Monday, October 17, 2011

Turn of the Century Quilt

[This is more on the old quilt I introduced in the last post.  Although I knew some things about it, like the names of the block and the pattern, the appraiser told me a lot I did not know.  This is everything she said:]

The design of the individual blocks is called LOG CABIN
This is one of the most common quilt blocks and usually associated with American quilts, especially among agrarian communities.  Typically, worn-out work clothing was either cut or torn into narrow strips.  The block is built by sewing strips of fabric around a center square.  The square is often done in a warm color to represent the hearth of the home.  For this quilt, the quilter chose small bits of velvet fabric (I had never seen that before and thought it was charming.)  This block has been popular throughout American history
and is still commonly used. But the design is also seen in ancient Egyptian and Celtic carvings and cloths so it was not invented here. 
According to the appraiser, this quilt's Log Cabin design is enhanced by the use of 6" squares instead of the more common 10" (early American) or 12" (modern), as well as by the narrow strips of fabric used.  It's quite precise and beautifully done.  She loved the little velvet hearth squares in the center of each block, too. 
The blocks are set in a pattern called STRAIGHT FURROWS
Log Cabin blocks can be put together in a wide variety of ways, creating different patterns.  This one makes distinctive diagonal stripes across the quilt, referring to the furrows dug while planting crops. 
The quilter used blocks of slightly different shades around the outside of the quilt, creating a subtle border.  It wasn't just thrown together; she planned the design. 
The method of construction is called FOUNDATION PIECING
In this method of quilting, the design pieces are not sewn together, they are sewn onto a square of fabric that becomes the back of the quilt. In some cases another layer was added with batting between them but for a 'summer weight' quilt it was left with just the foundation as the backing. It's difficult to tell if this quilt originally had batting and backing - if it did, there is no indication of it but it could have..
All of the foundation piecing was done by hand, but while many of the squares are sewn together by hand, some are machine sewn.  This combination of machine and hand sewing is also consistent with the estimated age of the quilt.  Quilters were only beginning to use their new treadle sewing machines at this time. 
The FABRIC used in the quilt is significant to it's story. 
Based on the pattern selection and the fabric colors, the appraiser guessed the quilt was made in "The North", because Eastern quilts were fussier and more detailed and Southern quilts were more colorful and used more floral fabrics. 
Many of the squares of the foundation are a fabric called Cadet Blue that was made from 1860 to 1880.  She said it's valued among quilters who try to recreate Civil War quilts. 
The fabrics on the front of the quilt were heavier than those typically used in a Southern quilt, also defining it as Northern, Mid Western or Plains.  
It was the fabric on the back of the quilt - the foundation pieces -  that set the age of it.  This quilt was made between 1890 and 1905.   That puts it about 40 years older than I was guessing!  Those more familiar with the family history might be able to guess if the quilter was Grandmother P's mother or aunt or possibly another relative.  The quilter would have probably been in her 40's or older when the quilt was made.  The appraiser said the sewing shows skill and the quilter was comfortable with the task, but not as precise as a young, learning quilter would have been. 
Why it's in TWO PIECES
This part was as interesting to me as finding out about the age!  I just brought 1/2 of the quilt to the appraiser because I didn't want to carry the whole thing around all day.  She was almost done looking at it when she said "It's too bad you don't have both pieces".  I said I did and she seemed shocked!  She said that splitting old quilts in two was such a common practice that they have a name for it; they call them Solomon's Choice quilts.  It happened for two different reasons.  In some cases, more than one family member wanted a treasured quilt so it was split down the middle and both daughters (usually) took their half.  These quilt halves almost never get together again because they are either used to shreds or are handed down two different sides of the family.  In other cases, an old quilt was split in two and given to farm hands who typically slept on cots or benches in a building attached to the barn.  These quilts were almost always used to shreds or were eventually cut up into even smaller pieces and used for horse blankets.  The fact that these two pieces are still in the family is unusual and exciting. 
The appraiser didn't think there was any way to repair the quilt and said there's no monetary value in it.  There are too many holes and worn spots.  Most of the holes are damage from moths, which is harder to repair than a straight line cut or tears.
Suggestions from the appraiser:
1. The quilt could be put back together and displayed as one piece.
2. We could leave it in two pieces and let two people in the family display the quilt.  If that's the plan, she urged us to label both pieces so that the history isn't lost.  
3. The third choice was her favorite and I think it's pretty interesting too.  She said she would break the quilt down further, into pieces suitable for framing.  Maybe 18" or 24" wide by 36" or 42" long, depending on what family wanted.  That way, several people in the family could enjoy it's history.  If we could determine who created this quilt, framing a piece along with a picture of the quilter, or of the farmhouse, could make a beautiful piece.  If that's what the family wants me to do, I can use my trusty seam ripper to divide it into as many pieces as necessary and of any size. 
(At this time, there’s been no decision about what to do with it.  I think it’s a project for 2012.) 

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