Sunday, April 7, 2019

US Postage Stamps & Antique Cars

Stamp Collecting Came Before Quilt Collecting

I recently stumbled upon a quilt that is what I call a Sampler Quilt of US Postage Stamps.  Now I am trying to track down the source of the pattern. Going down such research rabbit holes is what my life is all about. (At least postage stamps are easier to identify since they usually contain the name of the issuing country and sometimes the year, too.)

Does anyone recognize this pattern? 

My guess is that it is either a high-end import or made from a commercial pattern.

Any ideas for the source of this pattern from my readers?

Speaking of antique cars on postage stamps, here is a quilt in my collection with the antique cars as the quilt's sole theme.  It came out of an estate in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Love, love applique!  Still trying to track this pattern source, too. I'm pretty certain it was a commercial pattern, maybe from the 1940s or 50s.

And some detail photos of the three cars.

Thanks for dropping by!

Drop by again sometime!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Quilting Quiz from PBS

Here is a quiz about Quilting 
that I first stumbled across in 2010. 

What questions would you 
like to see added to such a quiz?

Quilting Quiz -

1. What do the following refer to: Chain, Feather, Herringbone, Outline?

  Quiltmaking patterns
  Appliqué patterns in popular use from the 1840s - 1860s
  Stitches found on Crazy Quilts

2. Foundation blocks are found in which group of patterns?

  Log Cabin, Pineapple, Press Piecing
  Dresden Plate, Sun Bonnet Sue, Rose of Sharon
  School House, Star of Bethlehem, Ocean Waves

3. What form of quilting originates in Laos?

  Pan Dau

4. Who is the inventor of the sewing machine?

  Elias Howe
  Isaac Singer
  Richard Sears

5. Which term does not belong?

  Garden Maze

6. Which of the following quilt patterns is not thought of as in vogue in the 1930s?

  Drunkard's Path
  Grandmother's Flower Garden
  Double Wedding Ring
  Dresden Plate

7. For what is the International Quilt Association known?

  Honoring a quilter every year who has made a difference in the quilting world
  Sponsoring the World's Largest Quilt Show
  Holding an annual conference in which over 250 classes and lectures are offered
  All of the above

8. What do the following have in common: Echo, Stipple, Meander, Crosshatch?

  Quiltmaking techniques
  Quilting patterns
  Methods of joining patchwork

9. Where might one find the Language of Flowers?

  Baltimore Album Quilts
  Crazy Quilts
  Appliqué Quilts
  All of the above

10. What innovation in quilting was introduced at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia?

  The Crazy Quilt
  The first electric iron
  Rotary Cutters

11. What do these things have in common: Hand of Friendship, Duck's Foot in the Mud, Bear's Paw?

  They are the names of square dance movements.
  They are the titles of Victorian children's stories.
  They are different names for the same patchwork pattern.
  They were popular appliqué patterns during the late 1800s.

12. What are the following names: Turkey Red, Indigo Blue, Double Pink, Nile Green?

  Crayola crayon colors
  Watercolor paint colors
  Rainbow Brite's friends
  Fabric colors

13. What characterizes a "summer spread?"

  light colors
  no backing
  no batting
  smaller than bed quilts, made to be used as picnic cloths

14. What do the following have in common: Baby Block, Thousand Pyramids, Trip Around the World?

  Children's toys/games
  Patterns of Asian origin
  One-patch patchwork patterns

15. Which quiltmaking technique has always been done by machine?

  Seminole Patchwork
  Prairie Points
  Miniature Quilts

16. What characteristics are associated with Folk Art Quilts?

  They are made by people who have had no artistic training.
  They are made for visual impact, not quiltmaking excellence.
  They have a spontaneity about them, often containing whimsical elements.
  They have crudely shaped design elements.

