Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Husband Gary and Jazz

photo by Carol Jones

Can't resist taking a moment to share my DH's talents with you. As some of you may know, music is Gary's passion like quilt history is mine.

Gary has played saxophone and clarinet since junior high school. Click hear to see him on YouTube. He is playing as guest clarinetist with Pearl Django, a Seattle group that was visiting Lopez recently. A friend surprised us by filming it and then posting it. You may catch a glimspe of yours truly also.

We actually met thru music in college. In those days I was still doing solo work. However, unlike me, music has remained a passion with Gary all his life and he has continued to play on the side wherever we have lived. When we moved here he was invited to join the a cappella octet Lopez Sound. See a recent story in the news about them here. The group was formed the year before we moved here.

In 2003 they began an annual Christmas concert in a beautiful old church built in the late 1800s that seats only about 100 people that has now become a tradition here on Lopez that everyone looks forward to.

The first year they held two concerts by candle light. The next year they held three and turned away even more people. So now they hold five concerts the week before Christmas...all because the acoustics and atmosphere in this little church are so spectacular that no one wants to hold it anywhere else.

In July 2006 Gary flew to Indiana at my request to attend Jinny Avery's induction into The Quilters Hall of Fame so that he could play jazz with her in a pick-up band I put together. Did you know that in addition to being an amazing designer and quilter, Jinny is a wonderful jazz pianist and has held a jam session in her home once a month on Sunday for 50 years? This woman is amazing! Read another article I wrote about Jinny Avery here.

And, Yes! She is still playing! I wish I had had someone tape her that night in Marion!

Virginia Avery at the piano

Happy Holidays!


PS: to make this at least a little bit more quilt related, I have added the last quilt my MIL made and gave to me Christmas 1998. This was the last quilt she was able to make for us before she passed away at 82 just a few short months later.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Researching Signature Quilts

Photo taken July 2006 in Marion, Indiana at the annual Quilters Hall of Fame Celebration. The Minatel brothers above meet my 1941-42 Navy Signature Quilt for the first time. Although their names appear on this quilt, the brothers didn't know of the quilt's existence until I discovered them in Indiana as I was researching the names on the quilt. One brother was old enough to serve during the WWII era. They assume their father or his friend added their names to the quilt because they recognized the name of two of their father's friends on the same block that bears their names.

The allure of Signature quilts is irresistable. They are so embedded with history! It is juat one of the reasons I volunteered to serve on the Signature Quilt Pilot Project Team for the Quilt Index the past three years.

It has been exciting to be a part of a team helping to make it possible for individuals to enter Signature Quilts into The Index. Click here to read our essay on Signature quilts.

Special thanks goes to the Salser Family Foundation for supporting a specific focus on the QI pilot project of public object submissions; to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (which is supporting the development of public object submissions to the Quilt Index); and to the members of the American Quilt Study Group listserv for sparking the conversation that led to the present convergence in spring 2009. Up until now, only large collections who could rasie the funds have been entered into the Index.

My Personal Signature Quilt Research

My first two purchased antique Signature quilts took place in 2000. The Navy-related one was found at a large antique show in Chantilly, VA in January. The New York Album-style quilt was found at the Howard County Maryland Fairgrounds Antique Show late March 2000. I was so excited I quickly transcribed the 42 signatures and started googling. Genealogy-focused websites are also a great place to start.

My first guess for dating this quilt (based on the fabrics in the quilt) was that it may have been made somewhere between 1860 and 1875. One of two things could help me prove this: genealogical research or finding a quilt with a stitched or written date on it that included some of the same fabrics.

First Steps: Transcribing Names Using Grid Format and Phtographing the Quilt

Above is a scan of a photo I took in 2001.
The colors are actually quite distorted.

You can easily create a grid using preprinted paper 
or by creating one on your computer.

Click on the photos to see a larger version. 
Double click and you can get an even closer view.

The second photo was taken recently indoors. I always take with and without flash so that I can compare the two to the quilt.

Photographing My Quilt

One of the hardest things for me to do is to get true color when photographing indoors. Living here in the PNW, I seldom have sunshine to work with after October when I want to shoot outdoors. And of course everyone's computer monitor can have its own funky interpretation of color as well.

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned is to have the right camera and lighting to start with and to photograph each block in order and to label each photo as soon as I upload it into my computer.

(green block without flash_Annie Evans-7b)

(same green block with flash_Annie Evans-7b)

Lighting and the ability to zoom in on a signature is the most challenging aspect for me. I finally discovered that an Ott light often works best to give the right lighting. My flash washed some signatures out yet no flash would often create too many shadows due to the quilting.

