- Slides: 120
Quilts 19 th through 20 th Centuries
The year is 1830 • It is a cold winter night and you are tired and have just snuggled down into your bed with several quilts piled up on top of you. • If you are a boy, you have been up before the sun and have spent most of the day performing heavy manual work that includes chopping wood for the cook stove and fireplace to keep you warm and fed. • You have not had any idle time.
• If you are a girl, you have also started working before the sun came up tending to animals, cooking, washing, cleaning and taking care of younger siblings. • Those quilts you are sleeping under are all lovingly handmade and are more than utilitarian blankets that are keeping you warm.
Believe it or not…. They are works of art.
Quilts • Quilts and other cloth-based narrative art are part of many cultures. Made by hand -- often collaboratively -- using familiar materials such as scraps of clothing, quilts are both personal and communal objects. • Quilting continues to be largely a homebased form of women's artistic expression.
• Quilts can be works of art as well as tell stories through pictures. • They also tell a story about their creators and about the historical and cultural context of their creation (quilting bees, historical and personal events) through the choices made in design, material, and content.
• In 1842, John Logan of Mc. Dowell County, North Carolina put Hannah, a twelve year old slave girl, behind his daughter, Margaret, on her horse. • He then put Pharoah, a twelve year old slave boy, behind his new son-in-law, Thomas Young Greenlee, on his horse.
• John said, "These are your wedding gifts. " • Hannah became a house servant and Pharoah became a blacksmith. • They later married and took their new owners’ surname.
• During the days of the War between the States, the Underground Railroad was active through the very heart of Mc. Dowell County. • Hannah pieced this quilt during those harrowing days, stitching into the pieces African symbols which served as messages and directions to would-be travelers on the 'railroad".
• Some of the symbols are recognized as characters of the Vai Syllabary, an African alphabet.
• Hannah pieced the quilt by hand using scrap materials of homespun cotton and wool, with some silk and velvet scraps interspersed.
• The quilt lining was left unfinished until Emma "Em" Greenlee, Hannah's daughter, completed it in 1895.
• We know little about them beyond this, except that the masterful quilt reproduced here was begun by Hannah Greenlee, perhaps in the 1880 s, and finished by her daughter Emm in 1896, sometime after Hannah’s death.
• Hannah Greenlee’s quilt is made of irregular scraps of fabric—some of them homespun—that are stitched together in the Crazy pattern developed in Victorian England popular in America in the second half of the nineteenth century.
• As a freedwoman after the war, Hannah probably continued the type of work she performed as a house servant: cooking, cleaning, and sewing.
• She may have intended to sell or give the quilt to her previous owners, since it remained with that family until they donated it to North Carolina’s Historic Carson House.
The quilt has been recognized in numerous publications including : • The North Carolina Quilt Project, • The Maryland Sun News: Artistry Knew No Bondage, • Janice Cole Gibson's: Carson House Quilts in Quilt World, • Stitched From the Soul: Slave Quilts of the Antebellum South.
• A unique and beautiful appliquéd quilt of silk chintz imported from France was carefully sewn in 1810 by Kadella, the Carson family slave who became the seamstress for the family.
• The slave of Colonel John Carson, Kadella, made the quilt as a celebration of his marriage. • She created the quilt according to traditional European appliqué standards of displaying ornate French lace in intricate patterns.
However, she also included African tradition in her quilt by cross-stitching long, vertical, strip-like lines onto the quilt.
• Legend has it that Kadella was the daughter of an African Chieftain, and thus a princess in her homeland. • She was taken to Barbados by slave traders, where she was purchased by Col. John Carson and brought to his plantation in Mc. Dowell County. • Kadella was quite beautiful, and because she was considered royalty in her home country, the other slaves on the Carson plantation revered her.
• When it was necessary for her to travel from the slave quarters to the “big house”, her fellow slaves carried her about on a palanquin. (Rickshaw) • She became a favorite of the Carsons and it was soon learned that she was quite accomplished at sewing.
• She was given a special little house built especially for her across the river from the other slave quarters near the Carson family home and lived her life with the Carsons, making all the quilts and clothing for the family. • She was kept away from difficult labor and allowed to sew and knit.
• Kadella was well respected and loved not only by her master but by fellow slaves as well. • Although never found, Kadella is said also to have produced one African strip-style quilt for each of her sons who were sent away because of their shameful likeness to their master John Carson.
• Another special quilt, stitched in small pieces called a “crazy quilt” pattern was made by the mother of a Methodist minister who traveled to Oklahoma with the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears. • It is said that this quilt comforted many Native Americans on this infamous journey.
Jane and Rebecca Bond
• Slave woman Jane Bond is braiding the hair of her mistress Rebecca. Although most likely they posed for the photograph, both women took pride in making dresses for one another and braiding one another's hair. • Jane Bond was born a slave in Kentucky, 1828. She was originally the property of Edward Fletcher Arthur. He gave her to his daughter Belinda as a wedding present in 1848.