17. What do the following have in common: Diamond in the Square, Bars, Center Square?

  Types of cookies
  Amish quilt patterns
  Square-dancing formations
  All of the above

18. What do the following have in common: Charm Quilts, Scrap Quilts, Postage Stamp Quilts?

  Popular quilt styles in the early 1900s
  Patterns were obtained through mail order sources
  Quilts that used a wide variety of fabrics
  Quilts that were tied as opposed to quilted

19. Which of the following is created by a series of fabric folds to make an origami-type pattern?

  Attic Window
  Cathedral Window
  Doves in the Window

20. What are the following: Tapestry, Crewel, Upholstery, Quilting?

  Types of yarn
  Types of fabric
  Types of needles
  Types of scissors

21. Which term does not belong?

  Prairie Point

22. What are the following: Bodkin, Boot Spur, Emery Pouch?

  Articles of clothing
  Sewing tools
  Quilting Patterns

23. Where is "Quilt City, USA"?

  Houston, Texas
  Lowell, Mass.
  Kutztown, Pa.
  Paducah, Ky.

A recent addition to my collection said to be Cuban made. Each block is signed with a first name and three have the date of 1996 stitched on them as well.  Any of my readers familiar with Cuban needlework?   More photos on my next blog post.

Friday, March 8, 2019

1876 Centennial Quilt Project-Part I

My first article about the 1876 Centennial Quilt Project that I helped launch the summer of  2015 appeared in the local newspaper in the San Juan Islands, Washington, April 22, 2017. 

Almost four years after discovering this amazing quilt, the story now contains many more chapters. Though I have posted on Facebook from time to time over the past two years, I have decided to use my blog to finally chronicle the fuller extent of this wonderful experience and  journey. 

The above poster announced our first public sharing of the project that took place on Lopez Island, WA where we two co-founders of the project, Anne Dawson and Karen Alexander, reside. Our "works-in-progress" exhibit reflected our desire to show our fellow islanders what was involved in the making of such a complex quilt. 

1876 Centennial Quilt Unveiled 
by Karen B. Alexander
(Updated version)

“What is it about quilts with you quilt historians?” is a question I hear frequently.

Among the many answers to the question – why I study quilts – is that quilt history is a natural vehicle for a wide-range of learning in the fields of social history, women’s history and textile manufacturing history, to name a few. Sadly, most quilts lose their maker’s story over the generations, especially once the quilt leaves the family. But sometimes, these lost quilts are rediscovered.

In May of 2015, I discovered a quilt which contained over 70 different patterns set in a medallion-style arrangement. It contained the date 1876 and the initials EMC in four separate large circles.

The quilt was simply stunning. I knew I had to share the image of this quilt with the members of my bee, the Ladies of Tuesday Night. I did not tell the group what I hoped, i.e. that they would help persuade Anne Dawson, owner of our little island’s quilt shop The Quilter’s Studio, to draft the 70+ patterns. I waited to see their reactions first. But sure enough, several responded with the same joyful exclamation: “I want to make this quilt! Let’s ask Anne if she will draft it for us.” Exactly what I had hoped to hear!

Only Anne can tell the full story of what she went through wrestling with herself over whether or not to take on this enormous challenge, but eventually she said yes. The next step was to ask the owner of the quilt, Barbara Menasian of Connecticut, if she would allow us to pattern it.  Many emails flew back and forth over a period of several weeks but suddenly, one day, our 1876 project was a go! Barbara had said yes!

All the block patterns in this quilt have been around for well over 100 years. However, it is the “arrangement” of the blocks in this quilt that is so unique and so exacting. Originally Anne thought only six to eight quilters might enroll in her class. But what a response! 17 from the San Juan Islands, Bellingham and Seattle signed up including the Connecticut owner, who decided to join us —by correspondence— and finally learn how to quilt herself.

The journey has been challenging for all, not the least for Barbara Gonce of Lopez Island, the oldest member of our project. Barbara G. eventually made four versions of the quilt to showcase how changing fabric styles and colors affects the overall appearance of this quilt. Meanwhile, I struggled to get one quilt made!

We still have many questions to solve. We know nothing more about the original maker, other than her initials – EMC.  Did she make the quilt in Connecticut where it was found? We think so. At least two are working to track her down.

