Thursday, March 19, 2009

Celebrate- It's National Quilting Day! Hug Your Quilt today, March 20

In honor of both Quilting Day and Women's History month I am reprinting an awesome post Julie Silber posted on the Quilt History List this week (with her permission).

Julie is answering a question posed by Catherine Litwinow about a 19th century quilt made by abolitionists, as evidenced by a single inked patch of a slave in chains in a huge silk quilt. Beneath the kneeling male figure holding his chained hands up as if begging to be released, is the phrase "Deliver me from the oppression of man."

The quilt is pictured on pages 70 & 71 in a book co-authored by Julie Silber, Pat Ferrero and Elaine Hedges, "Hearts and Hands, Women, Quilts and American Society," which was published in 1987. It remains  one the THE best books on women's history in America in the 19th and early 20th century. The rest of this blog is written by Julie--

Elaine Hedges, Pat Ferrero and I used Deborah Coates' quilt as part of the COVER design of our book, "Hearts and Hands," as well as within the pages...

I must tell you about first seeing the quilt.

When Pat and I first saw the quilt (about 1987, at Jonathan and Gail Holstein's home in Cazenovia, N.Y.), it was in two pieces, having years before been cut directly down the middle.

Each of the two "new" edges (on each half) had then been bound, years before, probably whenever the quilt was cut.

The inked piece (a small triangle) had been right in the center of the full quilt -- and so it was cut in half!  The tiny inked image of the bound slave (and the words) -- now on two halves -- had been almost entirely covered over by the new bindings. 

It was Pat ("Eagle Eye") Ferrero who first noticed the mere wisps of ink on the two halves of the split triangle.  The owner of the quilt (a descendant) gave us permission, right on the spot, to carefully remove a few stitches holding the binding in place. No one had ever noticed those little marks before...

It was then that the family saw evidence, for the first time, that their ancestor, the quilt maker, Deborah Coates, had indeed been firmly committed to the abolitionist cause.

Her husband was a well known activist, fully dedicated to the cause of Abolition.  His name appears frequently in a "public"
way -- in newspaper articles on the abolitionist cause, and frequently in the minutes of abolitionist meetings. These "documents" remain, and are part of the official "historical record."

But his wife ... how was anyone to know where she "stood"?

Until that amazing moment in 1987, when a few snips of a scissors revealed what she had added in ink, the family had not known, with any certainty, where Deborah's heart was.  What a moment!

The family then took the ball and ran ... and soon discovered another fact previously unknown to them:  The Coates' home in Cazenovia had been a stop on the Underground Railroad!

A lesson about how fragile and elusive women's history (in
textiles) can be -- and how respect, careful observation, and an understanding of historical context can benefit and enrich us all.

Julie Silber
The Quilt Complex

(The book, Hearts and Hands is now long out-of-print but we have a few "new" copies at Quilt Complex that we bought from the publisher. Now signed).

***Julie will be my featured guest interview on Women On Quilts, June 15th interview. Join us!***

Saturday, March 14, 2009

3 Special Announcements (2 with Deadlines) in Salute to Women's History Month & National Craft Month

1. Join me this Monday night for my tele-interview and group discussion with Lynne Z. Bassett, editor of the newest quilt documentation book "Massachusetts Quilts, Our Common Wealth." It's free and fun and it starts at 5 PM Pacific time, 8 PM Eastern. For all the info and links click here

2. I am sponsoring a creative writing challenge and fundraiser The Quilters Hall of Fame, to help with this year's induction ceremonies of Merikay Waldvogel, and in salute to National Craft Month and Women's History month. A call for fictional stories and the chance to be in an eBook I will publish, go here for details and see some fun photos from my ephemera collection.

3. Quilter Harriet Powers is inducted in Georgia's Women's Hall of Fame!

"A novelist, a conservationist and a former slave whose works now adorn the Smithsonian Institution and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts will be the inductees this year into the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame.

Conservationist Jane Hurt Yarn, novelist Caroline Pafford Miller and quilter Harriet Powers, all deceased, will be inducted in a ceremony Thursday at Wesleyan College in Macon.

