Quilt History, page 2
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Quilt History, page 2
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Quilt History, page 2

Excerpts from QuiltBee E-mail regarding Quilt History, page 2

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12. The Rose of Sharon

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.

As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.

As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.

His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.

The Song of Solomon, Chapter 2, verses 1-6

The Rose of Sharon is one of the most beloved of all quilt blocks, yet were we to host an exchange it is likely that none of the blocks would be identical. The Rose of Sharon has been popular since the mid-nineteenth century and was one of the few non-realistic flower blocks to retain it's popularity through the depression. Rose of Sharon is often seen in a pink and green colour scheme and was understandably popular as an engagement or wedding quilt. In fact it was rarely used for anything else in the late 1800's. The one thing that unifies all versions of the block is it's central scalloped circle, representing the rose. This circle is layered with two or three circles and there is an arrangement of buds and leaves around the circle. It is this arrangement which varies greatly from block maker to block maker. Many Rose of Sharon quilts have survived because they were *best* quilts, used only for company or tucked away as items of value rather than everyday quilts. A similar pattern is the Whig Rose, which also has many variations. Unlike The Rose of Sharon, The Whig Rose often expressed support by it's maker for the Whig party and it is more commonly seen in the classic late nineteenth century red and green colour scheme. The Rose of Sharon is just one of many quilt blocks and designs with biblical themes, religion was an overwhelming factor and comfort in women's lives and the Bible was often the only book in a family's home, it was a source of inspiration both spiritually and practically. One of the most powerful quilts in the Smithsonian collection is a bible quilt, The Harriet Powers Bible Quilt. Made by a former slave this exquisite work is a treasure to us all and was a source of much controversy when it's image was licensed for reproduction. We may be grateful that the license has been canceled. Other popular Biblically inspired blocks include Jacob's Ladder, Tree of Life, Storm at Sea, and Bethlehem Star.

Today's recommended reading:

Pieces Of The Past, by Nancy J. Martin, published by That Patchwork Place

Journey To Jericho, by Kaye England

The Holy Bible


13. New England (or Where do you live?)

Where are you from? Where do you live? Does it have an influence on your quilts? In this age of easy worldwide communication regional differences are not so clear-cut as they once were. I am from New England, and live now in Florida. What might my quilts have been like had I lived in New England in the early nineteenth century?

A child in the early 1800's was taught early on the skills she would need to run her household. Everything had to be made by hand, including the cloth that went into clothing and household goods. The thread was harvested, spun, and woven at home. By the age of five a young New England girl knew how to spin, weave, darn and stitch. She may have finished her first quilt top, she had certainly begun it! When she grew up she faced the daunting task of sewing all of her family's clothing, imagine sewing a mans suit, by hand!

In New England as elsewhere, quilts were influenced by the lives of those who lived there, and for many New Englanders the overwhelming force in their lives was the ocean. The mighty north Atlantic pounds the coast and provides nourishment, livelihood and danger to the inhabitants of the coast. Many traditional quilt patterns honor this influential neighbor! Some patterns which are common to older New England Quilts are Mariner's Compass, Ship of Life, Storm At Sea, Ocean Waves, and World Without End. An old New England Ship Of Life quilt is inscribed:

The great ship of life gliding over the sea of time, bound to the shore of eternity, Her anchor cast upon the Rock of Ages.

If you lived in Kansas you might make a Mariner's Compass quilt also, but you probably call it Sunflower! Many of you are making flannel quilts now, I'm not. I live in Florida, I make bright quilts to show up in light filled, white rooms filled with light furniture. Where I live has an influence on what I sew. You might not even be aware of it but it does you too. When I buy fabric for the quilt shop where I work, many fabrics get passed over because they wont sell in Florida, I bet your local shop owner makes similar decisions every day.

Where do you live? Why don't you tell us in a quilt?

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14. 54-40 or Fight

The border between the US and Canada in the Northwest was in dispute in the early 1800's. Both the Americans and British had Fur Companies in the area, and all was pretty much mixed up. The British didn't bother to send families, and the Americans encouraged families to come and join the fun. As the Americans came alone the Oregon Trail, the tended to settle below the 49th parallel, due mainly to geography. In 1844, the border situation was really sticky. A lot of people wanted the border set at the 54 longitude and 40th parallel which would have taken all of Southern Alaska and British Columbia. James Polk ran in the election that year on the platform of 54-40 or Fight. In 1846 they settled by agreement on the 49th parallel, with all of Vancouver Island going to the British.