Our works-in-progress exhibit took place May 6, 2017, at Woodmen Hall, on Fishermen Bay Rd. EMC was even present for Barbara Menasian had flown in from Connecticut with it in her arms for this very special unveiling.  The very first official public viewing of all 23 finished quilts in the pilot project took place in November 2018.  But, whoops, I'm jumping too far ahead too fast! The telling of that exciting adventure is another story for another day.

This was the state of my quilt in May 2017.

Above is the state of progress for several other versions of the quilt.

Eventually I would name my quilt "Perseverance".  That's what it took for me to finally finish it.  

Karen B. Alexander standing in front of "Perseverance" 
at the Houston International Quilt Festival November 2018

I'll write more about our experiences as I relive this journey with you via my blog posts.  
Thank you for sharing this journey with us by reading our story!

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Ocean Waves - Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Ocean Waves in Red & Brown (68" x 91") ca. 1880-1900 from Russel/Traver family, Rockingham Co., Shenandoah Valley of VA.  See Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns #113a, pg. 23.

The focus of my quilt research in 1998 was the Shenandoah Valley... three counties in particular: Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Page counties. My Biedler ancestors used to live in all three counties. My great-grandfather's place is still in the family in Page County near Luray, VA.

Saturday, Nov 14, 1998, I drove to Green Valley Auction House for the first time. It's just south of Harrisonburg. I had just learned about the auction house from a friend a couple of weeks earlier. Green Valley had an unusually large auction that past 3-day weekend. It consisted of almost all Valley antiques. The special highlight that had drawn a huge crowd was the one of a kind, R. Merlin Turner's life-time collection of Shenandoah Valley pottery. This auction was, for the most part, Shenandoah Valley antiques. It wasn't stuff trucked in from out of state. But hey, I love any auction. What FUN! 

I had finally decided to make the trek down from the DC area to an Auction House this time because there were to be 10 quilts included in the auction, nine from one family. This was an unusual chance to be able to document a single family's collection.  Usually you find only a one or two quilts at a time from a given family at an estate auction.

I really shouldn't have bid .... I was suppose to be there for research purposes only. But I gave in and bid, anyway, and came away with one quilt, the second to the cheapest that day.  (Yes, it is quite worn.) The pattern is known as Ocean Waves, which includes lots of different fabrics which makes it a good period fabric STUDY piece as well. See Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns #113a, pg. 23.

So much for ONLY documenting, photographing, and gathering the history on the family who made them.  But I just couldn't resist.  This is the 3rd Valley quilt I have bought this year. My other two are much nicer, but only cost a little more.  Paid too much for this one, but couldn't resist the chance to own at least one quilt from this family grouping since I photographed and plan to document the whole group.

It takes a LOT of discipline NOT to get caught up in the excitement of an auction!

This was the first "Auction House" auction I had attended in the Valley. I usually go only to estate auctions that are held right on the family farm. That is where you can get the best buys as well as stand a good chance of doing interviews and getting a lot of basic research done right on the spot. As for the quilt I just bought, I know only the name of the woman who was selling (Russell) and the family name from whom the quilts came (Traver). I am going to have to track down the sellers address or phone number through the auctioneer in order to pursue further research.

While photographing the quilts I had several women approach me and ask me if I quilted. I told them I used to, but now only do research and write about them. I told them at the time that my focus was the Shenandoah Valley, and gave them my business card. After glancing at my card, one older woman (a Mrs. Bruce Helsley) asked if I would be interested is seeing her collection. I jumped at the offer!  She lives in Woodstock in Shenandoah County very near where the Biedlers first settled. Woodstock is where the Beidler furniture store resides. Mrs. Helsley and I hoped to get together after the first of the year but for reasons I now cannot recall, we never did get together. What a shame!

(A footnote of history: An advertisement ran in the local newspaper Nov. 17, 1945 which stated: One year ago was the opening of Beidler’s Furniture Store in Woodstock. This means that my First Anniversary is due to your loyalty and support. I wish to thank each and every one of my friends and customers who helped make this possible. Fred B. Beidler.)

