(real ones) in Civil War quilts
Frank Moore's 1862 Rebellion
Record is a "news digest" which includes a news
article from the Missouri Republican describing a Union
Army report of the search for a large Confederate flag. Hearing that locals
in Manchester, Missouri boasted the
flag would be displayed again, on November 15, 1861 a contingent
of fifteen Union Soldiers from Camp Hebron, Missouri raided the
home of "Squire B," its suspected
After a thorough but
fruitless search of her house, dryly notes the report, Mrs. B.
"thanked the officer for the gentlemanly manner in which the
search had been conducted" and said she presumed they were
satisfied. Unconvinced, the officer told her that since she
did not turn over the flag voluntarily, he had no choice but to
place her under arrest along with her husband. After about
an hour she was reassured that their only interest in her
involved retrieving the flag, and over her husband's protests Mrs. B.
said that for a time she had hidden it in a box in the garden, but
concerned that the dampness would damage it, she had sent it far
away to friends whose name she refused to divulge. When Mr.
B. was removed to face his fate, however, she promptly revealed it
was Mrs. S, only a mile and a half away. So the
soldiers made their way to Mrs. S's house, where they conducted
another fruitless search.
Described in the report
as "being surrounded by a very interesting family," Mrs.
S. at first flatly denied any knowledge of the flag and demanded
to know who had named her. But after being assured
that neither she nor her family would face any trouble if she
surrendered the flag, Mrs. S. admitted Mr. B. had turned it over
to her in "sacred trust" - now, apparently broken by
Mrs. B. having sent Union soldiers her way.
said Mrs. S. "that you did not find it yourself, and when you
wish detectives you had better employ ladies."
"She then went to a bed that had been fruitlessly searched,
took from it a quilt, and with the aid of her daughters proceeded
to open the edges of the quilt and cut the stitches through the
body of it, and pulled off the top, when behold! there lay the
mammoth flag next to the cotton, being carefully stretched twice
and nearly a half across the quilt. When taken out and spread, it
proved to be a magnificent flag over 21 feet in length and nearly
nine in width, with fifteen stars to represent the prospective
Southern Confederacy. The flag is now in possession of Col.
Vandever, who remarked that it excelled any of the rebel flags
that he saw at the battle of Bull Run or Manassas."
sea captain William Driver would probably have been famous even
without his connection to the Stars and Stripes. By the time
he left the sea at age 34, he had circumnavigated the globe. Just
three years earlier, Driver's ship - flying a huge American flag that
was a birthday gift from his mother and "the girls of
Salem" - traveled 1,400 miles off course to rescue
descendants of the Bounty mutineers stranded on Tahiti and return
them to their home on Pitcairn Island.
retired in 1837, joining his brothers in Nashville, where he
proudly displayed his flag every holiday until Tennessee seceded
in July 1861. A staunch Unionist and supporter of
abolition, he was dismayed that three of his sons fought for the
Confederacy. Driver was naturally concerned the flag would
be confiscated, and he had it concealed inside a quilt. When Union
forces regained control of Nashville in February 1862,
Driver removed the flag from its hiding place. Under Union
escort he brought it to the statehouse, where it flew overnight,
closely guarded by Driver himself.
new states were added to the Union, Driver added more stars to his
precious flag. A prolific correspondent, in 1876 he wrote
his sons, "This flag has ever since been my staunch companion
and protector. Savages and heathen, lowly and oppressed
hailed and welcomed it at the far ends of the world. Then, why
should it not be called Old Glory?" The name stuck, and
Driver is credited with having originated it.
Driver died in
1886. His Nashville grave is one of only a handful of places
authorized by act of Congress where the US flag may be flown 24
hours a day.
The flag was inherited
by his daughter, who in 1922 gave it to President William Harding,
who turned it over to the Smithsonian Institution. But
"Old Glory" was considered too fragile to display. Sixty
years later, it was finally restored and in 1982 it became part of
the museum's permanent exhibit.
The 10- by 17-foot flag
went on display at the Smithsonian in Washington in 1982, 60 years
after its donation.
