Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Prince's/Princess Feather - Hats or Trees?

What inspired the Prince's Feather Quilt pattern, feathers on hats 
or trees, i.e. date-palm or coconut palm trees? Or was it something else altogether?

(Sold by eBay seller vintageblessing in 2011)

An Indiana Princess Feather...
or is it...

This was once a fabulous Princess Feather with very fine quilting.
If use is a sign of love, it has been well loved.

From wence does the quilt pattern Princess Feather originate? 

Very good question and one quilt historians have debated for some time.

Barbara Brackman has a photo in her book "Clues in the Calico" of one of the earliest variations of this pattern that I am aware of.  This particular quilt is in the Helen F. Spencer Museum of Art and is dated 1818 in cross-stitch on the quilt, always very helpful in establishing the emergence and evolution of a particular pattern.

Although this dated 1818 quilt is listed as a Princess Feather, I see a much greater similarity to the Prince's Feather-Polygonum orientale plant than a plumed feather as later variations of the pattern would take.

Click here to take a peak at the various plants that could have inspired this pattern...or at least its name! This website has quilt photos interspersed with the photos of the plants!  Here is one titled "Love-lies-bleeding". Do you think that would be melodramatic enough for a mid-19th century young woman?

 Now take a look again at the detailed close-ups of the 1818 quilt by Mary Somerville at the Spencer Museum website.  Here is one of the central medallion but the website has even closer details of the foliage around the central figure. To my eye, this particular quilt is about plants, not feathers. Did Mary Somerville name the quilt herself or was it named by a later generation?

Gift of Dorothy Jewell Sanders to KU Spencer Museum of Art

The Evolution of a Pattern

It's interesting to see the evolution and variation of this pattern thru the years. After 1850 it seems to be rendered in red and green on a plain muslin ground the majority of the time, with occasional accents of orange, yellow or blue of some kind.

from Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Applique available thru C&T Publishing

Here is an 1873 variation; and a link to another that looks a little more like mine but is still unique. Here is still another variation where the feathers are made to look more like a string of hearts.

Some think it resembles the plumes royalty once wore on their hats and wonder if Queen Victoria influenced the popularity of the pattern.

Robin W. Doughty writes in Feather Fashions and Bird Preservation: A Study in Nature Protection, “With sentiment, exhibitionism, or a confusion of both prevailing, women donned feather trimmings in every decade of the last [19th] century, particularly after 1850. In this later period, every hat worn on the street could almost be counted upon to boast a pair of wings.”

When I discovered this photo of Victoria's mother, whose to say it wasn't she who started the earlier fad that led to the Princess Feather quilt pattern!

In fact, shortly after Queen Victoria’s accession to the English throne in 1837, bird of paradise and egret “ospreys” became very popular. By 1875, the heads of English women boasted entire birds. In addition, it was believed that no lady was completely dressed without a fan of marabou, peafowl, pheasant or pigeon plumage mounted upon a tortoise-shell handle.

Brackman once mused aloud during a quilt dating workshop she was doing for TQHF in Marion, Indiana, if there might be some connection between the surge in popularity in this pattern after 1850 and the Hungarian revolutionary Lajos Kossuth's visit to the U.S. in that same decade.

Kossuth became an American darling in the 1850s and was supposedly famed for wearing a plumed hat. He was also apparently known to have caused many a woman to swoon.

Unfortunately I could find no close-up photo of Kossuth in a plumed hat, but here is a link to a very short article on the history of the plumed hat.

Here is yours truly at Barbara Brackman's induction into The Quilters Hall of Fame in 2001. 
A little bird told me that a coterie of BB's friends were going to wear hats. This is one I found at an 
antique shop on my drive from Virginia to Indiana to attend Barbara's Induction.  
This also happens to be my vision of the perfect Kossuth hat!

Yes, there is more! This is a long blog post so bear with me!

Here is the cover of the 1866 Godey's book as well as a page from it about working with feathers. This was sent to me by QHL member Stephanie Whitson Higgins.

Isn't Lillian Russell fabulous in her multi-plumed wonder? However, this photo was taken in 1898 so too late to inspire the surge in Princess Feather quilts in the 1850s. Could she have inspired the pattern to continue in polularity? Hmmm.

Or Mae West?