Another woman (Ingrid Shomo) who was sitting near the quilt display rack invited me to sit next to her. Ingrid is not a quilter herself (she's a therapist), but several of her friends are quilters, and she gave me their names and numbers, thinking they might help me track down other collections for documentation. Ingrid seemed to know everyone that walked by, and continually pointed out people to me and told me who they were and what they did. She also was great at explaining the whole Auction House system to me, and told me that everything on the stage behind the auctioneer was up for sale to, and that I should walk up there and photograph the hanging quilts as well. I grinned and said I already had. (I had made sure when I entered and was registering for a number that I also got permission to photograph. I saw the hanging quilts as soon as I entered the giant hall and had quickly headed on-stage.)

There were so many wonderful Valley things being sold that day. It made me drool. At least I have the self discipline to limit myself to quilts. That is difficult enough!

The following are photos I took at the actual auction in 1998.

It's always great for documentation purposes if you can see quilts in context of their "life"; or at least in context of an auction house surrounded by other quilts from the same household, if they are present.  There were two sources for the quilts in this auction. The green note below describes the two groups of quilts at Green Valley Auction that day.

A note in my photo album from 1998

Quilts hanging on a old fashion drying rack.

The Virginia Quilt Doc. Project book calls the above pattern "Farmer's Delight/Farmer's Fancy"

This block consists of one "large" half-square triangle (with the stem bisecting the lower half of the square) and four "smaller" half-square triangles plus one small square in the upper right corner of equal size to the smaller half-square triangles.

 (Below) The Ocean Waves quilt I won that I wrote about above in my story.

Friday, February 15, 2019

A Shenandoah Valley Quilt Adventure
(First draft originally written in 1998)

It was a warm June day in The Valley. The blue sky was filed with large billowing white clouds. As soon as I parked my car and walked up the driveway, movement to my left caught my eye. My heart took a leap. There before me, stretched across two long clothes-lines, were 10-12 quilts flapping in the breeze. This, of course, is why I had driven the hour and a half to the Stony Man area of Page County near Luray, Virginia. Quilts! Quilts had been mentioned in an estate auction ad in the local paper. I had subscribed to this paper just for such an opportunity as this.

As the breeze lifted the first row of quilts, the second row appeared to be playing hide and seek. But one quilt leapt out again and again. You couldn't miss it. Its boldness was in such sharp contrast to the other quilts on the line. I looked at other items in the auction first, feigning non-interest in the quilts. What a joke. I had guessed from a distance that the "bold one" must be late 19th century, and upon closer inspection the fabrics proved me right. I was soon taking a dozen photos of the quilts from every angle.

There are always dealers present at such estate auctions, and I just knew they would go after this “bold” quilt; but, oh, how I wanted that quilt. It was the finest specimen of a “folk art” quilt that I had seen at any of the 5-6 Valley estate auctions I had attended. I had been pining for a really special Valley quilt for my very small collection for a very long time, one that I could afford. I have seen many in dealers’ hands but I was not prepared to pay $700-$1,500. To stretch my money, I would always try to track a quilt down at its source and get it ahead of a dealer.

The colors were bright and clear showing that the quilt had seldom been used, if in fact ever washed. Though there were a few stains on it that could have come from contact with wood acid over the years, the stains were small and didn't impair the visual impact of the front of the quilt at all.  The choice of colors very much reminded me of the bright “folk” colors I associate with the "Pennsylvania Dutch look" in the Shenandoah Valley: double pinks, cheddar orange, rusts, and cadet blue.

I started asking questions right away, trying to find out the history of the quilt's maker. Four hours later, when the quilts themselves finally came up for auction, I had met at least four distant cousins of the maker, as well as nieces and nephews of the owner of the house. I was told at the time by the relatives that I met that the quilts were made by the house-owner's mother, Nettie [Miller] Sours.

The sale drew many distant kin to the farm that day which helped me immeasurably in patching together the family history. I was finally able to gather the maiden names of the women of the family to the 3rd generation, a wonderful beginning with which to do further research.