Much of the too-convenient plot turns
in the popular writing on the Moon sisters may be based on the memoirs of the
flamboyant younger sister, Virginia Bethel ("Ginnie"). Among the
unsubstantiated claims found on various websites (in nearly identical language):
the women smuggled correspondence across the border by hiding them in quilts
they assembled under the noses of Union soldiers; disguised as an
Englishwoman, spy Cynthia Charlotte ("Lottie") rode in an unwitting
Abraham Lincoln's carriage; she left future general Ambrose burnside at the
altar, only to have him spare her life years later; Ginnie was engaged 16 or 26
times, voted in Memphis before women's suffrage, and in her 70s appeared in
films starring Pola Negri and Douglas Fairbanks.
What is known is that Lottie (born
1829) and Ginnie (born 1844) Moon grew up just north of Cincinnatti, Ohio, the
daughters of Virginia-born physician Robert Moon and his wife Cynthia. In
1849 Lottie married James Clarke, who became a Butler County (Ohio) judge and an
outspoken Southern sympathizer. When Dr. Moon died, his widow left Ginnie
in Ohio and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where Ginny joined her after war broke
Because of their connections in both
the North and South, the two young women, sometimes accompanied by their mother,
were able to smuggle documents across the Mason-Dixon line and provide
information on Union troop movements. Their activities ended on April 3,
1863 when Ginnie and her mother were arrested as they were about to return to
Memphis from Cincinnati.
A Chicago Tribune article from April
7, 1863 reports that after boarding a Mississippi River steamboat the two women
were stopped on suspicion of possessing contraband goods and correspondence.
They vehemently denied this, blaming the accusation on their relationship to
Judge Clark. In later years Ginnie is supposed to have written that
there was a list in my skirt, and
in my petticoat I had a Colt revolver. I put it in my hand and took it out,
backed to the door and leveled it at him. 'If you make a move to touch me, I
will kill you, so help me God.'"
Intimidated by her ferocity, Ginny
says, the Customs officer left to get help, and in his absence she ate the
But the Tribune article suggests the
teenaged Ginny was something less intrepid than the heroine she describes: when
threatened with a strip-search, she promptly "collapsed, and delivered her
What Ginny was carrying, however, is
undisputed: several dozen letters to various Confederate officers
(possibly inside a quilted petticoat or quilt) and "a huge bustle, or sack,
attached to her person" containing 40 bottles of morphine, seven pounds of
opium and "a quantity of camphor", all of which would have been used
to care for wounded Confederate troops.
That the latter version is probably
closer to the truth - and that the women's earlier exploits may have been
something less than Ginny claimed - is suggested by their treatment: after
being briefly held in custody, they were released and warned not to cross Union
After the war, Charlotte joined Ginny
in Memphis and became a novelist, publishing under the pseudonym Charles
M. Clay (books here
she died in 1895. For awhile Ginny ran a boardinghouse, adopted a child, then
became a boarder herself. She was "a familiar sight on Memphis
streets," when it was rumored she carried a revolver hidden in her
umbrella. In 1920 she was renting a room in Santa Barbara, California, but
census records indicate she was unemployed. Eventually she made her way to
New York City, where she died in 1925.
Buying on ebay is always
an adventure; unless you know the seller, it's always a
surprise to see how much relation an item has (or doesn't)
description. In December 2009 I bought a Churn Dash
quilt described as 1880s, Mennonite, and from Dundas,
Ontario. The photos were unhelpful but at $9.99, even with
Canada's stratospheric postage rates, I couldn't resist;
if it turned out to be junk, it'd be fun to
Finally the quilt arrived
- along with oh my God an eye-blistering aroma of
spoiled cottage cheese. The quilt was frail - dared I risk
washing it, and would anything get rid of that
stink? What if its wool-like fabrics were Aralac,
that WWII-era cloth made from milk protein that smelled
like vomit whenever it got damp? Ecch. Worse,
like the valet's B.O. in the Seinfeld episode
"The Smelly Car," the smell clung to everything.
I gingerly toted it outside, draped it over the
clothesline, and changed my contaminated clothes, hoping
that after a night in the chill air, some of the gaah would
Unfortunately I neglected
to account for our new puppy. Let out to pee just before
bedtime, Mr. Helpful decided to bring inside
what I had left outside. Thanks, good
doggy. Now not only was the quilt smelly; a strip
about a foot wide on one edge was mangled beyond
recognition. I had nightmares.
The next morning I decided
to salvage what I could by cutting off the shredded
portion, finishing the edge by folding the front to the
back, and washing it using my own instructions (here).
in the process I found out something interesting:
the quilt's present palette - olive and gold Churn Dashes
on a field of pale beige with black sashing - is very
different from what it was originally. The seam allowances
and back sides of the fabrics showed that the the dark
olive started out as black, the gold was dark olive, and
the warm beige, slate gray, while the tan plaid backing
was a soft amethyst.
