Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Fanny Dickerson Bergen: Folklorist

Fanny Bergen published this circular design as Rising Sun in 1894

 Fanny Dickerson Bergen (1846-1924) showed pictures and names of 29 patchwork patterns in Scribner's Magazine in a romantic article titled "The Tapestry of the New World."

In 1894 few patterns had been pictured and Bergen's article is one of the earliest to collect names and designs from the quiltmakers. She was born in 1846 in Mansfield, Ohio where she interviewed relatives about many old customs. As she grew up she listened to her grandmother from Lake George, New York talk about quilts. Some of her patterns look as if they might be from her grandmother's youth but the Fool's Puzzle, Church Steps and Log Cabin look quite fashionable in 1894.
Later pattern purveyors copied her designs. The Vickery magazines of Augusta, Maine published the Tulip at the top of the page in the early 20th century. It's #43.83 in my Encyclopedia of Applique---an odd composition.
Yet I did find a sampler dated 1857 with a similar design.

For James Chauncey Murch
West Alexander, Pennsylvania, 1857

The first sketches in Bergen's article are two designs named Biloxi, which she collected from an ethnologist who had obtained them from a man of the Biloxi tribe in Mississippi. He had drawn them from quilts his wife had made.
Both Biloxi designs are in BlockBase

That's a long chain of information. One would rather read that Bergen had actually interviewed the quiltmaker, but she seems to have been handicapped by a spinal problem. I would imagine much of her information gathering was by letter.

Educated at Ohio's Antioch College, Bergen was a well-respected collector of folk sayings and beliefs who published extensively about superstitions and customs. She was particularly interested in horticultural beliefs. Her husband Joseph Young Bergen, another Antioch alum, was a botanist and they collaborated on several books. The Bergens spent much of their life in Cambridge, Massachusetts where John was a teacher. Their son Thomas Dickerson Bergen was also an author who wrote about Italian literature.

Many of the names in her article are common like Bear's Paw, Rising Sun and Job's Troubles but here's a name unique to her article as far as I can tell.

From the Iowa Project & the Quilt Index, by Mrs. Schrack or Mrs. Savage
About 1900

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Princess Feather Medallion Extravaganza

Detail of a quilt by Susan Theresa Holbert Lawrence
Collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Here's one of the great American quilts.
It's not only beautifully stitched and composed, it seems unique---the only quilt in that pattern---
a complex sunburst sprouting 16 feathers.

There are distant relatives from the mid-19th century:
Princess feather designs in the center of a medallion surrounded by applique.

Dallas Museum of Art

Michigan Project

But most of the applique medallions aren't really close.
And, in fact, many of them seem to be unique too.

American Museum of Folk Art

This looks like a crib quilt but it is 80" x 78"

The Kovals' Collection

Unique-er and unique-er

Mary King
DAR Museum

UPDATE: Julie Silber sends another.
And this week I did a post on my CivilWarQuilts blog about Princess Feather medallions:

I guess what these have in common is a central medallion and a great exuberance.

See more about early princess feather medallions:

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Past Perfect: Liz Porter

Oak Leaf by Liz Porter

This month's Past Perfect quiltmaker is Liz Porter, who has spent her career interpreting vintage quilt design for new fabrics and techniques.

Marianne Fons and Liz Porter, two mothers with young children, met in a quilting class in Iowa in the early 1980s. When the class was over, the students wanted to continue so Liz and Marianne volunteered to teach. In the manner of many of us, they stayed one step ahead of the students and were glad to have a teaching partner.

They published a successful book Classic Quilted Vests in 1982, started a magazine, bought the magazine, sold the magazine and branched out into other media.

Neapolitan detail

My favorite quilts of Liz's are the simple patterns, done in traditional color schemes.
I guess I am just old-fashioned and so is she.

Martha Washington Star

Certainly with books, television shows and magazine, Liz has inspired many quilters to look to the past.

Match A Patch Star

Wheel of Chance

She retired a few years ago and moved to Texas.

LeMoyne Star


Liz has made retirement quite a success too. She says she plays golf and spends time with four grandchildren and still quilts (as a hobby.) She and Marianne are going to be honored in the Quilters' Hall of Fame next summer.