Quilter Harriet Powers, 1837-1910

Born a slave near Athens, Powers became a renowned folk artist long after her death.

Using a Singer sewing machine she purchased in 1881, Powers exhibited the first of what became known as her "story quilts" at the 1886 Clarke County Cotton Fair. The quilt was made from 299 separate pieces of fabric and it depicts scenes from the Bible and spirituals. It was a remarkable achievement, especially considering that Powers could not read.

She sold that work, which is now in the Smithsonian's Museum of American History, for $5. The buyer, Jennie Smith of Athens, entered it at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. The faculty wives at Atlanta University saw it and commissioned a second quilt.

The second quilt illustrates 15 Bible stories and events such as a cold snap which struck Athens in February of 1895. It is now on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Powers' work has been celebrated over the years. An off-Broadway play, "Quilting in the Sun," recounts her struggles and accomplishments, there are many articles about her and her two celebrated works, and there is a move to honor her with a postage stamp."`Written by Chuck Mobley for the Savannah Morning News and for more information: To learn more about the Georgia Women of Achievement, and about the other inductees this year and the ceremony

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My "Honest Patch" on a 19th & 20th century quilt & the "Massachusetts Quilts" Book

Have any of you who own antique quilts notice your once perfect quilt suddenly has cracking in the brown fabrics? We all have, as pre-1900 dark brown dyed fabric is prone to becoming brittle due to tannin and iron mordants in the dyes. (They used to use iron pots for dyes that needed iron to help the fabric retain the dye, a 2-fer)

Over time the fabric dries out and splits, or it get's wet and splits, or the sun shines on it too long and it splits, or you pack it away and it splits. I think you are get the picture.

Dark brown 19th century cotton fabrics are similar to silks used in crazy quilts, the silk will deteriorate and you can not stop it once it starts.  You can help prevent it from startinghalf full sm

maybe, or better put, increase the number of years before the deterioration begins. Oh, wait, you're telling me that you want to have it out? Oh, well, then you can postpone the deterioration by a number of months. My gosh, I am so negative here- I'm smiling. I hope you are.

That said, here is a repair I did this past week in a most interesting looking quilt that I bought in Arizona years ago when antique store shopping with the two wild and crazy lovely ladies, Audrey and Dee, who own and operate the quilt retreat camps with national teachers Quilting in the Pines and Quilting in the Desert. We all had a good laugh when we saw this quilt.

100_5005 It is a pink and brown scrap (fabulous 1870-80s fabrics, all new or unused) album block quilt in nearly perfect condition, with wool batting, and tied with pink and green yarn to a  1930-40s back fabric! Each yarn tie, and there are many, is made with both colors of yarn, sort of tufted and it is held down and brought through the thick wool bat with a thick sewing thread.

The thick dense batting saved this quilt from splitting much more than it could have with a thinner bat or fewer ties. I have stored it with as little folding as possible, in a closet, on top of other quilts, with no weight on it. Still, deterioration has set in on two blocks.

 100_5019 I fixed the most serious and obvious loss of fabric, after taking off the damaged fabric completely, arggg, at some point, and I can't recall why. I know better now to leave

the old fabric underneath and applique on top of it. I used an old piece of fabric, c. 1900, that matched the best with the rest of the quilt. I think it turned out well.

In the words of Nancy Kirk, I made an "honest psqsatch." this means I'm not trying to fool anybody, so my stitches show, but it blends well. It was not easy working on a quilt this thick and naturally, my stitches did not go all the way  through. I appliqué the patch on top of the seams and into the batting when there were no seams. It is made with 1 rectangle and 2 squares and I used brown DMC thread.

Soon I will be done and show you my "honest patch" on the acid green fabric in the pre-Civil War quilt TOP. Where is that batting when you need it? :)

You are invited to join our book discussionMass Qlts cover and interview with Lynne Bassett, the quilt historian who edited the newest state quilt project book,  Massachusetts Quilts: Our Common Wealth, in a group tel-event on March 16th, Monday evening, 5 PM Pacific time. Lynne will answer your questions about particular quilts and other questions that arise as you read this fantastic book. Read more about it on Women On Quilts.