So when the quilt was new, it was
more somber, with much less contrast; what today
looked like a hinky combination of olive and gold in some
blocks would've been almost unnoticeable. I'd like
to think that close observation would've revealed this to
me, but my dog disaster helped make it certain.
the quilt's colors today....below, what they originally
tests and microscopic evaluation showed that the black and
gray fabrics were wool, the plaid backing (once a soft
lilac, now a pale tan) was cotton, and the olive a rayon
crepe. Rayon wasn't on the market before 1910 at the
earliest, so unless the maker were a time-traveler, this
couldn't be an 1880s quilt. And was "Martha
Swellow," the maker, really Mennonite? The unusual
name sounded English, not German, and I found no Canadian
Swellows in the ancestry.com database. However, a few Swallows
do appear in the 1891 census for Hamilton, Ontario (of
which Dundas is a suburb) - one named Martha, born in
1873. It seems possible the oral history attached to this
quilt confused the maker's birthdate with the date the
quilt was made. Perhaps the quilt's simple design
and palette caused the previous owner to assume the maker
review: Kyra Hicks on Harriet Powers
I Accomplish: Harriet Powers' Bible Quilt and Other Pieces.
Black Threads, July 2009. 182pp: illustations, notes,
bibliography. $19.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0982479650
from the moment it was first exhibited, since 1886 the
Quilt and its reprise, the Pictorial Quilt, made by
Georgia native and
former slave Harriet Powers has been featured in more than
articles, books, poems and plays. It is thus both
embarrassing that not until Kyra Hicks's latest work has
anyone bothered to verify the received wisdom about the
woman who is arguably the world's best-known quilter.
conversational and very personal tone belies the
painstaking care of her research. What apparently began as
an annotated bibliography snowballed into an astonishingly
detailed provenance which both documents the lives of key
figures in the quilts' history and refutes commonly held,
if perennially evolving, assumptions about Powers.
It soon becomes
clear to the reader that from the first, everyone who saw
Powers's Bible Quilt regarded it as not only unique, but a
work of art -
high praise given its abstract design, the status of
quilts as homely craft,
and the tenuous role of black women in turn-of-the-century
rural Georgia. Among the visitors of both races crowding
to see it at the 1886 Northeast Georgia Fair was Jennie
Smith, a white art teacher at an Athens girls' school.
Smith was so captivated she tracked down Powers and
offered to buy the quilt. After three meetings in four
years, she convinced Powers to sell, agreeing to supply
the avid quilter with fabric scraps and granting her what
can best be described as visitation rights to the quilt.
Smith carefully recorded Powers's description of the
quilt's subjects, and exhibited it at least once
thereafter, identifying Powers as the maker. In 1969
Smith's executor donated the quilt to the Smithsonian, and
again it became a sensation.
Powers admirers purchased or commissioned a variation now
known as the Pictorial Quilt, presented to Charles
Cuthbert Hall in 1898 probably when he became Union
Theological Seminary's new president. For years Hall
displayed it on the wall of his summer house, and even as
a child, Hall's great-grandson knew the quilt was "a
living thing, not meant to be on a bed, but meant to
be art." Like the Bible Quilt, the Pictorial Quilt
long remained in appreciative private hands; then in 1961,
art collector Maxim Karolik acquired it on behalf of
Boston's Museum of Fine Art, where it has been on display
since 1975. (It is currently in storage while the MFA
tenacious pursuit of primary sources uncovered crucial
details about Powers's life which future researchers
cannot ignore. She also confirms suspicions that these
were not Powers's only quilts. In fact, Powers appears to
have been something of a competitor, winning at least one
prize for another 1880s quilt. Powers herself describes a
fourth quilt's distinctive appearance; is it still hidden,
unidentified, in some collection?
It is hard for
any diligent researcher to resist sharing every tidbit we
unearth; too often, every toy is our favorite. But this
can distract rather than illuminate. The reader feels
ungrateful complaining that Hicks sometimes provides *too
much* information about peripheral characters;
nevertheless it is hard not to wish that, for example, the
thirteen pages on Karolik's life had instead been devoted
to Powers's early years (rarely discussed in other
sources) and careful descriptions of the quilts' materials
and techniques, both of which Hicks seems to have omitted.