Emily's Wedding Quilt

Friendship Rings

Since it's her hobby I have no photos of Liz's recent work but I bet they look much like these traditional quilts.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Dated Quilts---A Flaw in My Methodology

1797, Hannah John. Documented by the Maine Project.

One of my quilt history goals last year was to develop an accessible internet file of quilts with dates inscribed on them. I created Pinterest pages for each year or decade from 1775 to 1860. Date-inscribed quilts give us insight into how style, fabric and techniques came in and out of fashion.

Here's a link to the oldest quilts from 1775 to 1800:

This year my goal was to analyze those images between 1775 & 1860 and draw some conclusions. I've looked at a lot of chintz appliques.

Quilt dated 1826 by Sarah Harris Gilmer
Documented in the North Carolina Project

Analysis is always more complex than sorting and saving and I have not clarified many conclusions that were not obvious when I began. For example, red and green quilts date to the 1840s.

1842, Elizabeth Shank, Rogerville, Ohio
Collection: Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum

 I'm still working on it.

As with any data set there are outliers---quilts that are the earliest or the latest example of a style or technique.

Typical household linen marking stitch on the
reverse of Elizabeth Nace's nine patch quilt

Dated 1786, Elizabeth Bowman Nace (ca. 1740-1815)
Hanover, Pennsylvania. Lancaster Historical Society
Among the earliest American quilts, one of perhaps five dated before 1790.

Looking at some of the outliers in the data I wonder if there is a big flaw in my reliance on date-inscribed pieces because the date on the quilt might not be when the patchwork was done. It might be the date on a pre-existing backing or supporting fabric. In this case, an old linen sheet cut up and saved in the backing.

Marking sheets with cross stitch embroidery and a number was considered good housekeeping. This marking "L N 13" on the reverse of a nine patch strip quilt indicates the backing was an old sheet recycled.

From online dealer gb-best

Housekeepers often dated their linens, their sheets and blankets. Sometimes these pieces were transformed into another piece of bedding, a patchwork quilt. A linen sheet dated 1786 might be used to back a cotton quilt in 1810.

1809, Quilt by Elizabeth Stouffer Garrett, (1791-1877)

Baltimore Museum of Art

The quilt is dated 1809 in cross stitch on the back with the initials E.S. and the number 7.

If made in 1809 this quilt is a significantly early example of a tree of life chintz quilt. (See Sarah Gilmer Harris's 1826 quilt above.) It's been puzzling me ever since I first saw it in William Dunton's 1945 book. Could the date be on a re-purposed backing?

On the other hand the Baltimore Museum of Art has other Garrett family quilts with the same kind of inscription on the backing, indicating the Garretts marked their quilts like their sheets.
See a blog post on the Garrett quilts:

Those of us who see early quilts only in photographs are not aware that many cut-out chintz applique pieces feature chintz prints stitched to a machine woven blanket, as in this detail from a Skinner auction. We tend to think of the backing as plain weave cotton purchased just for the patchwork but that is not the case in many early 19th century quilts in the U.S. and the U.K.

Center of a frame quilt with a date of 1824 directly above the large
oval in the panel. It's probably British.

"Ann Price
The inscription indicates this is one of the earliest quilts in the files Merikay Waldvogel and I are keeping of this particular panel #1. But that date seems to have been on the base fabric, a re-used blanket perhaps.This piece also has some mid-20th century repairs---definitely a time span quilt.

Collection of Gawthorpe Textile Collection
"E I 1812"

Another British quilt, this one dated 1812 and initialed E I, skews our data on panel quilts with an early date. Without the date we'd guess 1820s. But is the date of the supporting fabric?

Did someone applique panels, hexagons and flowers atop an old linen sheet?

The central embroidery with the framing lappets is thought to be an 18th-century piece saved in the later bedcover---but how late?

This piece skews our data early, not only in its use of specific panels but in use of panels at all. Because panel production is now thought to be from the mid-teens we can wonder if the date on the patchwork bedcover actually refers to the base fabric.

Most of this post is speculation but it does give one a different perspective
on early quilts and the sources of the materials.