Saturday, April 27, 2024

Anglo-Saxon Quilts#1: Manifest Destiny

National Museum of American History

Album quilt with blocks dated 1843-1845 by family and friends in
 Maryland, once the property of Pink Phillips. A relatively early
 example of classic American quilt style that developed in the 1840s
 with a red & green on white color scheme and blocks signed by many.

Patchwork quilts carry much meaning in America. Even early-19th-century writers were nostalgic about quilts as a reflection of old-fashioned family values, particularly the values assigned to British immigrants, the Anglo-Saxons. Mid-20th-century entrepreneur Eleanor Beard advertised her Kentucky business by describing her quilting employees as women who had inherited the "unspoiled AngloSaxon sturdiness of [rural Southern] people."

See a post here on quilt nostalgia in the 1830s:

Barbara Brackman's MATERIAL CULTURE: Nostalgia: Quiltings Are Not What They Used to Be

Quilt signed "L.W. 1844," advertised in 1986

L.W. must have embroidered the "E Pluribus Unum" mottoes
from the reverse as they are all backwards.

In the 1840s an explosion of interest in quiltmaking resulted in new style, new patterns and much rhetoric. It's not just the imagery that gives quilts an exalted spot in American myth. It's their connections with perceived national history and "true" American values. For a few clues as to how this strong association developed, we can look to the decade of the 1840s when the quilting art thrived in innovative ways.

1842 by Rachel VanSickle Knowlton of New Jersey
Eagles are found in quilts in the early century
but the 1840s saw new interest in the American symbol.

The 1840s was a decade of political instability.  The "Era of Good Feeling" in the first quarter of the century's politics was long over. 

Quilt dated 1846, Baltimore

President James Polk ran on a platform of territorial expansion in 1844, resulting in a war with Mexico declared in May,1846. Warhawks aimed to capture Texas to add a new Southern slave state to the Union. 

General Zachary Taylor as one of the many military heroes of the
 Mexican War supported by the Southern States and Westerners .  
Here he seems to have lost his good arm" The Eastern states."

Ima Hogg collection, Bayou Bend
Baltimore, 1845-1855

Expansionists had little justification for the war but a sense of superiority and entitlement that we'd call White Supremacy today.

 John Gast captured the attitude in "American Progress," an 1872 
allegory of American values (appropriately blonde) driving out
indigenous people to make room for true Americans.

In 1845 American progress was neatly defined by editor John L. O’Sullivan as “Our Manifest Destiny." The United States had been given the American continent by God "for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” U.S. Citizens were considered superior to lesser races. Most superior of all were descendants of the English colonists who assumed the top of the pyramid. Darker people who didn't speak English and espoused Catholicism did not deserve that valuable land.

Frank Beard, 1885
By 1885 "Columbia's Unwelcome Guests" were Asians, Irish, Eastern Europeans etc.
Inside the temple comfortably eating supper were authentic Americans. Attitudes did not change.

Reverend John Newland Maffit

Methodist minister John N. Maffit had been chaplain in the House of Representatives. After losing the post in a scandal or two he made a career of preaching and lecturing about Manifest Destiny. Mexican conquest and conversion to Protestantism "is part of the design of Providence for reforming the religion and morals of that country," he avowed in 1847. Maffit's popular theories were printed in various papers including the Louisville Herald.

Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin (1761–1849) wrote a reply.

Albert Gallatin, who'd been Secretary of the Treasury before the Era of Good Feeling, came out of retirement to contest Maffit's arguments. Polk's war had no justification, he wrote, except for the "most extraordinary assertion...that people of the United States have a hereditary superiority of race over the Mexicans....Is it compatible with the principle of democracy?"

Gallatin in the Louisville Courier, 1847

Julie Silber's Inventory
Baltimore, 1845-1855

John C. Calhoun (1782-1850)
Brady Studios Photo

But what of that Principle of Democracy, preserved in the Declaration of Independence declaring that All Men Are Created Equal? John Calhoun, born in South Carolina, assured Southerners in 1848 that Jefferson's writing about equality was a "hypothetical truism," but a "dangerous political error...Taking the proposition literally...there is not a word of truth in it."
In his Manifest Destiny & Mission in American History
Frederick Merk summarized the role of propaganda in
spreading ideas such as Manifest Destiny.

New York Herald, 1843, advocating war to
"imbue Anglo Saxon intelligence and culture."

Eagles in New Yorker Mary Simonson's sampler 1855

How did patchwork quilts become propaganda?
More in the next post.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Kelmscott Plaid with Ebony Suite


Kelmscott Plaid
40" x 40" 
 9-1/2" Finished blocks

Simple piecing and cutting using the neutrals of my Ebony Suite, latest William Morris reproduction line from Moda.

Making the most of the range of grays I thought of a fairly simple
geometric design.

I picked four prints and an ivory solid and had EQ8 calculate the yardage.

The block is a basic log cabin, set on point.

Block cutting. You need 13 blocks, 4 corners and 8 edge triangles.

Do note that piece A is cut 2-7/8 x 10". You could get 3 out of a Layer Cake of 10 inch squares---but not so coordinated as if one bought yardage.

Doesn't have to be monochrome.

Or symmetrical.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Centennial Prints in Charm, Odd Fellows and Beggars' Patchwork

 I've been organizing my Centennial print files over the spring and occasionally posting about the 1876 Anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. The big event was in Philadelphia, an exhibition of international trade.

Home-made patchwork quilts were not really welcome in the fair's displays.

American fabric companies showed all kinds of wares. It was
a time to celebrate the developing American cotton industry as post-Civil-War
production improved the quality and availability of American-made prints. 

The small events that Centennial year were at local dry goods stores. Mills celebrated the anniversary and their skills with new prints commemorating the year. Knowing fabric collectors quite well I can imagine that these new American prints inspired some shopping.

A few weeks ago I did a post on how dull quilts in the year 1875 were. But the Centennial seems to have inspired new ideas with 1876's assortment of new prints in fashionable colors.

This purplish brown on a pale blue ground was
quite the thing in the 1870s.

If one has a collection one must display it. Centennial prints are often found in charm quilts, which were the perfect place to show off the new abundance of American-milled cottons.

For those unfamiliar with a charm quilt the Sacramento Union described them well in an account of needlework at the local 1879 fair.
"Charm quilt, Miss Hattie E. Sprague, 1,053 pieces, no two alike."

Commemorative handkerchief in the center of a charm quilt
pieced of one shape---a tumbler.

Period names other than "charm" include Odd Fellows or Beggar's Quilt.

Long hexagons 

The idea of a single shape repeated in a variety of fabrics seems to have become fashionable first in New England (where the mills were) in the 1870s.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Golden Dahlia x 16


A formidable project!

16 blocks each with 72 diamonds made of 2 triangles.

Not in BlockBase+ or my Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns and I see why. The unknown maker adapted a larger design meant to cover a whole top and turned it into blocks.

Golden Dahlia from the H.H. VerMehren pattern company in Iowa,
advertised under the name Nancy Lee.

VerMehren in their Colonial Quilts line also did a Giant Dahlia design that was more popular than the Golden Dahlia, but some quiltmakers took up the challenge of the split diamond.

The West Virginia Project recorded this one in a variegated color scheme. 

The idea of an 8-pointed star with a split diamond goes back at least into the 1840s.

Two versions from early Quaker sampler albums....
But the large scale, single block is definitely a VerMehren idea (1933.)

Polly Mello has one or two in her collection of VerMehren quilts.

Is the version with 16 blocks one of a kind?