However, in this particular green example, the signature was dark enough to begin with that you can read it in either photo when you click and enlarge. The actual green my eye sees is somewhere in between these two on the screen, but does lean a little more towards a yellow-green rather than a blue-green.

Becoming a Quilt Detective

The three geographical references on this quilt are NYC, NY, and what I thought at first was "Madison City." I began by looking on a New York State map and found Madison County and Madison, but not a Madison City.

How easy it is to mis-remember clues in a quilt unless you photograph it block by block and keep the photos handy each time you resume research.

I shared the quilt at a local guild meeting within the month. The next day a member called to tell me that her husband had some roots in Madison County, New York, and she gave me a Web site address for cemetery records. I found five of the family surnames on a Civil War soldiers casualty list of Madison County, but none of the first names matched.

Always Take a Careful Second Look in Order to
Double-Check Your Notes

I soon posted inquiries to various local historians listed on the Madison City website. One librarian responded that the town of Madison had never been called Madison City. She thought I ought to go look at the handwriting on the quilt again, which I did. This time I used a magnifying glass. Sure enough, it wasn't Madison City, it was HUDSON City.

I subsequently learned that the current city of Hudson was once called Hudson City. It was south of Madison and much closer to New York City.

The Geographic Clues Begin to Line Up
Right Down the Hudson River

In January 2001 I contacted RootsWeb, one of the major genealogy websites at that time, and asked the editor of their newsletter if she would be interested in a short article about my two new Signature quilts. She was quite amenable to the idea and I received a number of responses once the story appeared. However, none of them were exact matches to the people on the quilt.

As my life became consumed with my work at The Quilters Hall of Fame, I set aside my research on my Signature quilts for several years.

Big Break in Research in Spring of 2008

In March 2008 a descendant of the Weightman family on this quilt got in touch with me. Tiffany just happened to come across the article I posted on a New York genealogical website in 2004. She has now helped me indentify and connect 27 people on this quilt. She feels that everyone on the quilt is somehow related by blood or marriage and continues to work on it. We are guessing the quilt was to commemorate a family event of some kind, possibly an elder's birthday or one family's move Westward to Ohio.

Creating a grid system always helps.
I have learned a lot as I have worked on this quilt.

Henry Everett - Row 6b on the grid above.

Here is a list of names in alpha order with the block location beside each name. The numerical represents the horizontal rows and the alpha represents the vertical row. So 1a would appear in the upper left hand corner of the quilt and so on. This quilt has 7 horizontal rows and 6 vertical rows and measures 92" tall and 80" wide.

The information within the parens in the list below is what Tiffany has helped me prove to date.

2b ...Adams, William
3b ...Adams, Myra - Hudson City
3d ...Adams, Anne C. (dau of William and Caroline Evans)
4a ...Adams, Thomas (husb. of Anne C.)
5a ...Adams, Edward F. (son of Thomas & Anne C.)
5b ...Adams, Mary Adelaide (dau of Thomas & Anne C.)
7a ...Adams, Eva (dau of Thomas & Anne C.)

2d ...Anthony, John
5f ...Anthony, Abigail

4f ...Brown, Myra -----NYC
6c ...Brown, Sarah ----NY

1a ...Evans, Frank E. (son of Jacob and Carrie L.)
1d ...Evans, Willie
1e ...Evans, Jacob (husb. Of Carrie L.)
1f ...Evans, George W. (b. 3 Oct 1866-Brooklyn) (husb. of Kati)
3e ...Evans, Caroline C. (mother of Annie E. Weightman)
3f ...Evans, Kati (wife of George W. Evans)
6e ...Evans, Nathaniel (son of Kati & George W. Evans)
7c ...Evans, Martha R.
7e ... Evans, Annie
7d ...Evans, Carrie L. (wife of Jacob Evans)
4d ... Evans, William (father of Annie E. Weightman)

6b ...Everett, Henry
4c ...Everett, Rebecca
6a ...Grandmother Galina

Walton Ruggles (2f on grid)

2f ...Ruggles, Walton
5d ...Ruggles, George
6d ...Ruggles, Jamie
7b ... Ruggles, Simon
7d ...Ruggles, Elizabeth

1c ...Shanks, Naomie (b. Naomie Scudder m. to William)
3a ...Shanks, William (m. to Naomi)
4b ...Shanks, Sarah (possibly a dau. of Naomie & William)

1b ...Smeaton, David D. (son of William & Harriet)
2c ...Smeaton, Douglas P. (son of William & Harriet)
*2e ...Smeaton, William (husb of Harrie L.) (research indicates had initial 'P' like son)
5c ...Smeaton, Willie H. (son of William & Harriet)

5e ...Smeaton, Harriet L. (wife of William P.) (she may be a Shanks)

*(Numerous articles in the New York Times archives about William P. Smeaton. He was a school teacher and he gave testimony in court proceedings upon the brutal murder inn 1860 of his mother-in-law a Mrs. Susan or Sarah Shanks—both first names were reported.)