• The two women did not however get along very well and after the birth of the second son between Jane and Belinda's preacher husband Preston, Jane was sent back to her original owner. • Jane was then given to Preston's sister Rebecca. • The two formed a very close friendship and shared much of their lives, including quilting. The two quilts below are two of the remaining quilts from over twenty that they made together for their children.
• Although both are traditional European strict patterns, they are made with bright contrasting colors and even the strict patterns are deviated from as seen in four of the squares in the quilt on the right.
Story Quilts • Story quilts often reflect the personal life of the one who created them. Harriet Powers was born into slavery in 1837 and married at the age of eighteen. • We do not know what her childhood was like since it was not recorded; however, she recorded some of her life as an African American slave woman in a story quilt. • Harriet Powers also quilted Bible stories; one is a priceless museum piece that resides at the Smithsonian in Washington D. C.
• Harriet Powers created two quilts which are the best known and well preserved examples of Southern American quilting tradition still in existence. • Using the traditional African appliqué technique along with European record keeping and biblical reference traditions, Harriet records on her quilts local historical legend, Bible stories, and astronomical phenomena.
Harriet Powers’ Story Quilt
• Her quilts were first seen at a crafts fair by an artist, a Southern white woman named Jennie Smith. • Ms. Smith, who kept a diary and upon first meeting Harriet, recalls -- "I found the owner, a negro woman, who lived in the country on a little farm whereon she and her husband made a respectable living. • She is about sixty five years old, of a clear ginger cake color, and is a very clean and interesting woman who loves to talk of her 'old miss' and life 'befo de wah. '
• At first Harriet Powers was unwilling to sell her quilts to Ms. Smith. • Yet when she and her family came into financial difficulty she agreed to sell them.
• Ms Smith writes -- " Last year I sent her word that I would buy it if she still wanted to dispose of it. She arrived one afternoon in front of my door in an ox-cart with the precious burden in her lap encased in a clean flour sack, which was still enveloped in a crocus sack. She offered it for ten dollars, but I told her I only had five to give.
• “After going out consulting with her husband she returned and said 'Owin to de hardness of de times, my ole man lows I'd better tech hit. ' Not being a new woman she obeyed. After giving me a full description of each scene with great earnestness, she departed but has been back several times to visit the darling offspring of her brain. ”
• “She was only in measure consoled for its loss when I promised to save her all my scraps. " • Although it was certainly painful for Mrs. Powers to sell her quilts, doing so she thus, unknowingly, preserved them for future generations.
Harriet Powers • The photograph, made about 1897, depicts her wearing a special apron with images of a moon, cross, and sun or shooting star. Celestial bodies such as these appear repeatedly in her quilts, indicating their importance to her.
Harriet Power’s Bible Quilt
• This quilt looks very different from quilts made in the colonial period, when such items were confined to homes of the wealthy, where women had leisure time to devote to complicated needlework.
• In colonial whole-cloth quilts, for example, the top was one single piece whose only decoration was the pattern of the stitching itself.
• In another type, printed images of flowers and other motifs were cut of expensive imported fabrics and sewn (appliquéd) to the top as decoration.
Hasbrouck family vignette; Ulster County, NY. Mid-19 th century.
• Many early Crazy quilts were made of luxury materials like silk, velvet, and satin. • The random pattern is a flexible and thrifty way to construct a quilt, permitting small scraps of any size or shape to be used.
Crazy c. 1884 -1890
• The design can be worked in an overall pattern or—as in Greenlee’s quilt—in separate squares that are then combined in a grid.
• Because the grid adds a degree of order to the chaos, this type is known as a Contained Crazy.
• In each square of her quilt, numerous small strips are joined into ladders that lean this way and that.
• These stacked, colored bands resemble a type of traditional textile made in Ghana and the Ivory Coast called kente, in which bars of color and pattern are woven in thin strips that are then joined side to make wider cloth.
• Many scholars believe that elements of this African tradition, especially its aesthetic preference for asymmetry, inventiveness, and irregular blocks of bright color, live on in many African American quilts.
• Each square of Greenlee’s quilt is a separate abstract composition that is constantly changing depending on the direction from which it is viewed.
Fancy stitching • Sometimes following the outlines of the piecing, sometimes independent of them— creates another level of patterning as do the designs within the separate scraps of cloth.
• As in most quilts, the top layer is attached to two more beneath with stitching (quilting) that goes through all three.
• The bottom layer, called the liner, can be plain or decorated to make the quilt reversible.
Sandwiched between the top and liner is the layer of insulation, called filling or batting, that traps pockets of air to give the quilt its warmth.
• The invention of the cotton gin in 1793, the opening of a textile factory in Waltham, Massachusetts, in 1814, and the development of the power loom would make domestic printed fabrics widely available and affordable.
• By the 1840 s, women were purchasing commercially printed fabric to sew rather than weave the fabrics themselves.
Unknown pattern, c. 1853, New York
• Quilt patterns multiplied and were spread by family and friends, printed in ladies’ magazines, and ordered through catalogs.