There are bunch of Islands between Vancouver Island and the Main Land known as the San Juan Islands. The boundary really wasn't set very well with them. Some were clearly below or above the 49th parallel, but it happened to run straight through one of the largest of these islands, San Juan Island. This lead to a situation where another border dispute between the United States and Britain came to a head in 1859, when an American settler in the San Juan Islands killed a pig belonging to an Englishman. The pig had wandered into the American's potato patch and was rooting himself up some lunch.

Both countries had been occupying the islands because the treaty of 1846 did not state who was to have jurisdiction over them. Both countries sent troops to the islands during the Pig War, but the only shot fired was the one that killed the pig. This went on for a fairly long time, and in the meantime, more Americans than Brits moved onto the island. It wasn't finally settled until they called in Emperor William I of Germany, who ended the disagreement in 1872 by awarding the San Juans to the United States.

This is the rough outline of the story. Some of it has moved into folk lore. But hope this helps.

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15. Transitions

We had a death in our house last month. My cat passed away unexpectedly. Many of you may wonder why make an issue of a cat? Well, it was a terrible thing for me and many of you were kind enough to share your thoughts and prayers with me. Many of also suggested I make a mourning quilt for her. This is a transition in my life as I had her for most of my adult life. Quilts to commemorate transitions were once very common. When a girl was married a wedding quilt was made, Mourning quilts were very popular during the Victorian era, when the cult of mourning was at it's peak. One famous quilt has a cemetery in the center with coffins appliqued around the borders. Each coffin was assigned to a particular individual and when that person passed away, his or her coffin was moved to the middle. Fairly graphic demonstration of what many might prefer not to think about!

A mother made a Freedom Quilt when her son turned 21. That was a lot more significant in the 18th and 19th century than it is now. Children were, quite literally, the property of their parents. Women became the property of their husbands when they married but men earned their "freedom" at their majority (21 years of age). Prior to that time anything they earned went to the father. Boys not needed at home were often sent to work at neighboring farms and any wages earned were given to his parents. Any inheritance was not handed over until a boy reached that magic age. Turning 21 was a hugely important event in a man's life and this event was often commemorated by his proud mother and sisters with a quilt. (If the young man was well thought of or a good catch the neighbor girls might make him a quilt too!)

Patterns for these quilts varied widely with one exception, a Turkey Tracks (also know as Wandering Foot) was never, ever made. It was said that if a Turkey Tracks quilt was given to a boy or young man he would wander for life and never settle down. Not a risk even the least superstitious mother cared to take!

Here is some further information on 54-40 or fight, provided by Jane Stapel Clarke: You also gave the history on the Turkey Track and it is one of my favorites, so I added a bit to it. Were you aware that it was originally called TENTS OF KEDAR?? named from the nomadic tribes back in biblical days and done in black and white solids as no prints were made yet. After they were available, they used the prints and it was a mourning quilt. That is what fascinated me, YOUR very interesting post and my little bit of info, in my info it says it acquired that name because some hubby/father deserted his family and they were a superstitious crowd...they thought the jerk left because of the quilt (what the heck, we usually blame ourselves)

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16. Star Of Bethlehem

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem
of Judea in the days of Herod the King,
behold, there came wise men from the east
to Jerusalem,

Saying, where is He that is born King of The Jews?
For we have seen his star in the east
and are come to worship him

St. Mathew 2:1-2

The Star Of Bethlehem is one of the oldest and most beloved of all the traditional quilt patterns. The name "Star Of Bethlehem" is used for several blocks but it is most accurately and traditionally used to refer to the pattern often called Lone Star. An large 8 pointed star subdivided into many small diamonds to form a starburst medallion.

This pattern is one a the few pieced patterns to come to us from Europe. In the early 19th century it was normally seen with extremely elaborate chintz appliques in the setting triangles and corner squares. As the century progressed these appliques became more simple and by the later part of the century the modern version with it's plain background was beginning to appear.