3c ...Stanhope John

2a ...Weightman, Annie E. (maiden name EVANS. b. Nov 1842. Died 1 Spt 1911)
4e ...Weightman, George (b. 23 July 1843 NYC) (research shows middle initial 'W')
6f ...Weightman, Mary E. (Mary Elizabeth was born 1866)

(More children in this Weightman family later but next child not born until 1870 and is not included on this quilt, nor is the one born in 1873 and 1874. Perhaps this could help us penpoint the date of this quilt since it bears no date of its own.)

All 42 Blocks of New York Signatuure Quilt

Click on each photo to enlarge so that you can see the details of the fabrics.








The research will continue on this quilt until we have identified everyone on the quilt and confirmed a common connection, if it exists.

This quilt is now a part of The Quilt Index's Signature Quilt Pilot Project. You can see it at The Index here.


1) "Friendship Quilts"Precious Remerances" by Judy Anne Breneman

2) "Album Quilts" by Laurette Carroll (lots of photos)

3) "Antique Signature and Album Quilt Types" by Kimberly Wulfert

4) "Friendship Signature Quilt Top, Signed and Dated, 1910 - 1916" by Kimberly Wulfert
Lots of close up pictures of a variety of signature types as well as an invitation to help locate the people who have signed one of the quilts.

5) "Signature Quilts" by Xenia Cord

6) "Signature Quilt Workshop Leads the Way for Future Researchers" by Patricia L.Cummings

7) "Signature Quilts/Album Quilts/Friendship Quilts"

8) Black gospel music being preserved thru fund raiser Signature quilt


1) Wisconscin Historical Society Signature Quilts on-line

2) Lubec Historical Society - an 1889 Signature quilt

Bruce County Military History - Signature quilts of WW I

3) Australian National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame Signature quilt project

4) Elgin County Museum in St. Thomas - "Elgin Beat: Signature Quilts - Community Patterns" by Dave Ferguson

5) Historical Society of Talbot County Album quilt with list of names, Easton, MD

6) Clay County Historical Society Signature quilt, Moorehead MN

7) Three Iowa Signature Quilts


"The Signature Quilt: Traditions, Techniques and Signature Block Collection" by Pepper Cory

"Keepsake Signature Quilts" by Sally Saulmon

"PHILENA’S FRIENDSHIP QUILT: A Quaker Farewell to Ohio" by Lynda Salter Chenoweth

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

1889 Seattle Crazy Quilt has Chinese Connection

Here are some of the women of the Langde Miao village south of Kaili in Southwestern China. I mentioned them in my previous post and promised to show some of them stitching away while others in the village are entertaining the visiting Americans in the village square.

I liked to walk around and capture unexpected moments behind the public scene when visiting these villages. No one seemed to mind. I especially enjoyed capturing a number of women in this village with needlework in their hands. I wish I could have had my own personal translator with me all day to ask them just about their needleowrk!

Speaking of needlework, I’ve just gotten word that an upcoming episode of the PBS series Antiques Roadshow. Titled “Relative Riches” (airing Monday, November 23 at 8/7C PM on most PBS stations) features an exciting quilt discovery: a circa 1890 crazy quilt brought to the Seattle Antiques Roadshow event in 2002.

The quilt was an heirloom, brought for appraisal by the granddaughter of the original maker. Quoting the PR notice: “The back of the quilt was made with silk handkerchiefs, presented to the grandmother by a group of homeless Chinese immigrants in appreciation for her having taken them in after the Seattle Great Fire in 1889. Other local historical materials were woven into the quilt as well, including a ribbon from the Seattle Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The wonderful condition of the quilt and it’s importance as a piece of Seattle history led Roadshow appraiser Nancy Druckman to estimate its value at $10,000.” Spread the word of the broadcast this month.

In addition, there are several other quilt appraisals available for viewing on the Antiques Roadshow Video Archive.

More about the Miao people to come!

Read my first two China post below and stay tuned for more photos of the women and their needlework!