But this is praising with faint damns. Hicks's main fault
is modesty: she seems to view her book as supplemental
when it should be the axis on which any reading on Powers
yeoman's work viewing her subjects in historical context.
A self-identified Christian familiar with Biblical
iconography, she avoids the common pitfall of treating
Powers's imagery as inscrutable and exotic, and she
refrains from Rorschach-test psychologizing. While frankly
confronting the patronizing racism of another era, she is
also heroically "slow to wrath" (although the
reader is baffled by her observation that "no
African-American made quilts [were] included" in the
ground- breaking 1971 Whitney quilt exhibition, as none of
those quilts' makers appear to have been identified.)
Hicks might be
amused that white vaudevillian and "Negro mimic"
Lucine Finch, fabricator in 1914 of a grotesquely
stereotyped "interview" with Powers (who had
died four years before), appears to have been no respecter
of persons regardless of race - even when she knew them
personally. One review quipped that as Mother Goose in her
friend's operetta, Finch "unfortunately trusted to
her own capacity for making up things on the spur of the
moment in preference to adhering to the lines of the
part." Hicks's careful work marks a break with this
kind of artistic license, and our appreciation of Powers
is better for it.
historian Lisa Evans, whose specialty is medieval and
pre-Colonial quilting, points out this remarkable
patchwork textile which was found covered with mud at the
bottom of a castle well in Budapest, Hungary.
silk textile is worked in both patchwork and applique, and
features on-point blocks about a foot square, alternating
setting squares pieced of red and white with appliqued
blocks with the (Hungarian) Árpád and (Neapolitan)
Angevin heraldic devices (referring to King Charles
Robert, whose father was king of Naples and Duke of Anjou,
Budapest Museum notes that a similar textile covers the
back of King Charles Robert's throne. For more
information and images, visit the Budapest
History Museum site.
black": collectors, attribution,
Ora Phillips quilt
the quilt pictured at left appeared in a 2003 exhibit of
African- American quilts at Abilene, Texas's Grace Museum,
its descriptive label included a typical discussion of
African-American quilt style:
is a tradition highly recognized in African American
quilts that quilt historians believe stem back to
the ancient traditions of many African tribes.
African textile traditions often featured bright
colors, asymmetry and large shapes.
Additionally a belief among many tribes was the
importance of the ability to recreate and change old
patterns. A break in pattern could symbolize a
rebirth in the ancestral power of the creator or
wearer, or even potentially keep evil spirits away.
A traditional belief about evil traveling in
straight lines encouraged the use of irregular
patterns. Many people believed that a break in
pattern or line confuses the spirit and slows them
museum identified the quilt as having been made c.1995 by Ora
Phillips, and said it was on loan from its owners, Joe
and Sandy Todaro. Sandy Todaro was co-curator of the
2003 exhibit A
Piece of My Soul: Quilts by Black Arkansans, and also
played a major role in assembling the African-American quilt
collection at the Arkansas Old State House Museum.
In the late 1980s she co-directed the Louisiana Quilt
Documentation Project with Judy Godfrey, who in 2003 was
the Grace Museum's director. Godfrey had asked
Todaro to provide many of the quilts in the current
highlight of the exhibit was a lecture by Caroline Streeter, Ph.D., of
UCLA's English Department and Center for
African-American Studies. Discussing "The Movements of Spirit in Everyday
Life: African-American Quilters and the Creative
Impulse," Streeter relied on Tobin and Dobard's Hidden
in Plain View to use the quilt as an example of
Railroad quilt code" and of "the power
of color, which Tobin and Dobard identify as part
of West African heritage."
But Ora Phillips's
quilt bears an uncanny resemblance to one made more than
a century ago which appeared on the cover of Kentucky
Quilts (1982), in the Spring 1983 issue of Lady's
Circle Patchwork and Quilting magazine, and in
Terri Zegart's 1994 Quilts: An American
Heritage, and also toured nationwide in a
made of homespun "linseys" (cotton warp, wool
filling) in the mid-1890s by a young
white girl, Nancy Miller Grider
of Russell County, Kentucky, whose parents
were of English, Scots and French ancestry. (Recent
genealogical research by Grider's great-granddaughter
indicates that family lore of Cherokee ancestry had no
Kentuckian Nancy Miller Grider's mid-1890s quilt.
