Quilts Their Story

and How to Make Them,  by  Marie D. Webster






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Visit Our other online vintage needlework books:

Beeton's Book of Needlework, by Isabella Beeton
Encyclopedia of Needlework, by Thérèse de Dillmont
Exercises in Knitting, by Cornelia Mee
Handbook of Embroidery by L. Higgin
Handbook of Embroidery




From the book,

Development of Embroidery in America
by Candance Wheeler, 1921

Chapter III - Samplers and a Word about Quilts


(p. 58) (copied, with permission from http://handbook of embroidery.com )

The domestic needlework of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, should not [58] be overlooked in a history of embroidery, it being often so ambitiously decorative and the stitchery so remarkable. The patchwork quilt was an instance of much of this effort. It was unfortunate that an economic law governed this species of work, which prevented its possible development. The New England conscience, sworn to utility in every form, had ruled that no material should be bought for this purpose. It could only take advantage of what happened, and it seldom happened that cottons of two or three harmonious colors came together in sufficient quantity to complete the five-by-five or six-by-six which went to the making of a patchwork quilt. Nevertheless one sometimes comes across a "rising sun" or a "setting sun" bedquilt which is remarkable for skillful shading, and was an inspiration in the house where it was born, and where the needlework comes quite within the pale of ornamental stitchery.

This variety of domestic needlework, and one or two others which are akin to it, survived in the northern and middle states in the form of quilting until at least the middle of the nineteenth century, while in the southern states, especially in [59] the mountains of Kentucky and North Carolina, it still survives in its original painstaking excellence.

Among the earlier examples of these quilts one occasionally finds one which is really worthy of the careful preservation which it receives. I remember one which impressed itself upon my memory because of the humanity interwoven with it, as well as the skill of its making. It was a construction of blocks, according to patchwork law, every alternate block of the border having an applied rose cut from printed calico in alternate colors of yellow, red, and blue. These roses were carefully applied with buttonhole stitch, and the cotton ground underneath cut away to give uniform thickness for quilting. The main body of the quilt was unnoticeably good, being a collection of faintly colored patches of correct construction. The quilting was a marvel—a large carefully drawn design, evidently inspired by branching rose vines without flowers, only the leafage and stems being used, and all these bending forms filled in with a diamonded background of exquisite quilting. The palely colored center was distinguished only by its needlework, leaving the rose border to emphasize and frame it. [60]

There was a bit of personal history attached to this quilt in the shape of a small tag, which said:

"This quilt made by Delia Piper, for occupation after the death of an only son. Bolivar, Southern Missouri, 1845."

The same kind friend who had introduced me to this quilt, finding me appreciative of woman's efforts in fine stitchery, took me to call upon other pieces which were equally worthy of admiration. One was a white quilt of what was called "stuffed work," made by working two surfaces of cloth together, the upper one of fine cambric, the lower one of coarse homespun. Upon the upper one a large ornamental basket was drawn, filled with flowers of many kinds, the drawing outlines being followed by a back stitchery as regular and fine as if done by machine, looking, in fact, like a string of beaded stitches, and yet it was accomplished by a needle in the hand of a skillful but unprofessional sewer. The picture, for it was no less, was completed by the stuffing of each leaf and flower and stem with flakes of cotton pushed through the homespun lining. The weaving of the basket was a marvel of bands of buttonholed material, which stood out in appropriate thickness. [61] The centers of the flowers had simulated stamens done in knotted work.

Courtesy of Essex Institute, Salem, Mass.

Left—SAMPLER in drawnwork, écru linen thread, made by Anne Gower, wife of Gov. John Endicott, before 1628.
Right—SAMPLER embroidered in dull colors on écru canvas by Mary Holingworth, wife of Philip English, Salem merchant, married July 1675, accused of witchcraft in 1692, but escaped to New York. From the Curwen estate.

larger image

Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

SAMPLER worked by Hattie Goodeshall, who was born February 19, 1780, in Bristol.

I think this stuffed work was rather rare, for I have only seen two specimens, and as it required unusual and exhaustive skill in needlework, the production was naturally limited. The practice was one of the exotic efforts of some one of large leisure and lively ambitions who belonged to the class of prosperous citizens.

"Patchwork," as it was appropriately called, was more often a farmhouse industry, which accounts for its narrow limits, since, with choice of material, even a small familiarity with geometrical design might bring good results. It might have easily become good domestic art. Geometrical borders in two colors would have taken their place in decorative work, and the applied work, so often ventured upon, was the beginning of one very capable method. The skillful needlework, the elaborate quilting, the stitchery and stuffing are worthy of respect, for the foundation of it all was great dexterity in the use of the needle.