Comments or questions? Contact Karen Alexander by clicking here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Beautiful Needlwork of the Miao

I have selected just a few of the 500 some photos I took while on a trip to China in 1996. I tried to capture needlework, children and faces most of all, as well as people at work. Today I will begin sharing some of the needlework and folkart I photographed.

Mother and child from Dragon Back Village on the outskirts of Guiyang. Hats have a very special meaning among the Miao, especially the hats the babies wear for their hats are for protection from bad spirits as well as to bring them good luck.

Of the three spring festivals that we "attended", only the 3rd one (the Sister's Meal Festival in Shidong) was actually taking place in "real" time. The other two had already had their spring festivals and were simply being paid to "re-enact' parts of it for us.

It was at the 2nd village (Langde) that I actually saw a number of women standing around the edge of the crowd with needlework in their hands stitching away. This was very exciting indeed! It was also in Langde that my photos of my pregnant daughter-in-law and my daughter in her bridal dress created such a stir among the women.
(Click on the photo to enlarge it so that you can see the details on their clothing and the scarves on their heads. These are what I came to call the "towel" scarves.)

I will share the photos of the women of Langde stitching as well as the costumes of that particular Miao people in my next report.

Meanwhile, I have given you some reading resources at the end of this blog if you are interested in learning more about the Hmong and Miao people as well as other minority groups in that area of the world. They seem to do a precarious balancing act of maintaining their own ways within the larger Han culture of China. It also should be noted that, according to Mark E. Pfeifer, PhD, Director, Hmong Resource Center, Saint Paul, MN, "studies of Miao in China sometimes but do not always refer to Hmong. Hmong are one of at least four major ethnic groups classified as Miao in China. Others groups include the Kho Xiong, the Hmu and the A Hmao."

I have only read reviews of the books listed below, not the actual books themselves, although I now have three on order. The last two books on the list have some very interesting comments by Hmong people now living in the USA. You can see by their comments that even among themselves, they do not agree on what the name "Hmong" means. Some even resent the use of the word "Miao". Trying to study another culture, especially one that has undergone as much disruption as the ethnic minorities of Southeast Asia and Southwestern and Northwestern China is always a very complex challenge.

In one article I read George J. Leonard writes that the Chinese created some 55-70 categories for the Hmong/Miao people and required them to wear certain costumes so as to segregate them and easily tell them apart. There are many sub-groups generally named after hair styles or their regional costumes.

According to Leonard, the Hmong still use this system today. Here is a short list from a couple different sources: Blue Hmong, White Hmong, Striped Hmong, the Four Seals Miao, Flower Miao, the Side-Comb Miao, Short Skirt Miao, Wengxian Miao (well known for their decorated pieces of folded ribbon), the Biasha Miao. I recommend this link to Leonard's long article on the Hmong Story Cloths as well as his other articles on various aspects of Chinese culture.

It is a tradtion to take a sip of rice wine before entering the village at festival time. If you don't really want to partake, then you extend a simple courtesy bow and move on. However, I figured nothing could survive in alchohol so potent, so I took a little tiny sip. Whew! Potent stuff indeed!

Their pleated skirts are perfect for dancing!

This one is now missing a few stitches. It sure would be interesting to have been able to ask more detailed questions, but with only one translator available, it was hard to get much information.

The color contrast is brilliant.

(Click on a photograph and you can enjoy more detail.)

While taking the train from Guiyang to Kaili the next day, our group encountered two Miao women headed for Kaili also. We were drawn to their hair-do and head bands and asked to take photos.

Within minutes, they left and came hurrying back with two huge backpacks full of antique textiles. These were the first we had seen and we all got very excited. Bargaining began in ernest.

Then a conductor discovered what the two entrepreneurs were up to and put a stop to it. We had not realized that buying and selling was not allowed on the trains!

Apparently everything about the way the Miao dress, wear their hair or wrap a scarf has meaning and helps identify which village or tribe each belongs to. These two particular women are wearing what I perceived as more traidtional head wraps. However, in some villages the women appear to now be using colorful factory made terrycloth towels in the place of their traditional handwoven or handworked scarves.

Here are a couple of the baby hats they had in their stash.


The various hats we saw in all villages have special meaning. I wish I could explain each one to you, but that is a daunting task to research. I do know it is especially important that babies wear certain types of hats to protect them from bad spirits or to bring them good luck. Here is one website where you will find interesting information about the Miao needlework. How reliable the information is, I do not know. I have discovered in my short exploration of this subject that there are many conflicting opinions within this field.