Click for details
Not only does Ora Phillips's quilt imitate Grider's overall design and proportions;
it also has four blue-green segments arranged in a cross,
other segments which from a distance look like red and black plaid, and a center disk
whose hemispheres are red and orange.
March 2007 Ora Phillips's quilt - described as having been made by "an
elderly African-American woman near Little Rock" - sold on
ebay for $1,575. Few quilts listed on the online auction
site reach $500.
after the auction ended, I discussed the quilts with Shelly
Zegart, founder of the Kentucky Quilt Project and editor of Kentucky
Quilts. Zegart suspected Ora Phillips's quilt had a more distant
origin than Arkansas.
ephemera dealer Debra Spencer of Suit
Yourself International, I was able to confirm Zegart's
recollection. The quilt
exhibited at the Grace Museum was identical to an illustration
of a mass-produced, Chinese knockoff
of the Grider quilt in the November 1998 J.Peterman catalog,
whose twin size sold for $225.
A Peterman representative said the quilt was one of several
reproductions they bought from the inventory of an unidentified importer
no longer in business (perhaps Arch Quilts of Elmsford, New York,
known for its high-end Chinese-made quilts?).
together now - Clockwise
from above: The J.Peterman catalog illustration, the
"Ora Phillips" quilt, and the
original - the Nancy Miller Grider quilt. Peterman
catalog courtesy Suit
the maker or origin of a quilt constitutes part of its value,
provenance (the documented chain of ownership back to its
creator) is important. The "Ora Phillips" quilt
was legitimized (and its value enhanced to more than
$1,500) by appearing in the museum exhibit
with Todaro and her husband identified as its owner. Lecturer Streeter naturally assumed the
curators and Todaro had verified the quilt was indeed an
African-American original. Mark French, the ebay
seller, says he trusted
what he was told when he bought the quilt from Ohio dealer Michael
Council, who got the quilter's
name and race and the museum flyer from Todaro herself when she sold him the quilt.
Todaro says the museum and Council were mistaken, and she was
just the go-between. In reality, she said, the
unused, unwashed quilt
- "one of the most graphic" she has seen -
belonged to a now-dead, unnamed friend, who bought the quilt
directly from Ora Phillips. Todaro said she had
simply brought the quilt to the museum, and later, when
her friend became ill, sold it
to Council on her behalf. She had no valid contact
information for her friend's family.
was able to locate only two Arkansas women, living or
dead, named Ora Phillips born before 1960. Both are
being shown pictures of the Peterman and Grider quilts, Todaro
said did not "have enough knowledge to inject an
opinion" but that her friend "would not have knowingly
reported false data". She said her friend had bought the
quilt for $350 at a craft or flea market near Little Rock from
an African-American woman named Ora Phillips, and that when her
friend had asked Phillips about the inspiration for her
design, Phillips replied that "she’d seen something
similar that inspired her in a catalog or book" whose name
she could not recall.
Phillips quilt is not merely "similar" to the Peterman
illustration. It is virtually identical, right down to the
Phillips's quilt was inspired by
Grider's and became the prototype for the Peterman quilt (but
was never revealed as such); or Phillips somehow forgot
she had made a line-for-line copy of the Peterman quilt;
a mass-produced knockoff of a 19th century white Kentucky
girl's well-known original quilt was successfully passed off as the
handiwork of an elderly black Arkansan.
Whichever the case, the
"Ora Phillips" quilt cannot be described as an
example of African-American "improvisation,"
African-inspired color and design, or "Quilt
Code" symbolism. Instead,
as Streeter observed when she learned of the quilt's true origin, it stands as an object lesson in "how
historical inaccuracies, errors and nonfactual information
take root and become perpetuated, whether it is a matter
of incomplete research, the failure to verify sources,
taking information on faith, getting carried away by
imagination, etc. etc., and it is far from unique."
French ever informed the high bidder of this quilt's
recent origin is unknown.
quilter Beatrice Davis Franks
Thanks to misleading exhibits
like the one discussed above, when asked to describe a
"typical" African-American quilt many people will use
words like "improvisational,"
"strip-pieced", "multiple patterns,"
"brightly colored" and "rhythmic", all of
which are described as "Africanisms." But
those features are also traditional in a number of white
communities, from the Midwestern Amish to
Euro-Australians. The style is ubiquitous in the American
South, but quilt historians have found that it's a product of
economics, not race, used by both blacks and whites to quickly
make warm quilts out of whatever is on hand.
