Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How Old Is This Quilt?

A friend of a friend recently scored big in buying this quilt.
How old is it, she asked.


I've been thinking a lot about early quilt styles in the U.S. so I was glad to have a puzzle to figure out. putting into words why I think it's older than she guessed, which was about 1840. We'll look at the clues to age using comparative dating, matching the undated quilt above to quilts with dates inscribed on them.

The mystery quilt would not be any earlier than about 1775---American patchwork tends to be about as old as the U.S. itself.


Techniques include conventional applique, which doesn't  really help. I asked if this feather with a bowknot was reverse applique but it's regular old surface applique.

Quilt date-inscribed 1795 by Jane Gatewood

Some of the earliest dated American quilts feature conventional applique as well as cut-out chintz applique. Jane Gatewood included bowknots of conventional applique in her quilt dated 1795. This is a pattern clue too---bowknots were quite popular in the late-18th and early-19th-century for applique.


The quilt in question could be described as an appliqued medallion of limited colors with a fringe border. Medallions with a central focus were more popular before 1840 than after, but that style characteristic is not much of a clue.

That edge treatment looks like a netted fringe (but I know
little about fringes.) 

The main thing to know about fringes and other added edge treatments is that they are seen in early quilts before 1840 and rarely afterwards. It's a pretty reliable clue. See Jane Gatewood's fringe on her 1795 quilt above.

Collection of the Henry Ford Museum
Esther Bradford's 1807 eagle applique has a knotted or netted fringe.

Style includes the overall color scheme (we'll get to individual fabrics later). The overall look of the quilt: limited color scheme of white with brown and dark blue. Notice that faded heart above. There was once another color here but it's no help now.

Quilt signed Rxx Porter, 177x
Collection of the American Museum in Bath, England

Early American patchwork focused on browns and blues, probably because those were the available cottons, dyed with natural dyes such as madder and indigo. The overall look is rather austere. The absence of bright reds, yellows and greens is a clue of sorts. If  we saw Turkey red or chrome orange in there we'd be thinking after 1810 (or more like 1830), so there are no fabrics in the mystery quilt to tell us it's after 1810.


The fabrics are limited, probably due to scarcity. These may have been domestically printed cottons (or perhaps cotton & linen fibers), made in the young U.S. Prints available from American calico printers before 1820 or so tend towards rather simple block-printed designs with rather simple dyes, particularly indigo blues and browns obtained from madder. You also see pinks from madders.

Quilt dated 1804, found in Maine.

Quilt dated 1804 by Mary Stites. Found in the Goschenhoppen
Historians quilt project in Pennsylvania.

The fabrics might have been imported from Europe but before 1820 we see limited variety here.

Quilt dated 1783 by Deborah Wilson
DAR Museum.

The color palette may have been dictated by taste as much as technology and trade. Whatever the cause the look is a clue to an early date.

Quilt dated 1786 by Elizabeth Nace.
Lancaster County Historical Society
Chocolate brown and white.

Indigo blue-ground print and brown figured print
in the quilt in question. Probably wood block prints rather
 than cylinder prints. Notice the four-lobed appliqued shape
in this quilt and in the border the Deborah Wilson quilt above.


I've mentioned the bow-knot and simple four-lobed shapes in the applique, both designs seen in the earliest American quilts.

Border patterns include a flowing ribbon and a spindly zig-zag stripe. Is that zig-zag pieced or appliqued? I forgot to ask.

The Connecticut quilt project found this quilt dated 1810
by Anna Ingersoll with a similar flowering ribbon border.
And a spindly, appliqued inner border

Quilt by Harriet DuBois, New Paltz, New York
Collection: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The idea of a zig-zag border was also popular with early quilters. Notice the examples in the dated quilts on this page. Date-inscribed examples in my pictures are pieced rather than appliqued and more substantial.

See more pieced borders in this post:


Quilting style and density and techniques can offer clues to date but in this case the quilting looks rather utilitarian. Single diagonal lines---absolutely no help at all. Could be 1775. Could be 1875.

But we have plenty of good clues to indicate that this quilt is early. Exactly how early? Could be last quarter of the 18th century (say roughly as early as 1780!). If we were looking at the quilt in the cloth rather than through photos we might push that date forward due to the prints.

Both blue prints I see in the photos are possible late-18th-century fabrics: wood block figures on indigo grounds. I can't tell the difference between discharged or reserved indigo prints, especially in a photo. That differentiation might make a difference in date. (Discharging 19th century.)

Latest date? 1830? You'd have to be pretty old-fashioned to make a quilt in this style in 1830---so let's say a range of 1780-1825.

Quilt dated 1824 by Mary Taylor. Collection Telfair Museum.

 After 1820 you see a real change in fabric variety in American quilts although Mary was sticking
with the zig-zag borders. It's just a different style after the Napoleonic Wars were over and trade
resumed in the late teens.

So my story right now is 1780-1825 and I'm sticking to it---at least until one of you comes up with an argument for a different date.