The American Textile Manufacturer commonly called the Textile Colorist began publishing in 1875 and its first issue contained remarks about ostrich feather dyeing. It was WWI that finally ended the overdose on ostrich feathers, although a growing outcry of bird preservationists had already begun by the 1880s.  To see an ostrich feather in order to compare it to the Princess Feather design, click here.

from Brackman's Encyclopedia of Applique

In Stafford and Bishop's "America's Quilts and Coverlets" page 192 is a Princess Feather (below) from the Henry Ford Museum with a ca1810 date (fig. 283 not 286 as stated in the above drawing). This is a very familar pattern.

A little aside. On pg. 193 (fig. 287) of the same book is a  combination of a Princess Feather and the tulip dated ca1825 whose twin, I swear, appears on page 126 of "Fons & Porter Presents Quilts From the Henry Ford" with a suggested date of between 1860 and 1890. However, the the later quilt has some sprinkling of blue flowers wereas the earlier version has no blue at all.

So Who Has the Answers?

There is rarely one absolute answer to the "beginning" date of a quilt design prior to the 1870s.  If we are lucky, we may stumble across a sketch or specific reference to a quilt design in a private letter or a personal diary in our research, but those are rare. Women's magazines were still too few to have much impact on quilt pattern designs until after the American Civil War (1861-1865).

from Brackman's Encyclopedia of Applique

However, we can certainly find plenty of possibilities for design influences even if we don't know who made the first quilt of a specific design, what she called it or why she made it.

Other Possible Design Influences

Could another possible source of resurgent interest in this pattern have come from woven Jacquard coverlets? In Stafford & Bishop's "America's Quilts and Coverlets" there are at last four woven coverlets that have the correct design elements of folage or plumes in them that very much resemble the Princess Feather design. However, these plumes are not assembled in the exact format as we see in the Princess Feather even though the potential design element is there.

The closest format in the woven coverlets to the Princess Feather design I've personally seen is of cocount trees!

This is one tiny segment (enlarged) of the upper third of a woven coverlet seen on page 248 (fig. 375) of Stafford and Bishop, also from the Henry Ford Museum. The pattern is called True Boston Town, c.1840, showing Boston harbor with its merchants ships ready to set sail for China. The upper portion of the design shows the Chinese town and the lower two-thirds of the design show Boston Harbor full of ships.

Getting back to the possible Kossuth influence. 

Kossuth was a colorful and handsome character to be sure. Here are some excerpts from Wikipedia about Kossuth:

From Britain he went to the United States of America: there his reception was equally enthusiastic, if less dignified. Henry David Thoreau commented that this excitement was due to superficial politicians joining Kossuth's political bandwagon. He was the second foreign citizen to make a speech to a joint session of Congress held in the old House chamber (National Statuary Hall), Lafayette being the first....

Having learnt English during an earlier political imprisonment with the aid of a volume of Shakespeare, his spoken English was 'wonderfully archaic' and theatrical. The Times, generally cool towards the revolutionaries of 1848 in general and Kossuth in particular, nevertheless reported that his speeches were 'clear' and that a three-hour talk was not unusual for him; and also, that if he was occasionally overcome by emotion when describing the defeat of Hungarian aspirations, 'it did not at all reduce his effectiveness'. 

Don't you think listening to a three hour speech in an un-airconditioned room in the 1850s would make any woman faint! Of course, if the speech was outside, it might have been another form of heat stroke that did the ladies in given the amount of clothing they had to wear at that time.

Comparing Princess Feather Patterns 

The Quilt Index and the International Quilt Study Center data bases offer the perfect vehicles for comparing and contrasting any quilt pattern.

I pulled up 137 examples of quilts named Princess Feather in the Quilt Index alone. It was interesting to note that Mary Schaffer had indicated on one of the Princess Feather quilts she reproduced that it was "adapted from an 18th century Virginia territory quilt currently housed at Mt. Vernon, VA."

Is anyone familiar with such a quilt at Mt. Vernon?  It would then mean the pattern dates back at least to the late 1700s as a quilt pattern! This is very exciting. I hope to track down this source through the quilt history community network.

(above) eBay 2011

Stella Rubin  -  2011 

(Here are two more fabulous quilts on Stella's here and here.)

eBay 2012 ( I think!)

eBay - Sept 2014
eBay seller - upstatetreasures14 in August 2014
This is the only one with a pillow sham that I personally have ever seen.