This version of the Star of Bethlehem was the one which traveled across the Great Plains and was introduced to the Plains tribes by missionary wives. Already skilled seamstresses the women of these tribes took up quiltmaking and brought their own sensibilities to it. The Star of Bethlehem became a predominant theme in their quiltmaking, as the Morning Star played an important role in their culture. To this day this pattern is made in endless variations by women of the plains tribes.

The Star of Bethlehem is so popular and so dramatic that it is probably the single most known pattern among non-quiltmakers. If you have not made one of these wonderful quilts, please give it a try. They are not hard to do and always give a beautiful result!

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17. A note from June Slattery on early Scottish and English quilting

Quilting came back to Scotland and Great Britain at the time of the Crusades. Christians traveled across Europe and the Middle East and met with the Mongol hoards in their journeys. When they got there they realized that the men wore quilted cloth under their chain mail. When they returned they brought this idea to their wives who started making quilted clothing for their spouses so that they would not be chaffed by the chain mail. From that whole cloth quilts were made because they figured that if it was good for that it would make great blankets too. Quilting was not a class related craft as everyone was doing it right from the queen down to the lowliest peasant. The only thing that differentiated their quilts was the quality of fabrics and threads. In the early days when people were emigrating to the new world tradesmen were not allowed to leave and if they did they were not allowed to practice their trades in the new world-that included weaving and spinning. So, early settlers had to patch their blankets with old bits of cloth and clothing to keep them whole and that is where our patchwork quilts came from.

in frozen Waterloo, Ontario Canada


The note below is not an E-mail to Quiltersbee.  It is a comment by the members of the British Quilt History List.

Quilting and Patchwork in the British Isles

Ursula McKean
Dundee Scotland, UK

There is some evidence of patchwork and quilting in medieval Europe. Clothes worn under armour or as armour seem to have been made of quilted leather or linen padded with rags or straw or sheeps' wool, and perhaps reinforced with metal. Very little is documented and only the occasional item has survived.

During the Renaissance (15th-16th centuries), there is evidence of more decorative padded and quilted clothing, and also top covers of beds, as luxury items. As time went on, the surviving records show that the fashion became popular lower down the social scale and materials included cheaper ones.

From the 17th century on, we know more, and more original items survive. Quilted bedcovers are documented in a wider range of homes (through wills etc.) and quilted women's petticoats, babies' caps and men's waistcoats survive if only in fragments. There are some nice items in the Museum of Costume in Bath, England. The earliest surviving dated patchwork bedcover is the 1718 silk coverlet discovered in 2000 and purchased by the Quilters' Guild of the British Isles  The coverlet is pieced over papers, even the curved bits. 

Within the British Isles, some regional variations show up from the 18th century on. Wales and Northern England ('Durham' quilts to dealers, but 'North Country' to quilters) have surviving and identifiable traditions which just made it into the mid 20th century, and other parts of the British Isles (Ireland and the southwest of England) may well have had their own styles too. These are mostly styles of quilting design, not patchwork. There are several notable collections of quilts in museums; the Beamish Museum near Newcastle; the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, both in England; the Museum of Welsh Life at St. Fagans, Cardiff, in Wales; and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra, Northern Ireland.

As far as influence on US traditions goes, apart from the fact that nearly all (white) early US immigrants were British, it's known that particular American styles developing from British traditions are: the appliqued style that developed into the Baltimore style; pieced patchwork worked in borders around a central medallion; perhaps an influence from Welsh wool quilts is seen in Amish patchwork (but not necessarily Amish quilting).

From the mid 19th century on, the surviving quilts show that influences go both ways across the Atlantic.

It’s important to remember that before the Industrial Revolution, all fabric was time-consuming to produce and expensive to buy, so that the added contribution of patchwork and quilting to any piece of textile either made that textile a strictly luxury item, or was done because the investment of time and effort was felt to be essential (as in armour or fashion wear). Never was it cheap until after textiles became machine-made.

There is a useful booklist on the website of the British Quilt Study Group

There are some interesting discussions on the British Quilt History List.

Some museums:

Beamish Museum

Bowes Museum

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra


Compiled and provided by Christina A. Aubin

History, page 1