862,
possibly made in Cheshire, Massachusetts
Collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum

Quilt date-inscribed 1861 by Mary Anne Jefferson Healy
in the collection of the Smithsonian

Mid-19th-century hexagons.

Your best bet might be stitching hexagon florets of seven hexies.
You could ask other re-enactors to sign them in ink too.

About 1810-40
They are portable, easy to organize and simple to sew
while chatting with others.

Vintage florettes from about 1820-1840

Vintage block about 1845
You can keep adding hexagons around the ring

Quilt from the Hingham Historical Society in Massachusetts
Photo from the Quilt Index

and plan to organize them in simple fashion...

or complex

Oh---and don't call it a Grandmother's Flower Garden---that is way too 1930s. Better period names:
Hexagon, Honeycomb or Job's Troubles.

See another post I've done about period hexagons:


  1. As usual, a wonderful thought provoking post. I would not have thought of a English paper piecing as being a popular method during the war, but you have shown some excellent examples of the fact that they were indeed made in the mid 1860's. And, it is certainly a scene you might expect to see at a reenactment. They might also try the very portable potholder method that was so popular at the time for making quilts for soldiers. I'm happy to see that they want to be as accurate as possible. Thanks for helping them decide what is appropriate. And... I can't wait to pick up my Alice's Scrapbag at Busy Thimble tomorrow! Thanks for another great line.

  2. I was so happy to see this post Barbara. I have been wanting to make a hexagon quilt and so this summer I decided to get out all of my reproduction fabrics from this time period and decided on a jelly roll from one of your collections and also fabric yardage for all the paths by you as well. I also did research online to see if they would have made a hexagon quilt during this time period-and discovered they did. I am glad you told us what names would have been used since grandma's flower garden came later.
    I look forwarad to your answer for the second question.
    thanks so much for all you share Kathy

  3. Great suggestion about the potholder quilts, Wendy.

    Parentheically, Abolitionists avoided cotton because it was produced with slave labor.

  4. I enjoy making hexagon quilts, they do take a lot more time since I do mine the hard way, but i find it relaxing and you can work a bit at a time, using scraps.


  5. I "heart" HEXXIES!!!!