Copake-LOT #210 - August 2014

eBay - Nov 2013 - Indian Sari fragment

eBay Oct 2013 - woven coverlet - Princess Feather upper right corner

And this brings me back to my own Indiana Princess Feather!

I found my Princess Feather "rescue" quilt quite unexpectedly in Gem, Indiana, in July 2002. Love the viney border! Click here to see another great viney border.

Gem is an unincorporated town in Sugar Creek Township, Hancock County, Indiana. I was on my way from Virginia to Marion, Indiana with my friend Hazel Carter via Columbus, Indiana where we had stopped to see a quilt exhibit and to enjoy the wonderful architecture in Columbus that this Indiana town is so well known for.

As we continued our drive north on a back contry road, I suddenly spied a sign that read "Gem" and a bell went off.  My Navy Signature quilt dated 1941-1942 has a number of signatures from Indiana, and one of those signatures has "Gem, Ind." written after it!  (You can read more about this Navy Signature Quilt now listed in the Quilt Index by clicking here.)

Until that moment, I did not know where Gem was in Indiana because I had yet to do research on that particular quilt. But, lo and behold, here I was in Gem, Indiana!

So, of course, I just had to buy this Red and Green "rescue" quilt (above) to commemorate the event!


Here is additional info from AQSG member Carol Gebel who has been exploring this pattern for several years. You can read her research paper in Uncoverings 2007 published by the American quilt Study Group.


It was fun to see your blog on the Princess Feather quilt design. I gave a paper on the Princess Feather applique at the 2007 AQSG seminar in Lowell, MA. I agree that many were inspired by the Amaranth plant, also known as Princes' Feather, Princess Feather, Kiss Me over the Fence, Love Lies Bleeding as you say, and Prince of Wales' Feather. Perhaps the source of the belief that the design developed in Great Britain is that last name for the plant that was so popular in Victorian gardens.  However, my research which included reviewing the design as it appeared in British quilt books and contacting quilt historians in Britain determined that it is an American "invention".  Since some of the quilts include flowers on stems between the plumes, it seems that at least those quilters thought of the design as being botanical.  Others may actually have associated it with the Prince of Wales insignia of three upright ostrich plumes. The Princess Feather plant is geographically widespread and varieties are used as a food source.  Has names in many languages around the world.   Anyway, a gorgeous quilt by any name.  Love your "rescue example".  I had 3 Princess Feather quilts when I researched the topic.   I now have 6 and 1 top.  Hope to meet up with you in Lincoln.   Carol Gebel

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Quilt Cabin Dedicated to Wini Alexander

 I really can't talk about the meaning of my new Quilt Research Cabin without sharing some of the story of my mother-in-law's influence in my life. Without her, I don't think I ever would have gotten into quilting.

The three quilts quilts above made by my Winifred Margaret [Waters] Alexander, 1917-1999. These three quilts were instrumental in launching me into the study of quilt history. My documentation of Wini's needlework is ongoing.

In 2005, the LaConner Quilt Museum Invited me to curate an exhibit of Wini's needlework to run January - Feb 2006. It was a great catalyst to get me started in documenting her needlework. Inasmuch as I had saved 30 years of her correspondence, I relied heavily upon the letters I had saved to help create detailed documentation.

Wini, as she was known to her many friends, was a prolific seamstress and needle worker all her life, and taught junior high level Home Economics in the Seattle Public School system in the 1970s. After she retired from teaching, she taught clothing construction and embellishment, as well as quilting and other forms of needlework through guilds and fabric or quilt shops wherever she lived.

Wini helped organize many raffle quilt projects to raise funds for various non-profits throughout her quilting life. She was also instrumental in helping found the Enchanted Quilters of Lopez & Shaw Islands and the Northwest Quilting Connection, and created NQC's newsletter, serving as its editor for 12 years until her passing in August 1999.

After Wini moved to Lopez Island in 1981, people occasionally addressed mail to her simply as "The Quilt Lady on Lopez Island" and the mail invariably reached her!

Cowboy Dan, Sarah in Pink, Dancing Lori Jo all made in 1976 and presented to the kids on Christmas Eve. Below they are snuggled under them on the cots in the living room, cots that were set up in order to create more sleeping space for visiting adults.