Worsted c. 1820 -1840 New Hampshire
• The introduction of the sewing machine in the second half of the nineteenth century made sewing faster.
• In addition to still-usable parts of old clothes, scraps left over from a dress for the first day of school or Father’s Sunday shirt were saved to make quilts that were rich with personal memories.
• Susan Noakes Mc. Cord was a farmwife who lived in Mc. Cordsville, Indiana. • She raised vegetables, chickens, and seven children, and still found time between chores to make more than a dozen quilts.
• Many of her creations were based on standard quilt patterns that she transformed.
• This quilt, like Greenlee’s, is a Contained Crazy quilt, but instead of rectangular bars, wedges of fabric are joined to form irregular wheels.
• The pattern is based on one called Grandmother’s Fan, in which each uniform block of the quilt contains a fan set in the same corner.
• Mc. Cord varied the size of the fans and set them in all four corners of most blocks, aligning them to form fractured gears that twirl across the surface.
Nothing is still …. • Wheels struggle to maintain their symmetry and rims wander off to do-si-do with other discs. Everywhere there is the nervous tremor of the zig-zag stitching.
• Some of the most accomplished quilting is found in Amish examples made in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.
• Before the incorporation of synthetic materials around 1940, Amish quilts tended to be made of fine wool.
• These quilts were given only a thin layer of filler, making delicate needlework possible. • Although the stitches on these quilts average from nine to eleven per inch, stitches as small as eighteen to twenty per inch have been used (most quilts average six to eight stitches).
• The Amish trace their lineal descent from the Anabaptist movement, which arose in the early 1500 s as a result of the Protestant Reformation.
• Anabaptists were pacifists who practiced adult baptism exclusively. • The largest Anabaptist sect was Mennonite, named for founder Menno Simons. • In 1693, a group of Mennonites led by Jacob Ammann, seeking a stricter observance of their religion, broke away to become the Amish.
• Heavily persecuted, the Amish were drawn to America by the religious tolerance promoted by William Penn. • In the 1730 s, they established their first sizeable communities in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
• At the core of Amish life are religion, community, and family. • The Amish, who live in small communities, value conformity to communal rule (the Ordnung), which varies according to local custom.
• Much of the technology developed since the Industrial Revolution is avoided.
• They aspire to a life of non-violence, simplicity, and humility; • Anything considered vain or reminiscent of the military (such as buttons or moustaches) is rejected.
• Amish clothing is generally patterned on late-nineteenth century rural farm attire.
• Men’s suits are black or dark blue, and simply cut. • Women’s dress is made in a variety of solid colors (generally avoiding bright red, orange, yellow, or pink) and usually includes some form of head covering.
• Amish houses are modest, and quilts provide not only pattern and bold color but an outlet for women’s creativity.
• Amish quilts made in Lancaster County between approximately 1875 and 1950 are noted for their rich, solid colors, symmetrical design, and emphasis on a central motif: • characteristics that give the compositions a sense of quiet grandeur.
• Within a limited number of quilt patterns, the color choices allowed by the restrictions of the Bishop (the communally elected leader of a district), may nevertheless permit a broad range of visual effects.
• The strong color contrast in two of the quilts (10 -B. 3 and 10 -B. 4) causes the bars to begin to quiver as you look at them.
In another, slender bars will appear to shift.
• The pulsing energy of the star quilt is held in check by the wide purple border that just touches the tips of its points.
• Many quilts are enriched with stitches in one or more patterns — diamond shapes, feathers, wreaths, vines, and flowers — that add another layer of technical and visual complexity.
• Although earlier quilts like those reproduced here are thought to be the result of individual efforts among the Lancaster County Amish, in more recent times women often have gathered together to share their needle working skills in community events called quilting bees or “frolics. ”
• Quilts have proved to be the perfect canvas for self expression. They serve as a new way of seeing: imagining the possibilities contained in a bolt of fabric, exploring new definitions for what a quilt can be. • From the Amish quilts of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with their large fields of color to the contemporary work of such artists as Nancy Crow and Michael James, quilt makers have continually pushed the boundaries of this medium as they explore new directions for this American craft.
Nancy Crow’s Quilt
Log Cabin c. 1893 Gertrude Buchner, Maquoketa, Iowa
Lily (variation) c. 1855 -1870 Waynesboro, Pennsylvania
Star of Bethlehem c. 1832 Hannah Huxley, Kentucky
c. 1850 New England
Kansas, c. 1920 -1940, Louisville, Kentucky
Blocks, c. 1850 -1860, New York
Butterflies, c. 1940 -1950, Alabama
Robbing Peter to Pay Paul
Essay Question 1 • Why did women make quilts? (at least 2 reasons)
Essay Question 2 • Why did quilters often sew small bits of fabric together rather than using one large piece of material?
Essay Question 3 • How could a quilt record a family’s history?
Essay Question 4 • What 19 th century developments made it easier for American women to make quilts. (There at lease 5 reasons)