PS: It's good to know there are still quilts like this on the market.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Solomon's Crown

Quilt for Lucy Ann Torbet Hill Nicholson
dated 1850, Jennings County, Indiana
Indiana project & the Quilt Index.

Martha Wooton Tanner did us a great favor with her needle. Along the edge of this quilt she stitched a message including the date and pattern name:
"Applique Quilt-Solomon's Crown Made in Jennings Co., Ind for Lucy Ann Torbit 1850. This corner was quilted by Martha Wooton Tanner, aged 94, daughter of Revolutionary Patriot, and wife of Reveolutionary Soldier." 

Solomon's Crown,
Four fleur-de-lis flowers with leaves
rotating around a floral center.

What a remarkable message! Not only do we find a period name for an unusual applique design, we see Martha called the technique "applique." (Many people called it laid work at the time.)

A similar pattern is #10.64 in my Encyclopedia of Applique.
Comfort Magazine called it Bleeding Heart in the early 20th century.

The design is a variation on a fleur-de-lis, quite popular with
quilters in the mid-19th century.

Block from a mid-19th-century quilt in the collection of the International Quilt
Study Center & Museum, # 1997.007.0836

Related block later in the century.

Solomon's Crown is a Biblical image from an Old Testament King. 
Cyclamen are also called Solomon's Crown.

Martha Wooton Tanner LeMaster herself is easy to trace in online genealogies. Her request for a pension as widow of Revolutionary soldier gives us much information about her long life as does some family history.

Martha's signature on a pension request. 
Her name in 1850 was Martha Lemaster,
 but she stitched her first married name into the 1850 quilt.

The OHP Tanner House in Mecklenburg County 
was begun in 1769. Martha married a Tanner.

She was born on September 26, 1756, a subject of King George III in Mecklenburg, Virginia Colony and married, according to her recollection, on December 1, 1771 when she was barely 14 years old. Husband Josiah Tanner was a little over 16.  In 1779 during the Revolution, they moved to the northern part of South Carolina settling near the French Broad River. In 1780 Josiah went off to fight the Tories, leaving Martha with three girls and two boys ages 7 years to 2 months. He came home to recover from a wound to his right elbow and left to fight again for a year.

Josiah's right arm remained stiff the rest of his life. His daughter Mary recalled that "he had a knife made with a blade eighteen inches long to use while eating, that he might reach his mouth with that arm." (People ate with knives rather than forks.) 

Georgetown KY 1813
Ad for the type of store Josiah ran.
Note the proprietor will trade dry goods
 for good, marketable Whiskey
or homewoven Linsey.

After peace was declared the Tanners moved to Kentucky in 1796 with their now eleven children. Josiah ran a dry goods and grocery store in Bethlehem in Henry County, northwest of Frankfort. When he died on November 1, 1807 at 53 the youngest of their 13 children were 5 and 10 years old.

After nine years of widowhood Martha married Abraham LeMaster in September, 1826. Many of her children lived in Indiana where she and Abraham settled in Johnson County, south of Indianapolis in 1834. Grandson Mathew J. Tracy (1832 -1917) recalled their farm in "heavy timber and brush wilderness...a half mile west of what is now Whiteland.
"It was my good fortune and great pleasure to often be at her little log cabin home eating corn bread, 'ash cakes' baked between cabbage leaves in the fire place between the dog irons (two stones) on a flat stone covered with embers and fire coals. This with the ever ready milk and butter, was a substantial dinner for the little boy that I was. Little she thought at that time that this little grandson, who she was feeding on ash pone, milk and butter, would in the near future in the Civil War, be fighting her people in her native land, on the historic old river Roanoke in old Virginia." [Mathew served in Company F, Third Indiana Cavalry.]
Places Martha lived in her 96 years

When Martha's father Samuel Wooten died in 1814, he'd left her a fifth of his estate "three or four slaves and the family bible," according to that grandson. "Before leaving Kentucky [for Indiana, nominally a free state], and not finding any use for the slaves, she gave them away as useless property." (!)

Martha would recognize many of the buildings still standing
in Vernon. The whole town is on the National Register of Historic Places.

After Abraham's death in 1837 eighty-one-year-old Martha went to live with youngest daughter Eleanor and husband Thomas McGannon, near Vernon in Johnson County, Indiana. Eleanor had at least eight children, one of whom Mary D. "Polly" McGannon (1815 - 1879) married John Sellers Torbet. The Lucy Ann Torbit (1834-1901) for whom Martha was helping with the quilting on the Solomon's Crown in 1850 was Polly's daughter, Martha's great-granddaughter. Her granddaughter who brought the quilt for documentation reported it was a wedding quilt for Lucy's marriage to John Hill.

"To the Memory of Martha LeMaster
who departed this life July 4, 1851 
in the 96th year of her age."

We can hope Martha was able to attend many more quilting parties before her death in 1857 at 94. She outlived nearly all of her children. Numerous family members are buried near her in the Freedom Baptist Church Cemetery in North Vernon, Indiana.

The church

Quilt mourning Abby Lemming Forepaugh in 1842
from Stella Rubin's inventory.

Solomon's Crown?
Four fleur-de-lis growing from a floral center.

