Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Rosina Valette's Quilt Block


An elaborate cut-out chintz block about 9 inches square in an album quilt inscribed 1843.

See the whole quilt in Stella Rubin's shop:
156 blocks!



Beautiful fabric, handwork and inking combine to make a gift of friendship from Rosina A Vallette (1808-1889). Miss Rosina Adelaide Vallette was about 35 when this block was made. Rosina's paper trail is a little vague but she seems to have been the daughter of a well-to-do naval family.

Elie Vallette and Elizabeth Brogden by Charles Wilson Peale, 1774
Apparently Rosina's grandfather refused to pay Peale for the portrait, a dispute that
wound up in the newspapers. The older boy here is probably Rosina's father,
another Elie.

Her father Elie Vallette was born in Maryland in 1768, her mother Ruth Nice Vallette (1781-1843)  of Trenton, New Jersey was U.S. Navy chaplain Vallette's second wife. 

Rear Admiral Elie La Vallette (1790-1862) in 1841,
born in Virginia. He changed his surname's spelling about 1830.

Rosina's half-brother Elie Augustus La Vallette was an important Admiral in the Navy, commander of the U.S.S. Constitution. Vallettes were living in Philadelphia in 1843 and Rosina may have been living with an aunt or brother Washington Vallette. Her mother died the year of the quilt.

The year after the quilt was made Rosina married, which makes one wonder if there was any connection between the quilt and her wedding. Records indicate she married Samuel B. Hood (1808-1885) on March 28, 1844 in a Philadelphia Quaker Meeting. (The Naval link makes this Quaker connection odd.)

Rosina was about 36; Samuel was 54; he'd been married before and had several children. What interests me is that Rosina's new husband was in the fabric business, something I often find when tracing quiltmakers of some skill.

1867 bill from Hood, Bonbright & Company,
eventually sold to Wanamaker

In his early 30s Samuel had established a wholesale dry goods business as Hood & Company, which prospered and evolved into Hood, Bonbright & Company after Samuel retired in 1857 and turned it over to son Thomas. Their "magnificent store front looms up from the north side of Market Street, above Eighth," according to Samuel's 1878 obituary.

Library Company of Philadelphia

Rosina outlived Samuel by over ten years but did their marriage fall apart? Her 1889 obituary tells us she was "wife of the late Samuel B. Hood" but this is not the kind of press a woman associated with the Dry Goods Hoods would merit. We also learn she was buried at Philadelphia's society Laurel Hill Cemetery but finding her grave has been a futile search.


Samuel's grave there looks appropriate for his business success and two wives are listed, neither of them Rosina. Perhaps she was married to a different Samuel B. Hood. Or perhaps without any children of her own her stepchildren preferred to forget her.

We return to Rosina's block, applique skillfully secured in what looks to be a blind or applique stitch over chintz images carefully trimmed from various fabrics. The edges might be raw but they look to have been turned under.

In 1843, the year the quilt is dated, the fashion for such high-style album quilts was rather novel.
Blocks in similar quilts date as early as 1841 but 1843 seems to be the year when "everyone" in the Delaware Valley in Philadelphia and New Jersey was making them. And when you consider the quilt has 156 nine-inch blocks, it seems everyone was making a block.

Trying to understand the context of the time, I wonder how one got 156 friends up to speed on a difficult needlework technique.

It makes much more sense to consider these blocks as a commercial
endeavor, stitched by professional seamstresses in workshops and
sold to men and women who probably could also pay extra for a professional looking

More circumstantial evidence of a workshop is in the fabrics used in Rosina's block.
The floral container, a footed metal bowl, is cut from a chintz quite often used in these quilts.

The same silver urn is the center focus of a similar quilt
dedicated to Sarah V. C. Quick in 1844. On the left the chintz repeat from which it was cut.
Probably an English print.

Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum

And in the center of the 1844 Boardman Presentation Quilt by 
Ladies of Philadelphia's Third Presbyterian Church

Quilt dated 1844, Anna E.W. Sterling, Trenton, New Jersey
from Nancy & Donald Roan's book Lest I Shall Be Forgotten.
Yardage with the footed urn must have been in demand.

And as we can see in Rosina's block there wasn't enough of
it to go around.

Carolyn Ducey noted in her dissertation on these chintz quilts
that fragments of the metal urn are seen.

In the 1843 quilt Rosina's isn't the only
block with a partial vase. These two use the top with the handles

Initials are printed on the vase, perhaps the designer's.

Top of the vase used in a better photo of a block in the album with Rosina's block.

This frugal and clever use of fabric does not speak of individual amateurs making little masterpieces
for a friend's project but more of a workshop diving into the cabbage basket of the smallest scraps to supply the fad. Did the workshop buy the vase fabric wholesale?

See more about the vase/urn fabric at a post here.

Friday, February 26, 2021

New BlockBase+


Over at the CivilWarQuilts blog we are doing a block of the month
called Hands All Around: Alcotts at War
Here's the pattern for Block #2

Each block is a sawtooth star of some kind. The block above is from a North Carolina quilt in Kathy Sullivan's collection. Could we fit it into the  theme of the Alcott family?

