Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Washington Society: The First First Family

Chintz Quilts Unfading Glory by
Lacy Folmar Bullard & Betty Jo Shiell, 1983.
Quilt descended in the family of Martha Custis (Patsy) Peter,
Martha Washington's granddaughter.
Collection of the Shelburne Museum.

If you have a good collection of books on early quilts you may have these featuring chintz cover quilts. On the left Chintz Quilts Unfading Glory and on the right First Flowerings: Early Virginia Quilts from the DAR Museum. The chintz quilts using the same fabric are both by members of the aristocratic Custis family of Virginia. The one at right, in the collection of the Museum of the  Daughters of the American Revolution, bears the initials of Catherine Custis whose husband was a distant cousin of Martha Dandridge's first husband, Patsy Peter's grandfather.
See a photo of the quilt with the triangles in the border here:

Several quilts survive from the extended family of  Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, the first President's wife. Martha never lived in the capitol city of Washington. When her husband was President the capitol was New York and then Philadelphia, but her home was the Mount Vernon plantation in Virginia.

The bed in which Martha Washington died.
Mid-20th-century postcard from Mt. Vernon.
Other objects, such as braided rugs, come and go as fashion dictates. 

Anything associated with the Washingtons has been revered and a whole mythology built around them. The foremost repository for objects associated with the family is the Washington home at Mount Vernon.

The first President's bedroom
from a postcard

The collection there, managed by the Ladies' Mount Vernon Association, includes several quilts. 

Quilt top attributed
 to Frances Washington Ball
about 55" x 55"
from the collection of the Ladies' Mount Vernon Association,
 pictured in First Flowerings.

The medallion top above has been in the collection for a long time. An 1899 Guide to Washington and Mount Vernon lists " A quilt and a piece of knitting... made by Washington's niece, Frances W. Ball" on display in the upper hall at Mount Vernon.

Quilt descending in the Dandridge Family,
from the collection of the Ladies' Mount Vernon Association,
pictured in First Flowerings.

The fringed quilt above was donated by a descendant of Martha's sister who implied Martha had made it but, as the curators who wrote First Flowerings note that quilt looks nothing like the others attributed to Martha

such as this top in the collection of the Smithsonian,
 begun by Martha and finished
 by Patsy Peter's sister Eliza Custis Law.

The Dandridge quilt looks much like other Virginia quilts of the late 18th/early 19th centuries, so it's  from Martha's time period (1731-1802).

The swag and bowknot border is similar to this early medallion by an unknown maker in the collection of the Shelburne Museum.

Jane Gatewood quilt
From the Quilt Index

This medallion dated 1795 by Jane Gatewood also has an appliqued swag border among the rather methodical ordered borders.  See the picture at the Quilt Index to see the swag border better.

Association with the Washington family has caused several early quilts to be carefully saved. Some of them have little tangible evidence they were actually from the family or the early period.

In the 1960s Woman's Day needlework editor Rose Wilder Lane wrote a book about the history of needlework, including several Washington-related quilts.

This feather applique with a fringed edge is from the collection of the Ladies's Mount Vernon Association. It became known as Washington's Plume. It's hard to date from the photo but all that conventional applique indicates it may be after 1830 or '40.

Washington's Plume
By Mary Schafer
Collection: Museum at Michigan State University

The Woman's Day pattern inspired Mary Schafer and a few other ambitious applique artists to make an interpretation.See Mary's quilt here:

The Washington Guest Quilt
About 1932

This 1930s medallion with an embroidered sailboat also has a relationship to Mount Vernon's quilts. In 1932 a writer for the farm newspaper The Oklahoma Farmer Stockman wrote a short article in the Good Cheer section of the paper for Washington's 200th Birthday

A photocopy of the pattern
February 15, 1932

"The Washington Guest Quilt"
"The last time that I was at Mt. Vernon, home of Martha and George Washington, I was so attracted by a quilt on the bed in one of the guest rooms that I sketched it for readers of Good Cheer. The center is a square of old-fashioned print showing a ship sailing. It measures about 15 inches each way. Around this is a border about two inches wide.... (she gave measurements for the borders.)We do not have a pattern for this quilt but anyone desiring to do so can easily make the quilt using the picture as a guide---L.C.P."

Her inspiration was likely this quilt attributed to Martha Washington, The Penn Treaty Quilt. Is that a ship behind the treaty signers in the Delaware River?

Her sketch looked very much like the pink version above

And here's another interpretation,
done in black and white,
 just like the illustration in the newspaper.
This unknown maker followed her own plan
 in the outer borders.

For other posts on the Washington/Custis family quilts click here:

 Read about a piece of Martha Washington's dress here

1 comment:

WoolenSails said...

I have never been into florals like that, but I do love the ship quilts and the adaptation of the last one.