Thursday, September 1, 2011

1 Template Piecing and Rosalie Calvert

Triangle Medallion by Bobbi Finley, Reproduction Quilt.
See Bobbi's inspiration from the Art Institute of Chicago collection:

The French Revolution that began in 1789 had long-term effects on the new country of the United States. One was a tide of immigrants fleeing "The Terror." Rosalie Stier came to Maryland with her family from Antwerp in the Netherlands when she was about 16 in 1795. She married a Maryland Calvert and remained here the rest of her life.

Her letters to her European family were uncovered in the 1970s and many of them published in English in 1991. Since then it has been difficult to write about early 19th-century Washington without her voice. Rosalie had a lot to say.

She wasn't fond of Napoleon, the General who replaced the violent French revolutionary government in 1799. When her brother travelled to see the Emperor's coronation she declared herself on the side of Napoleon's enemies.
 "I fear finding you completely Frenchified. The empty heads of France are easily turned by Puppet Shows....Here we are entirely English."

England's King George III and France's
Napoleon robbing Tommy Jeff

Families and governments had to choose between France and England, yet allying onself with one belligerant enraged the other. President Thomas Jefferson tried enforcing a neutrality in 1807 with an embargo on all American imports and exports. Rosalie was never fond of "Tommy Jeff" either, "wretched Jefferson." After the embargo was declared Rosalie, a planter with a tobacco crop to sell, was beside herself. 

"Our good for nothing president does all the harm he can but does not declare war....There is a frightening stagnation in the towns---a number of merchants have gone bankrupt."
The American embargo and later British blockades when war was actually declared put an end to transatlantic travel and eventually to the letters that meant so much to the exile. She never saw her sister or parents again. By the time the war was over she had too many children and her health was too fragile for travel.
Riversdale, Rosalie's federal style house is now a
 National Historic Landmark, open for tours.

Rosalie Stier Calvert did not mention quilts in her published letters yet she might have been quite familiar with the patchwork of the Netherlands and similar styles in Maryland.

Julia Zgliniec, Wreath and Birds, reproduction quilt.
Julia  interpreted two early quilt
 for an American Quilt Study Group project,
studying bedcoverings before 1840.

To remember Rosalie we can make a field of triangular patchwork to frame the center of a medallion.
21" finished center with field of
 patchwork border = 45" finished piece

A simple field of triangles pieced into sawtooth squares makes an authentic looking frame for a central applique, panel or piece of chintz. The patchwork is easy. It's 3" finished sawtooth squares.

Cut squares 3-7/8". Cut each into 2 triangles with a single diagonal cut.

Piece a dark and light triangle together. The hard part is you need 172 of these finished squares for the quilt above. So cut 86 light and 86 dark squares.
Of course you will be using your rotary cutter and machine, two things Rosalie Calvert couldn't imagine. But if you wanted to do this patchwork in period fashion you'll want to piece the triangles over paper.

We're familiar with hexagons pieced over paper.

Here's a typical hexagon back from the first half of the 19th century. The seamstress cut squares of fabric and hexagons of paper and basted the squares over the paper with a lot of extra fabric pressed onto the back. She then whip-stitched the hexagons together.

Early seamstresses pieced many geometric patterns using the same technique. Here is a top of squares, which were pieced over paper templates and then whip-stitched together.

 The top has been reworked many times but the original fabric and stitching seems to date from the early 19th century, say 1820-1850. When turned over you can see the overhand stitch and the way the seams are pressed open. Although the paper has been removed these clues indicate that the squares were once basted over paper squares.

This poor old top is a sampler of stitches as well as fabric styles.
The thread at the end of the top blue arrow is recent quilting that has been ripped out. When I got this top it was halfway quilted with a fluffy yellow wool blanket as batting. (Ba-a-a-d thing to do to a top from 1830 or '40.) The middle blue arrow points to a beautiful little overhand or whip-stitched seam. The bottom arrow points to a running stitch and the red thread at the bottom is a machine stitch that seems to be reinforcing some of the old stitching that had rotted.

Antique patchwork pieced of a variety of
European-imported prints, a popular commodity
in international trade blocked by the embargoes

If you are going to piece your triangles over paper, cut 3" squares of paper. Again slice each in half diagonally. Baste the fabric over the edges of the paper and whip-stitch together. You need to cut 86 squares to make 172 paper templates.

Well--- maybe you will want to do four of these triangle squares the old-fashioned way and then go back to your machine. See this URL for a how-to on the whip stitch.

Fields of patchwork were frequent design elements in early quilts. Here are a few more for inspiration.

A quilt from the Copp Family of Stonington, Connecticut.
Estimated date: Early 19th century.
Collection National Museum of American History
Smithsonian Institution.

Read more about the Copp quilt here:
And see a dress from the same era made of fabric also found in the quilt.

Compare a Dutch quilt, a British quilt and an American quilt by clicking here: (Scroll down to see Anna Tuels's pink-bordered quilt)

Barbara Brackman, Ocean Waves, reproduction quilt.
You can turn the triangles on point too.

Look for Rosalie's letters.
Mistress of Riversdale, The Plantation Letters of Rosalie Stier Calvert, edited by Margaret Law Challcott (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991)
See a preview here:

Julia's inspiration was on the cover of this rare out-of-print catalog by Gloria Seaman Allen, First Flowerings: Early Virginia Quilts.


Rosemary Youngs said...

What Interesting History, Thank you also for the triangular patchwork pattern and the information about triangle piecing.

Allison Ann Aller said...

Great, Barbara! I really like those triangles on point, too. Thanks for the fascinating history.

Kris said...

Barbara, You have outdone yourself again. This is so fascinating to learn of this historic period thru a woman's eyes. Thanks so much for this interesting lesson and a view to some beautiful quilts.

Cyn ;-) said...

Thank you, Barbara, for continuing to teach us more of our history.
I never knew that HSTs were PPd. Very interesting. Thank you again.
Cyn; -)

gaye ingram said...

Thanks, Barbara! It's time someone examined the French influence on American quiltmaking. American historians are doing that too. This is simply terrific. Thank you for the lesson and the quilts.

Barbara Brackman said...

There are some problems here with leaving comments. I'll work on it.

Alden O'Brien said...

The quilt on the cover of First Flowerings is in the DAR Museum collection and is visible on the Quilt Index at; search for ID number 84.83 and choose DAR Museum as Contributor/institution. It was made by Catherine Custis on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, not so very far from Riversdale in MD--those triangle pieced borders do seem very common to both MD and VA.
Alden O'Brien, curator of costume and textiles, DAR Museum

Barbara Brackman said...

Thanks Alden. Here's a link to Catherine Custis's quilt. It's 103inches square!

Barbara Brackman said...

Oops. Heres the link

Ulla said...

Hi! Greetings from Finland! I love your Blog! I love history and quilting! First time to find them in one Blog! Thank you!