Sunday, September 18, 2011

Another Eagle Quilt in a Field of Patchwork

Quilt donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1947
attributed to members of the Brown-Frances family
 of Canterbury, Connecticut

This undated quilt is attributed to the first decades of the 19th century and may well reflect the patriotism of the War of 1812. Although the fabrics and the style are simpler than the eagle quilt in the last post the quilts have several  design ideas in common.

Both feature a central eagle drawn from the Great Seal of the United States, but this artist has few of the drawing skills shown in the chintz eagle.  The fabrics in this more primitive example have none of the flair of the imported prints in that quilt.

The central eagle floats in a field of patchwork, in this case a nine-patch block that creates a neat chained design.
The Smithsonian has another early Connecticut quilt with a similar field of patchwork. The prints are simple, dyed with blue indigos and brown vegetable dyes, perhaps printed in the United States rather than shipped from Europe or India.

The quilt was donated in the 1890s by John Brenton Copp of Stonington, Connecticut, part of a comprehensive gift of textiles and other furnishings.

Notice the shell quilting in the plain blocks, a common period pattern that lost favor as the 19th century progressed. The quilter alternated parallel diagonal lines in the blocks. 

We can buy templates but they probably used a circle of some kind, perhaps a coin.

See more about the two Connecticut quilts by clicking on these links:

A comment reminded me that Jan Patek has done an interpretation of that Smithsonian eagle at the top. See her book if you'd like a pattern.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Quilt From the Era

Over the months I'll provide inspiration and ideas for period quilts with quilts actually from the era. Few quilts survive with dates 1812-1815 but this chintz eagle medallion is not only dated 1814 it is inscribed with a patriotic motto under the eagle.

"Strong in thy strength we bend no Knee
To Monarcks or to Tyranny
But borne upon thy ample opinion
We ride to freedom and dominion

The eagle is the great seal of the United States, used since the 1780s,
with 17 stars (Louisiana, the 18th state was admitted in 1812.)

The applique combines cut-out chintz with conventional applique.

The inked verse, a tribute to freedom, seems derived from poetry of publisher and diplomat Joel Barlow who published The Columbiad in 1808, an epic about America with the lines:
Almighty Freedom! give my venturous song
The force, the charm that to thy voice belong....
Strong in thy strength I bend no suppliant knee,
Invoke no miracle, no Muse but thee.

The outer border is a pillar or architectural print framing a field of hexagonal patchwork (undoubtedly paper template pieced). Someone had access to the latest imported fabric.

The quilt top was pictured in the 1989 Quilt Engagement Calendar from antique dealers John and Jeannette Bronstein. It looks very English but the verse and Great Seal are very American.

The letters in the banner are worn away. It may have said "E Pluribus Unum"---Out of Many One.

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.