Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Great Comet---1 Applique Shape


Quilt from the mid 19th-century

Pieced with no published name

An album, perhaps associated with a wedding.

I'm always looking for applique projects to hand sew at various meetings
and groups. Here's a shape you could easily prep and take along.

If you liked applique.

After drawing it in EQ8 I realized that the single appliqued shape will fit into the 5" squares we package as Charm Packs, so this would make an easy to take along applique project.

I will think about that.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Mildred Beene Lee: Alabama Quiltmaker


Good to find a body of quilts attributed to one quiltmaker.

Here are five early-20th-century quilts attributed to Mildred Beene Lee (1847-1939.) Millie lived a long life, about half of it in Tennessee and the last 40 years in Alabama, where these quilts were stitched. What can we figure out about southern style in Millie's five quilts?

My favorite is the baseball quilt at the top---looks quite improvisational, vivid colors, clothing scraps--- The kind of thing we might expect from Alabama, famous for its Gees Bend improvisational work by African American quiltmakers. 

Unknown Gees Bend quiltmaker
Currier Museum of Art

Millie Lee's version perhaps 25 years earlier.
(I've done some color correction and squaring up of these old slides
from the Tennessee project, which recorded Millie's quilts.)

One thing learned from studying Southern-style quilts is that you cannot tell a person's ethnic origins by her quilt style whether improvisational or impeccable needlework. Although you can sometimes be very accurate in guessing which side of the Mason/Dixon line she called home.

 Mildred Angeline Beene Lee 
from her FindaGrave page.
She was from South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

Mildred and husband Elisha Lightfoot Lee (1840-1936) moved from their Tennessee home to Bridgeport, Alabama about 1895, perhaps so the doctor could work at the Vanderbilt Training School there. 

Another misconception about Southern quilts is that they are make-do bedding, often described as made of clothing scraps because "That's all she had," implying that these quilts come from poor homes. But the Lees were not financially disadvantaged, shall we say. 

1923 social note from the Nashville newspaper.
Millie Lee often made the local news when she visited old friends.

About 1900
She often went home to South Pittsburg.

Dr. E. Lightfoot Lee was descended from that Lee family of Virginia. He was a physician with a degree from Vanderbilt University (then the University of Nashville) who retired from his Tennessee practice in 1893 in his fifties and moved to Alabama just south of the Tennessee line. They may have chosen Bridgeport because there was an affiliated school there the Vanderbilt Training Institute. He then devoted his time to science, studying geology and botany, where he made a name for himself as an expert in ferns. After his death his herbarium of fern specimens was given to Emory University in Atlanta.

Well, we digress (although herbariums are a special interest this year
with the Block of the Month on my CivilWarQuilts blog.)

The point (oh, I remember) is that you cannot rely on quilt style to tell you much about person's race, ethnic background or income level.  Mildred Lee's 5 quilts speak much more about what was fashionable along the Tennessee/Alabama state line in the early 20th century than about her life as a woman of society.

Well, they also might tell us that she had 6 grown children (a 4-year-old died in 1887) and by 1910 or so the first of many grandchildren.

Eldest daughter Frances Lee Turner was a painter. Her oil painting of Georgia's Bulloch Hall is in the Smithsonian's American Art Museum. Frances also had 7 children born in the early 20th century.

Crib quilt brought in for documentation by
Millie's Tennessee grandchild.

BlockBase #1504 

The quilts tell us something about the commercial pattern business that created standard style in the 20th century. The baseball quilt was a pattern published by the Ladies Art Company and several other periodicals and pattern houses in various colorways. Their catalog of hundreds of patterns was an important influence on how 20th century quilts looked north and south. Did anyone in Alabama call it Boston Puzzle?

Mildred's Findagrave page:

Sunday, August 20, 2023

String Quilt Pie


Eight Pie-shaped Pieces

From an online auction

An unpublished pattern, popular in the South in the first half of the 20th century.

Attributed to Eula Phillips of Alabama, found by the North Carolina Project
and the Quilt Index. The name for this one was String Pie.

Must have been passed around in the 1900-1925 years when these blues and grays were the look.

Tennessee Project and the Quilt Index
Attributed to Ila Beasley whose family called it a Ball of String.

A good name.

For a good idea. This one from the Wyoming Project and the Quilt Index.

Found in Tennessee
Smaller slices --- 19 of them

Serves 16

A couple of variations

From Rod Kiracofe's collection at the International Quilt Museum

More wheels that could be string pieced here:

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Magic Quilts


What were those Maine girls up to?

Letter from an 11-year-old to the Maine Farmer

Tecumseh, Nebraska, 1883

Dorcas Society quilting at the Kate Douglas Wiggin House in Hollis, Maine

Searching through old newspapers for Magic Quilt brings up many references, many from Maine.

Like this one, the earliest I've found from the summer of 1870.
Fortunately we get a description of Josie Belle's patch-work---it's what we might call a Charm Quilt.
And that makes sense---charms and magic.

No two alike

April, 1870 Rutland, Vermont

In Vermont they used the term Charm Quilt. These New England stitchers seem to be the leaders in the fashion for charm quilts, whether of 999 pieces or more. The key is the idea that no two pieces are alike.

Fiction syndicated in 1881

Charm Quilt, 1880-1920, American Folk Art Museum

Jinny Beyer called these quilts to our attention in her 1985 book The Scrap Look

Ellsworth, Maine

1884 fair results, Lewiston, Maine
1280 diamond squares by Carrie Ryerson

And apparently the shape didn't have to be a square.

Crib quilt

Advice from the Maine Farmer's readers

The fashion for charm quilts with an abundance of different prints spread throughout the country in the 1870-1920 period and into the mid-20th-century although few achieved the goal of "No-two-alike." 

Maine Memory Network
Lewiston, Maine was home to many mills.

It's interesting that the style appeared in New England with its print cotton mills. One would expect to see fewer in the Southern states where the mills specialized in woven pattern and solid cottons.

Massachusetts  Project & the Quilt Index
Anna Swain Coffin, Nantucket

1872 Lewiston, Maine, Journal

But as wholesalers began distributing "quilt bundles" and other packages of factory cutaway cottons through the mail the quiltmaker's proximity to a fabric mill was no longer a necessity.

1935, Bangor, Maine

Iowa Project & the Quilt Index
Emma Long Pisel, Johnson County, Iowa

One might guess these magic quilts with their variety of materials were a direct response to the factory systems of the late-19th-century.

More about Charm/Magic Quilts: