Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What Have We Learned?

1810 Date Inscribed
By Margaret Gundacker
Collection: Lancaster Quilt & Textile Museum

After a year and a half of this blog on early quilts I have said about everything I have to say, so we are coming to an end here in November. What have we learned?

My goal was to organize my thoughts and teach myself about the first two decades of the 19th century in America. I wanted to give some guidelines to people interested in making reproduction quilts for the War of 1812 anniversary.

Harmony Before Matrimony
by British cartoonist James Gillray 1805

I had read a lot about Regency England and wondered about Americans' parallel lives from 1800-1820.

1811 Date-Inscribed
Hewson panel in center
Collection: Cincinnati Art Museum

I wanted to get a good handle on quilt fabrics, styles and techniques of the era to help in dating antique quilts too.


1816 Date Inscribed
British quilt with Princess Charlotte panel in the center
Sold at Christie's in London.
The border is the same fruit print that Baltimore's Achsah Wilkins favored.

It's fairly easy to find information about English women from the upper class such as the Duchess of Devonshire to the middling people like the Austen sisters, but understanding the lives of American women is not so easy. I began with Cokie Roberts' book Ladies of Liberty, a group biography of American women from the era, and branched out from there using her list of sources.

John Lewis Krimmel- The Pepper Pot, 1811
A German-born artist's view of Americans.

Over the past 18 months I have tried to share information about a diverse group of American women. One thing I have learned is that Americans had values different from England's. Upper classes here may have gotten into debt and enjoyed sex outside their marriage vows but these behaviors did not seem to be licensed by the same set of conventions that framed British and French society. Americans did not seem to gamble as much as the English and French. They borrowed and defaulted but not with the same abandon. People had affairs and marital separations but there was little public conversation about it.

1807 Date Inscribed
Esther Bradford
Collection: Henry Ford Museum

And of course people found it easier to rise above their origins here. I learned how many foreign-born people were assimilating into American culture, surprised to find how strong the Caribbean influence was in places like Charleston and Philadelphia.


1813 Date Inscribed
Collection: International Quilt Study Center & Museum
I wanted to explore how quilt fashion changed, figure out what was new and fresh and what was old hat in 1810. I classified quilts by style, looking at set, technique, color, etc.  I had a file of dated American-made quilts and I refined it, mainly by taking some quilts off it and moving them to the English-made list.

1812 Date Inscribed

I had wanted to find more conventional applique quilts, particularly pictorial appliques but a year spent looking for them suggested the quilts might not be American. At the end of the search my view of American quilts made before 1815 is a bit more narrow than it was when I began. My view of English-made quilts shows a more diverse group.

1813-14 Date Inscribed
By Ann Robinson
Collection: Shelburne Museum
I now find it hard to believe this variety of  fabric in these dyes
was available in the U.S. in 1813-14.


Quilts grow out of the available fabric and my views changed about what Americans could buy. I began the search with a mental picture of a lively international trade, ships importing Euorpean and Indian cottons to ocean-side ports and inland harbors.


I knew the war was about trade but it was hard to believe that such a vital econony could be inhibited. I learned that trade came almost to a halt, disrupted far more than I'd initially believed. This may be the most important thing I learned. Imported fabric was in short supply and domestic fabric was rather unsophisticated. The wondrous variety of roller printed calicoes and fanciful chintzes that were common in England seem to have been scarce here until after War's end in early 1815.

1817 Date Inscribed
By Elizabeth Marple
From Nancy & Donald Roan's
Lest I Shall Be Forgotten: Anecdotes and traditions of Quilts

I'll do posts here through November and then MAYBE we'll move on to post-war American quilts. Check here periodically in 2013 to see if that idea progresses.


antique quilter said...

I really hope you continue I have learned a lot from these posts and really enjoyed reading them
thank you for taking the time to do that.
Kathie in NJ where a bolt of the red big floral print from the metropolitan line arrived yesterday, YEAH
love this fabric

Anonymous said...

This summary is fantastic, perhaps if I go back now and read some of the old posts I will glen more from them.

Thanks to Barbara our Historian!

Lady Locust said...

Oh, please continue. I love that your blog is inspiring and educational. It is a feeling that you are hosting a quilting bee that spans 200 years, that the women who made those quilts are somehow still with us through their stitches - sharing similar worries, thoughts, and happy feelings.
If you decide not to continue, I still thank you for what you have shared. You are an incredible woman for bringing this knowledge to us in such a wonderful way.

WoolenSails said...

I have enjoyed taking the journey with you and learning more about quilts and the history behind them.


Every Stitch said...

It has been a fascinating journey - thanks very much for taking the time. Hopefully we will still be able to access old posts for reference. A great summary!
All the best
Every Stitch

Meredith said...

I enjoyed seeing the quilts and your lessons. I think your summary today especially about the trade stopping is great. I am planning on going back and rereading some of the posts. Thank you

suzanne said...

How valuable to learn your methodology! I have loved, loved, loved seeing all these early quilts. And I crave more, more, more so whatever you can do to continue would be welcome, I was hoping you would stick with it until 2015! Re women's lives we were a new country without much of an educated population and little was written about daily life here that survived. We didn't have the extremely wealthy hereditary aristocracy that Britain had (thank heavens) and not a surplus of educated women who were accustomed to writing. But don't give up on the Ann Robinson quilt yet. There is a Connecticut widowed Ann Robinson born about 1779 who could have made that quilt. She had two daughters who could have inherited it and passed it on. I have an appointment with the Smithsonian Archives of American Art to review the records of the dealer who sold that quilt to the Shelburne. Hopefully his papers can lead us to the maker or her family. As to where they got the fabric, I wouldn't know. Could they have acquired it before the Jefferson Embargo (which failed) or before the 1812 War? You would have to determine that. I hope there's more to come.

Cyn said...

Thank you so much for sharing your research and findings. I have learned a lot from reading your posts and studying the pictures you've posted. I'm saddened that it is all coming to an end. I have enjoyed reading and learning about the early 1800's. Hopefully, these posts will be available for us to go back and re-read.
Thanks again, Barbara, for all your hard work and your willingness to share.

Sharyn Mallow Woerz said...

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and quilt images.

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