By the time the bidding started on the quilts I had most of the story I needed to document the quilt. Now could I win the bid? I didn't want to go over $400, but I was psychologically prepared to go to $500. The bidding was fast and furious! I think 5 people were in on it initially, but two dropped out quickly. At $250 the one whom I guessed was a "picker"—because I had seen him buying large quantities of artifacts at other auctions—dropped out. Some believe that "pickers" will only buy if they feel they can turn around and at least double the price and still re-sell it reasonably quickly.  

Whew, at least the dealer was out of the race. But I had not won, yet. Another woman in the crowd hung in there and kept pushing the bid up. Luck was with me, though, for I finally won what I came to call "Nettie's Beauty" for less than the $500 I had been willing to go to! 

A Lucky Break

Nettie [Miller] Sours (above)

 During my interviewing earlier in the day, one of the cousins had pointed out a book to me that contained a newspaper clipping about Nettie. It was dated 1962.  Nettie was 81 years old at the time. Boy, did I want that newspaper clipping for my documentation! The only thing to do was stick around and bid on the box of books. The newspaper clipping was about her rug weaving. That's when I learned that Nettie was "famous" in that area of The Valley for her rug weaving, not her quilting.

When I finally realized I wouldn't be able to stick around to bid on one of Nettie' rugs or the box of books, I looked up the Executor of the Estate and asked her if I could make an outrageous request. I told her I didn't know what the rules of an auction were, but that I really would like to have that newspaper clipping...or at least a copy of it.  She asked me to show her where it was. I did and she gave it to me!

Several in the crowd congratulated me afterwards for winning the quilt. I had interviewed so many of them that they knew how much I had wanted Nettie's special quilt….enough to get much of the history on the maker ahead of time. I suspected they appreciated my interest in Nettie herself even more than my interest in her quilt. Several made a point of saying good-bye as I was leaving. That was unusual for I had been a stranger among them when I arrived and their friendliness left a very good feeling. I hoped I had left them with a sense that this quilt would be well loved and cared for.

Afterwards I continued to do research on Nettie in the genealogy archives at the Page County Library and continued to call and correspond with family members. After Nettie’s story appeared in the newsletter of the Genealogical Society of Page County in August 2000, I received an e-mail from Debbie Leon of northern Virginia, a great-great niece of Nettie [Miller] Sours. According to oral history passed down in Debbie’s branch of the family, it is believed that Nettie’s mother, Sarah [Pettit] Miller, made the quilt, not Nettie.

When you study all the quilts that were hanging on the line the day of the auction (see photos), “Nettie’s Beauty”, as I now call this quilt, was vastly different from any of the other quilts. Given that many of the fabrics in this quilt were from within the decade in which Nettie was born, it is quite logical that Sarah [Pettit] Miller, Nettie’s mother, could have made the quilt. The fabrics could certainly have been from either one of their scrap bags, if one assumes Sarah had passed down some fabrics to Nettie or that Nettie had made this quilt in her early teens and used her mother’s scrap bag. 

Hand quilting could possibly provide a clue, but unless I can track down other quilts known to have been made by Sarah [Pettit] Miller, I have no basis for the comparison of the hand quilting. The only other quilt I bought that day was a tied comforter with no quilting on it.

The puzzling part to me, however, was the 1962 newspaper article I obtained the day of the auction. It was all about Nettie’s rag rug weaving, never once mentioning any quilt making. That is another piece of circumstantial evidence that Sarah may have made the quilt, rather than Nettie. None of the other quilts on the line appeared as old as “Nettie’s Beauty” nor were any of them as intricately made.

 In 2005 I made contact with still another Miller descendant, Nettie’s great-great nephew Robert Riley, also of northern Virginia. He had his own memories of Nettie as well as stories he had heard passed down in the family, stories that didn’t always jive with what others had told me. But this can often be the case in families. Oral history often contains a grain of truth but may be unreliable as “documentable” history; but at least it gives you a place to start your research as a genealogist and quilt historian.

My favorite story from Robert was of Nettie’s skill with a whip.  His childhood memory of her was that of a tough, independent “mountain woman,” he told me.  Whenever she discovered a snake in her garden, she would “get her whip and snap the critter in two.” 