I have a beta copy of the new BlockBase+ so I looked to see what I could find.

Screen shot of the page it should be on: "Like Sawtooth Star."
And there it is, third from left, second row from bottom in red and white.

BlockBase #2162

I exported a picture of the block.
Could I link it to New Englanders during the Civil War in some

The new interface is great because when you highlight a particular block it shows
you the published name. There used to be some clicking around to see the name(s) but
now they are quite visible below the block. You get a ton of information there.

But here's the name: "Unnamed" from Quilt World magazine, probably about 1980.
Well, that's not very romantic. The block is way older than that. Probably just passed
around hand to hand.

North Carolina quilt from Kathy Sullivan's collection

So I am not going to use it in the 12-block BOM .
Although it is a good-looking sawtooth star.

BlockBase+ gives you what used to be called a Quick Quilt,
now Quilt Layout, showing a basic setting
just like the North Carolina quilt.

I have only one other vintage version in the picture files, this one
set with sashing from the 1940-1960 years, perhaps.

The Hands All Around BOM has only 12 blocks so you might want to add other sawtooth stars to make a larger quilt. This one would be a good choice. I printed the rotary cutting instructions for a 12" version below.

12" Rotary Cutting Instructions

BlockBase+ will be available soon.

See what Christine has to say about the new User Friendly Interface at the EQ blog here:

Monday, February 22, 2021

George Washington's Birthday

Today: Washington's 289th birthday: One of my favorite holidays as cherry pies are often included in the festivities.

Washington's 200th birthday was in 1932---a national celebration of the president who could not tell a lie. The H.R. Mallinson fabric company issued a line of George Washington Bicentennial silk prints, designed by Walter Mitschke (1881-1962).

Betsy Ross
These are silk crepes

Starry Stripes

 The National Museum of American History has several samples online, which I have pirated here.

Dolly Madison

The caption:
"The wheat design in black and white on a yellow ground, is an adaptation of the brocaded pattern of a dress worn by Dolly Madison during the administration of James Madison. At the time this print series was introduced in 1931, this dress and others used for inspiration in this line of silk prints were on exhibition at the National Museum (now NMAH.)"
Martha Washington

Liberty Bell

Thirteen Stars

Mallinson, founded in 1915, did well with thematic series

Dress with Mallinson's Mammoth Caves print from
their National Park series.

Until that Great Depression of 1930

Do a websearch for H. R. Mallinson or Walter Mitschke.

See Lauren Nowell's page on Mallinson designs

Saturday, February 20, 2021

1881 #3: Cotton & Economics

1881 Sarah  Henshaw Putnam (1800-1894) 
General Artemas Ward House Museum at Harvard

Inscribed: "This quilt was made by Mrs. Sarah H. Putnam of Shrewsbury Mass January 1881 for her nieces Elizabeth Ward and Harriet Ward."

Over the past two days we've been looking at quilts with the date 1881 inscribed:

A recent detail photo shows us that Sarah's quilt is
not in the same condition now that it was in the above overall picture.

"I remember the days of old."

Looking at cotton quilts from 1881 tells a little about fabric style and innovations in dyes, colors and color combinations. Sarah Henshaw Putnam may have been 81 and remembered "the days of old"  when she stitched this quilt for her nieces but she knew what a younger generation might like. None of that old-fashioned madder brown. She chose new-style bronzey greenish-browns, a fresh look in prints. 

That fabric style also appealed to the women who made this album.
The papers with their names on them are still stitched to the blocks, some of them dated 1881.

The new shades of brown also appealed to friends of Jennie Watkins
whose 1881 quilt is in the Benton County Oregon Historical Society.

Another album quilt, this one from Maine.

The new browns offered novel color combinations within
 the prints, a combination of brown, tan, red, pink & blue with white
that must have looked quite innovative.

Mrs Noble seems to have been quite up-to-date in
her color choices. The border is probably a cretonne stripe,
a large-scale furnishing print often done in the bronzey
brown combination palette.

This photo of a quilt dated 1881 in the lower left is too vague to show us the actual prints but it does look like the browns are greener than the madder browns so popular a few years earlier. There seems to have been a real shift in taste, which is always based on what fabric is available.

Ad from Montgomery Ward's 1881 catalog listing their cotton prints from the New England mills like Sprague and Cocheco. The prices---4 cents to 25 cents--- are cheap when compared to the $2 silks we saw yesterday. Imported Turkey reds were the most expensive at 25 cents but domestic Turkey reds were less than half that. See also #10 plain color red prints (dyed in the cloth) for 7 cents. 

(I'd splurge on the 25 cent reds---you know what happens to the 7 cent reds.)

No information on a quilt dated 1881 in the quilting.

The ad tells us a lot about the types of fabric one could buy in 1881 and also how available the New England prints were to anyone who could receive the U.S. mail (and had to cash to send.)

Quilt top dated 1881
Charleston South Carolina Museum

From Maine to South Carolina.