From Meg Andrews's inventory

See the file on Martha's quilt from the Indiana project & the Quilt Index:
Read Martha's request for a Revolutionary War Soldier's Pension:

Historical Sketches of the Tracy and Tanner Families by Mathew J Tracy, 1915.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Bettina's Morris Hexathon Blocks at AQSG Auction 2017

Every year at the American Quilt Study Group Seminar
we have an auction of quilt-related stuff to support the organization.

I am confident I will have the best donation in New Hampshire in October, 2017.

Last year I did a Block of the Week called Morris Hexathon
with hexagon blocks on the theme of William Morris's England.

Bettina Havig and I are donating her set of Morris Hexathon model blocks
and some extra yardage to finish the quilt.

There are light ones.

There are dark ones.

Bettina made weekly models from my line of Morris Repros
Morris Earthly Paradise.
 It's a kit of sorts except most of the work is done.
You'll get the paper patterns too.

You can bid on 25 hexagon blocks with sides finishing to 4"....

Magnificently hand pieced by Bettina.

Look at that stitch.
She uses a running stitch and penciled stitching lines.
They aren't ironed yet.

She gave them to me to do what I would with them.
Well, I am not going to finish them. It would be a desecration
for someone of my sewing skills to set these blocks (or even press them).
I think donating is the perfect solution.

Surely one of you would pay big bucks to take on the challenge.

See the post with links to the patterns:

or buy the patterns as a PDF you print yourself:

Or I will print them in black & white and mail them to you:

Friday, September 15, 2017

Quilts Dated 1850---Border Styles

Quilt date-inscribed 
"August 29, 1850
From an online auction.

I've been posting my pictures of quilts date-inscribed 1850 to my Pinterest page.
Sorting by date gives me an overall picture of the style trends of the time and sometimes a quilt just looks wrong. It must somehow be misdated.

Here's one advertised as inscribed 1850 made in Schenectady, New York.
It just looks earlier than that to me. I wish I had a picture of the date.

Seeing something misdated is always good for the quilt detective, as it makes one consider one's assumptions.
Why does it look older?
1) Color scheme---too subtle. No plain white fabric for contrast.
2) Too much chintz and larger scale prints
3) In the border the sawtooth pieces are just too big.
4) Whole border style is wrong for the date. Way out of fashion.

I try to save a photo of the actual date inscribed
on the quilt as in this one that says
"D x G
Jerusha Johnson
May 10 th 
My interpretation of the inscription may be wrong but that certainly looks like 1850 to me if not Jerusha.

A detail of Jerusha's worn quilt.

The style fits with the date. Red and green (the reds are both Turkey red and madder-style red)
Intensive quilting and a pieced sawtooth border leaving lots of white for quilting.

1850, Mary T. Barnes, South Carolina
Smithsonian Institution.
I haven't seen the date on this one but the caption in
the online catalog indicates it's dated and signed in ink
in a corner block.

Mary Barnes put a chintz striped border on her red and green quilt, a rather old-fashioned choice for such an up-to-date center. But as Laurel Horton discovered years ago in doing a South Carolina quilt  project, coastal Carolinians were inclined to use those borders after they'd become unfashionable elsewhere. Mary liked that border so much she didn't care if she had to cut it in asymmetrical fashion. She SHOULD have used a border like Jerusha's if she wanted to win any prizes in 1850.

Here's another that illustrates the importance of borders to dating a quilt by style. It was advertised as dated 1850 by Elizabeth Culp for her grandson, the euphoniously named Martin Luther Culp. The colors are right for 1850 and so is the pattern. But the border is a little suspicious to the quilt detective. Those triple, quadruple and quintuple borders tend to be after 1870. This remarkable border is 7 strips of varying sizes. I've always thought the sewing machine with its ability to sew long seams fast contributed to the fashion for multiple strip borders so you tend to see them after the Civil War when the machine became a standard tool.

But you can see the inked inscription is actually in that border. So it must be 1850. Somebody had to be a trend setter. 
Fortunately for the skeptic the photo of the inscription is so large that you can actually read it online, which I recently did.

"Martin Luther Culp's quilt.
Made and presented to him
By his Grandmother in her 72nd Year
in 1880. Elizabeth Culp"

That's 1880. I knew it!

I am hoping the recipient was this Martin Luther Culp, know as Luther. Born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1848, he was the town marshal in Escondido, California about 100 years ago. Here's his grave:

His house still stands in Escondido:

It looks like he and his brothers Reuben and George Morris Culp arrived in Escondido in 1890. They may have left Adams County, Pennsylvania for the west in 1880 when Luther's quilt is dated. A quilt made for a Reuben H. Culp, also dated 1880, is pictured in the book from the Adams County project. Inked in the corner:
"Reuben H. Culp
Feb 12, 1880"

This is the only photo in the book of Reuben's quilt. It's an Irish Chain, attributed by the family to Rebecca Howell Culp. There are a good many Culps (Kolbs) in Adams County and untangling the web of relationships is formidable, but I am betting Marshal Culp above is related to them all and so is the 1880 quilt.