The work of
Columbus, Missippi quilter Beatrice Davis Franks is a good
example. Born in 1884 to Samuel and Mary Davis,
Beatrice was the granddaughter of South Carolina natives
Hugh and Priscilla Davis, who settled in Mississippi
sometime before 1850. All were white. Like her
mother and grandmother, Beatrice was a farmer's daughter;
she spent her earliest years on her father's farm in the
tiny community of Lebanon. In 1907 she married Charlie
Franks (who also was white), the son of South Carolina
natives Gabriel and Elizabeth Way Franks, and began
farming on property down the road from Charlie's parents
in Mount Vernon. After the births of five of their
seven children, Beatrice and Charlie bought another farm
near Columbus. By 1930 Charlie had sold the farm, moved
his family to a rented house in Columbus, and was working
as a timber salesman. During World War II, Beatrice's son
Charles Watts Franks moved to Pensacola, the site of the
Navy's airbase, and married Ernestine Ketler, where the
couple remained until Charles's death in 2002. They
had several children, including Charles W. Jr. and Douglas
Ernestine Ketler Franks (from whom I acquired the quilts
pictured below), Beatrice was always quilting, and until
her death in 1978 regularly sent far more large, heavy
quilts to her son Charles than the couple could ever
use. Like other makers of "plain" quilts,
Beatrice preferred simple patterns which did not waste
much fabric in seam allowances, pieced and quilted her
tops quickly, often by hand, used a thick commercial
batting to ensure warmth, and finished the edges of her
quilt frugally by simply folding over the backing onto the
front. Living out the motto "Use it up, wear it
out, make it do or do without," she used whatever
fabrics were on hand - heavy flannels for the c.1950
Housetop quilt, and polyester doubleknits for the 1970s
Britcher Leg quilts. (Click on images to enlarge.)
Beatrice's genealogy and images of the quilts to www.ancestry.com
in early April 2008, I listed all three quilts on ebay,
giving Beatrice's biography and pointing out that quilts
made by white rural Southern women such as Beatrice's are
often misattributed to African-Americans. All three
quilts sold to Waco, Texas collector Jan Cook (ebay ID myquiltcollection),
to whom I sent a provenance brochure for each quilt,
documenting Beatrice's genealogy and including color
photos of the quilts and census records which among other
things indicated she was white.
On December 17,
2008 seller dixideltaquilts (apparently Cook's
selling ID) listed the Housetop quilt for about twice what
she paid for it, describing it as "African
American" and even speculating about the
"traditional African" meaning of its colors. (Adding
"African-American" to a quilt's description
exponentially increases its marketability.)
seller have been misled, as she claimed when I contacted
her? The photo of the quilt in her auction was the
one I included in my provenance brochure, and shortly
after I emailed her, she replaced her original
"African-American" description with text taken
verbatim from my original April 2008 auction.
textile history online
stereotype of "African-American" quilt style is so
widespread that some, such as folklorist John Michael Vlach, have even claimed
that African-Amerian quilts that lack these attributes
"reflect a lesson well-learned rather than a heritage
well-remembered," and that "the only thing African or
Afro-American about" such quilts is their makers'
race. Black quilters who use subdued colors and regular
patterns are, according to this view, acting white.
Dobard and others trace these Africanisms to contemporary
African textiles, many of which do indeed share those
But would these
fabrics have been familiar to the people brought here as slaves
in the 18th and early 19th centuries? Are those
"textile memories" reflected in African-American
quilts such as those made in Gee's Bend? How accurate are
conventional ideas about Africanisms in African-American quilts?
I have been
investigating this subject for the past three years, and the
answers are surprising.
Because of its
length, I am publishing my research in serial form. The first
several parts can be found here,
and you can request notice of later installments by clicking here.
At the end of
the series, I hope to be able to provide some ideas for
quilt designs that recall the textiles America's
African-born slaves would have known and used.
earliest sewing machines - for example, the Wilcox &
Gibbs machines first manufactured in the 1850s - didn't
use two threads (top and bobbin). Instead, they used
just one thread to produce a chainstitch. If
you've ever dismantled a vintage feedsack or had to pull
that little string to open a bag of grass seed, you've
seen chainstitching. But for dressmaking, the
stitches were really small - in the sample below, 20 per
inch! The seam is incredibly strong and, as you'll
see below, rather pretty too. Read more about
chainstitch machines here.
side of machine chainstitching (fabrics c.1875)...