"Jacob Bender / Oct. 3, 1881 Martha Bender / Oct. 3, 1881"

And West Virginia where Anna Martha Bender (1864-1938) whose name is on this pattern we'd call Drunkard's Path may have bought the 9 and a half cent indigo blues ("blue, white figures, stripes or dots") by mail or at her local drygoods store.

See another of Martha's quilts here:

The divide between regional styles North and South in the 1880s probably reflects the changing retail situation in that decade as railroad shipping, central warehouses, mail order and new Southern mills matured as economic factors.

The Kronheimers who ran the dry goods store in Oxford, North Carolina up by the Virginia state line probably complained a lot about competition from mail order sources. They just couldn't stock the variety that Montgomery Ward's could. You can see the Kronheimers advertised a limited amount of fabric in this 1881 ad:
  • Bleached and unbleached cotton (we assume plain white utilitarian yardage produced locally.)
  • Beautiful spring Prints..... (from New England?)
  • Cassimeres, Kentucky Jeans &c, (probably wool/cotton fabrics that also came from local North Carolina mills.)
Why would anyone shop locally?
There are, of course, many reasons. One: The operative word in mail order is money. The customer had to send some kind of legal tender to shop by mail. But back home the Kronheimers surely understood the local tobacco economy and agriculture's annual cycle in which credit was extended until the fall crop came in and yearly accounts were settled. Shoppers who lived in this economic system were essentially forced to shop locally where their credit was good. Thus, the Kronheimers prospered.

Kronheimer home in the 1880s

The Kronheimers' local competitor W.R. Beasley ran a general store
advertising a similar non-cash exchange for groceries, hardware & clothes.

"We will take all kinds of country produce in exchange for goods. 
Wheat and corn...for which the highest prices in cash or barter will be paid."

Oxford in the 1940s

Granville County farmers took their corn to Beasley's and traded crop for the goods he had in stock. The farmer's wife, the dry-goods purchaser, undoubtedly looked forward to her fall shopping but it was limited to what local stores carried. 

Granville County chickens in 1937
Photo by Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress

She might have traded her own crops of eggs and butter for fabric too.

Oxford's A. Crews & Brothers, merchants, advertised a barter system in the 1870s.
"We will take in exchange for goods the following substantials: Gold, Silver, Greenback, Old castings, rags, beeswax, peas, corn, cotton, fodder, oats, wheat, meal, flour, dried fruit. In fact anything that can be turned in to money. We take this method of returning thanks to the public generally for their past favors and hope to merit a continuance of the same."
Rosa Oakley, her husband Titus and children James, Mary Lois and the
baby Jean in 1939 preparing the tobacco crop in their bedroom.
Photo by Marion Post Wolcott, Library of Congress

WPA Photographers made several trips into Granville County.
Life had changed little in 60 years.

Samuel L. Howe's dry goods store in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts
Collection of Historic New England

Undoubtedly quiltmakers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island also bartered with local merchants, trading farm goods for factory goods but the "fabric department" in those New England stores would also have been local, cottons from the nearby mills that specialized in complex prints.

New England style on the left/Southern style on the right

The difference between what was available in a New England store and its counterpart in the upland South may explain growing differences in regional quilt style after 1880. One could in theory buy up-to-date sophisticated, colorfast prints anywhere in the U.S. but differences in what local mills manufactured and what local store owners stocked was regional. Customers locked into an agricultural economy had to shop local even if the Southern mills were producing inferior, cheap yardage, which might have been suitable for baby clothes and aprons but far too fugitive for heirloom quilts.

Socializing at Mrs. N.L. Clement's store in Granville County, 1940
Photo by Jack Delano, Library of Congress.

1881 Collection of Marjorie Childress
Northern mills with many more decades of experience produced a
more reliable product.

Sallie A. Bachman signed and dated her quilt of
green calicoes, probably from a New England mill.
Marjorie found it in New York.

Undated quilt found in Tennessee
Undeterred by second-rate fabrics Southern quilters
spent many hours on precision piecing.

So what have we learned about quilt style from a close look at quilts inscribed with the date?

It may just be coincidence that none of the 1881 quilts feature them but people no longer seem interested in the madder red-brown prints on the left (quilt dated 1872.)  The different shade of brown with pinks as accents instead of oranges was what was fashionable (or available.) No other fabric style differences pop out in looking at the 34 quilts dated 1881 and that may be why there are so few quilt---fabric just wasn't that interesting or innovative (yet.)

The most important observations may be the differences in economics dictating retail purchasing North and South, which seem to have generated new and distinct styles that only increased in the decade following.

And there are some absences---no crazy quilts and no utilitarian wool quilts yet. Hard to know what else is missing. Certainly not any great creativity in patchwork pattern--probably because periodicals and catalogs still had relatively limited illustration capabilities.

But here are a couple of quirky quilts dated 1881 that add little to the discussion

From a Sotheby's auction.

From the New Jersey project & the Quilt Index.

The last of the quilts dated 1881:
Too small a photo to see the fabrics...looks like a classic pattern that could have been made anywhere. The Louisiana Project tells us it's signed Edna, 1881. Edna seems to have been a traditionalist.