This is the antique textile market our two new friends from the train were hurrying to once they got off the train. We accidentally stumbled upon the market later in the day and were thrilled to have the opportunity to browse and shop more... At least we women were.

Here is a link to a book on textiles of the Miao people.

The study of the origin of the terms "Miao" or "Hmong" can be pretty daunting for the lay person.

According to Yuepheng L. Xiong in Chinese Odyssey: Summer Program Offers Students Rare Opportunity to Learn Hmong History in China

...the term 'Miao" appeared in the Chinese Classics and early historical records such as the 'Zhanguo ce' ("Intrigues of the Warring States") and the "Shiji' ("Records of the Historians).   After the Han Dynasty in 220 A.D., "Miao" disappeared from historical records until the Song Dynasty (A.D. 947-1279). The reason for the mysterious disappearance remains unclear. Scholars seem to agree that the Hmong had gone through numerous dreadful periods in history in which the term 'Miao" also underwent some changes....Whether the ancient Miao are today's Miao is debatable among scholars. How did the term "Miao' or 'Hmong" come into being? Although the term 'Miao" appeared in Chinese historical records, the term 'Hmong' never did. What did they call themselves back then, "Hmong or 'Miao?'. The answer to this question varied from region to region."

Read my first China post below and stay tuned for more photos of the women and their needlework!

Comments or questions? Contact Karen Alexander by clicking here.

Interesting article about Miao immigration patterns within the USA - http://immigrationtounitedstates.org/551-hmong-immigrants.html 


I have only read reviews of these books not the actual books themselves. The last two books on the list have some very interesting comments by Hmong people now living in the USA. I found all of these titles via amazon.com.

(1) Miao Textiles from China (Fabric Folios)
by Gina Corrigan.
Gina Corrigan has been visting the country regularly since 1973 and during this time has developed a special interest in researching and collecting Miao textiles. She recently organized a fascinating BP showcase exhibition of these with the British Museum. She is author and photographer of the Odyssey Illustrated Guide to Guizhou and lives in Sussex.

(2) Click here to see One Needle, One Thread
by Tomoko Torimaru
Publisher: University of Hawaii Art Gallery; 1st edition (September 1, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1607021730
ISBN-13: 978-1607021735

(3) Minority Rules: The Miao and the Feminine in China’s Cultural Politics (Body, Commodity, Text)
by Louisa Schein
Publisher: Duke University Press (March 2000)
ISBN-10: 082232444X or ISBN-13: 978-0822324447

(4) The Art of Ethnography: A Chinese "Miao Album" (Studies on Ethnic Groups in China)
David Michael Deal (Translator), Laura Hostetler (Introduction)

(One of the pieces someone in our group bought on the train to Kaili.)

(5) Calling In The Soul: Gender And The Cycle Of Life In A Hmong Village
~ Patricia V. Symonds (Author)

(6) The Asian Pacific American Heritage: A Companion to Literature and Arts (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities)
By George Leonard

(7) Hmong/Miao in Asia ~ International Workshop on the Hmong (Author), Miao (Author), Nicholas Tapp (Author), Christian Culas (Editor), Gary Yia Lee (Editor)

(Early Miao festival jacket as seen while I was in Southwestern China in 1996.)

(8) Other Chinas: The Yao and the Politics of National Belonging
by Ralph A. Litzinger
Publisher: Duke University Press (November 2000)
ISBN-10: 0822325497 or ISBN-13: 978-0822325499

(9) Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China (Studies on Ethnic Groups in China)
by Stevan Harrell
Publisher: University of Washington Press (April 2002)
ISBN-10: 0295981237 or ISBN-13: 978-0295981239

(10) Hmong in Minnesota (People of Minnesota)
by Chia Vang

(11) For some Hmong Means Free
~ Sucheng Chan (Editor)

(12) Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992
by Jane Hamilton-Merritt's

(Another festival jacket I captured on film in 1996.)


(1) Hmong around the world -
18 Xeem: Cultural Hmong Magazine

(2) Hmong Textiles, Clothing and Storycloths
Compiled by Mark E. Pfeifer, PhD

(3) Report onConsumers of Hmong Textiles

(4) Michigan State University Stories in Thread and A Guide for Teachers

(5) Minnesota State University student newsletter What is Hmong?

(6) Blog post photos from Tongue in Cheek

(7) Ancient Origins pf the Hmong Blog story

(8) added April 2017 - http://immigrationtounitedstates.org/551-hmong-immigrants.html