But for Robert, Netties' best trait was her personality. “She loved to laugh and tell stories and hear what city life was like as told by my parents. If she found something funny, she would laugh out and pull her apron up over her face.” When the family was planning to visit Luray, Robert explained, his mother would “write Nettie and ask if she needed anything. Her return letter would often request a fresh fish and a pint of whiskey.” According to Robert, Nettie Miller Sours died in her sleep at the home she and her husband Charlie had shared all their married life, and was “found in her own bed with her hands neatly crossed over her chest”.

So, did Nettie [Miller] Sours make “Nettie’s Beauty” or did her mother, Sarah [Pettit] Miller? Perhaps we’ll never know for sure, but both women will never be forgotten as long as Nettie’s story gets told and re-told each time this quilt is shared.

Sarah [Pettit] Miller (above with grandsons)
(Sarah is the mother of Nettie [Miller] Sours)

Research is always an open-ended, work in progress.

Description of Nettie's Beauty:

Most of this quilt is hand pieced. The exception is the backing and binding.
BLOCKS: 16 hand-pieced blocks; Size of block: 14 1/2 by 14 1/2
PATTERN NAME: variation of a Feathered Star (see pattern #2244b, 2245, and 2265 in Barbara Brackman's "Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns," 1993).
BORDER: down two sides only, 3 1/4 : wide; pattern - variety of pieced triangles and squares.
BACKING: B&W check, turned to front for 1/4" BINDING. Back is in four pieces, 6 1/2", 18", and two sections of 24," widths machine sewn, as is binding.
SASHING between blocks 5" wide, with a square surrounded by triangles where the sashing meets. Also hand pieced.
OVERALL SIZE: 80" x 72 1/2" (roughly speaking).
PREDOMINANT COLORS: Rust, navy, double pink, cheddar orange; moss green ++ in each of the 5" blocks where the sashing meets.
HAND QUILTING: 10-12 stitches per inch counting top and bottom.
BATTING: thin cotton batt

The following are all the children of John Miller and Sarah Pettit Miller.

Mary Catherine Miller, born 24 Dec. 1867
William P. Miller, born 21 Mar. 1870 died 6 Oct. 1879 (Diphtheria)
Reuben Henry Miller, born 27 Dec. 1872
Sallie Margaret Miller, born 9 Dec. 1876 died 31 Oct. 1961
Casper Kinsey Miller, born 9 Jan. 1875 died 20 Oct. 1879 (Diphtheria)
Fannie Elizabeth Miller, born 29 Mar. 1880
Nettie Susan Miller, born 28 Apr. 1881 (m. Charles Sours)

Nettie’s Beauty has been exhibited at the following venues:

(1) Quilts of Virginia - October 2001
American Quit Study Group Seminar
Williamsburg, VA

(2) Celebrate Fairfax 
Fairfax County Government Center
Fairfax, VA

(3) “Hands On History: Quilts of Virginia”
June 7 & 8, 2003 Fairfax, Virginia

(4) Indiana Wesleyan University
Beard Arts Center
“Stitches Saved in Time”
Jan 31-Feb 25, 2005

(5) “Daughters of the Stars: Shenandoah Valley Star Quilts and Their
Makers” at The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, Winchester, VA (Oct 2011-Jan 2012) 
(photo just below)

Articles or photos of Nettie’s Beauty have appeared in the following:

~The Vintage Quilt & Textile Society newsletter, April/May 1999

~Mountain Memories, the Newsletter of The Genealogical Society of Page County (GSPC), Summer 2000

~The Virginia Quilt Documentation Project, organized by the Virginia Consortium of Quilts, photographed "Nettie's Beauty" for their 2006 book Quilts of Virginia 1607-1899: The Birth of American Through the Eye of a Needle. You can see the photo on page 68 and 109 of the book.  The publisher said there was no room to run the story. (Indeed,, the publisher eliminated many of our stories in that book.)

~ Quilts in the Attic: Uncovering the Hidden Stories of the Quilts We Love, 2012, Voyageur Press (pg. 8-15). Chapter titled "Nettie's Beauty" written by Karen S. Musgrave based on my original article and research archives.