Another great thing about these three quilts is that the kids designed them themselves without ever suspecting their grandmother would turn them into quilts.  The eldest created her self-portrait at school by laying down on butcher block paper and having someone draw around her. Then she filled in the face and clothing. When she brought this home, the others wanted to make one, too, so I found similar paper and we made two more. Then I suggested we "send them off to Grandma so she can see how much you have grown." The rest is history.

The additional wonder of these quilts for my children is that Wini used scraps from actual clothing she had made them for the clothing on each quilt, so they recognized themselves immediately!

Xmas Eve 1976

Documenting the Quilts We Create

Wini began to make a list of the quilts she had made after I gave her a journal following my lecture “Documenting Our Lives As Quilters” at a National Quilters Association meeting in Bellingham, WA, in October 1985. 

According to this journal, Wini attempted her first quilt about 1948.  Her first entry reads, “The first quilt I made was not worth remembering. It was a Double Wedding Ring, made by machine with as many shortcuts as possible. It ended up as a furniture cover when we moved.” (Her eldest daughter recently told me that she remembers that quilt!)

Her next attempt at quilting was "an appliquéd tulip made as a bedspread for Ronnie [eldest daughter] in our new Normandy Park House in 1959. Appliqué was so-so, quilting not good. She has it still (?)"  A 2nd quilt was also made in 1959. "Embroidered and appliquéd (1959) Pinocchio Story Quilt for Marlee. Given to cousin Janet after Marlee died." (Note: Wini's youngest daughter Marlee died in 1965 at age 16 of cancer. The family was living briefly in New Orleans at the time.)

Quilt #4, “Spider Web,” was a "strip quilt done on paper which I didn't know about removing! As I quilted it over an old bedspread I realized what a poor job I'd done. Done about 1969/70. Now used for Lopez Quilt show Banner."  

Quilt #5, “Marlee's Star,” Wini records on page 2: "In 1964 I ordered a set of Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Signs for embroidery or quilting. I tried several and Marlee really liked a 12-point star design, so I decided to make a quilt for her hope chest. A few months later she died. Ten years later (1975) I made the quilt. Now used on guest bed."

1975 marks a definitive year in Wini's quilt making for she records making 5 quilts in that one year alone. The quilts that I got my greatest attention were those she made from my children's very own artwork.

The quilt immediately below dated 1976 is the one that really grabbed my attention. I began sending our eldest child's artwork to Wini when Sarah began scribbling on paper at age 2. When Sarah turned 10, Wini gave her a quilt for her birthday made entirely of Sarah's own artwork.  I had had no idea one could turn a child's art into an applique or embroidery pattern for I had never made anything but clothes and not even those for several years when I first saw this quilt.

In 1971 when the Whitney Museum in New York City exhibited quilts as art for the first time, a resurgence in interest in quilting making was already in the air. This quilt exhibit unexpectedly broke ALL attendance records at the Whitney up to that point in its history.  As a  result, they extended the exhibit by several months and then created two traveling exhibits, one to tour the U. S. and the other to tour Europe and Japan.

The rest is history, as we all like to say. My take on quilting in America at this point in time is that the Whitney unintentionally kicked off the coming quilt revival BUT it was the American Bicentennial that sent the interest in quiltmaking and Americana into the stratosphere.

From 1976 Wini's quilt making and her quilting skills took off. By now, in addition to daughter (Ronnelle nicknamed Roni) and son (Gary), Wini had a daughter-in-law (Karen-me) and three grandchildren (Sarah, Daniel, and Lori Jo), all who dearly loved her quilts and anything she made with thread and needle. The documentation of Wini's needlework history, especially her quilting, is ongoing. One of the biggest challenges will be to discover the specific sources for her patterns.

PS: Wini's Signature Friendship Quilts are now documented and are included in the Quilt Index Signature Quilt Pilot Project. Here is a link to one.

Here is a link to the Essay about the Signature Quilt Pilot Project. I was very fortunate to be invited to participate in this project.

-- To Be Continued --

Squirrel sunbathing

Junco nest


Stunned woodpecker had hit the large living room window, bounced 
to the deck barely clinging to the railing by a toenail for several minutes.