Excerpts from QuiltBee E-mail regarding Quilt History, page 2
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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
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
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
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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
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
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
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,
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.
Ulster Folk and
Transport Museum, Cultra
Compiled and provided by Christina A. Aubin
History, page 1