September 20, 2014

American Quilt Study Group Seminar, 2014 (Part 1)

This is the first of three posts that will be devoted to the American Quilt Study Group (AQSG) Seminar held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 10-14th.  The last of these will feature a Quaker quilt on display at the Seminar dating from the 1840s.  Be prepared to see some wonderful fabrics!

Some of the activities at the AQSG Seminar each year are tours of local places of interest to quilters, quilt researchers, and quilt historians.  One of this year's tours was a bus trip to nearby Cedarburg to visit the Cedarburg Woolen Mill and Textile Museum.

Entrance to the Cedarburg Woolen Mill and Textile Museum.  All photographs are by
Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
The Cedarburg Woolen Mill is not an old restored woolen mill situated on a river.  It is the basement operation of Kay Walters' Civil War-era wool-to-batting processing business and a chance to see her use of 1860s seeding and carding equipment to produce batting for antique quilt restoration and for modern-day quilts.
Kay Walters describing the different varieties of sheep from which she obtains wool
for her batting operation.
The original Cedarburg Woolen Mill began processing in 1864.  Kay purchased vintage machinery patented in 1860 for her business in downtown Cedarburg and processes her wool in much the same way as it was processed in the 19th century.  The process includes washing and drying the wool, then using a mechanical burring picker and wool card to produce batting of various thicknesses.
Thin batting leaving the wool card on a conveyor belt.  To ensure the conveyor is functioning
smoothly, Kay occasionally gives it's engine a hefty kick!
Batting being wound onto a cylinder at the end of the conveyor belt for removal and bagging
in twin, double, and queen-size quilt amounts.  King-size quilts require placing two double-size
amounts side by side.  Kay says it takes four pounds of wool to produce batting for a queen-size quilt.
Wool batting has been used in comforters and quilts in America throughout its history.  Sheep were raised on most farms during colonial times and the nineteenth century.  The wool produced by these sheep was cleaned, carded, and used in bedding or spun, often dyed, and woven into fabric for clothing.  Quaker families were among those who raised sheep for their wool and much of that wool was used in bedding.
Patricia J. Keller, in her publication "Of the best Sort but Plain", Quaker Quilts from the Delaware Valley, 1760-1890, states:  "Rather than 'cotton wool' filling (more familiarly known in America today as 'cotton batting'), eighteenth-century silk-faced whole cloth quilts with Delaware Valley Quaker provenance tend to have undyed, carded wool as the filling.  The same is often true of silk-faced quilts of pieced or whole cloth construction made by women Friends in this region throughout the nineteenth century."  She goes on to say that the frequent use of silk for quilt piecing in this area, as well as the selection of "undyed, carded wool as filling for silk faced quilts" represent a distinctive Quaker tradition.  (Keller, 19.)
On the Ohio frontier, Quaker Anna Briggs Bentley and her husband Joseph raised sheep for wool.  The wool was produced mainly for home use but was also a commodity that could be sold or traded for goods the Bentley's did not produce.  Anna wrote to her sister in Maryland on 7th mo. 5th 1830:  "I have 4 trousers and 8 shirts to make, my wool to pick to have spun and linsy [sic] made, besides a great deal more sewing."  Anna converted her wool into fabric for clothing and bedcovers and also used it for filling quilts and comforters.  (Foster, 114.) 
The popularity of wool among Quaker quilters can be attributed to the facts that it was warm and durable, sheep easily could be raised on family farms, and slave labor was not traditionally required for its production. 
Kay Walters finds that there is still a significant demand for wool batting today, both to fill new quilts and comforters and to restore old ones.  Many of her clients bring their quilts and comforters to her to have the wool removed, cleaned, carded anew to restore fluffiness, and reinserted.  This work may also require mending the quilt or comforter itself.  Kay has shelves of what she calls "vintage and reclaimed" fabrics that she uses to ensure her "mends" reflect the time period of the quilts she is repairing.
Part of Kay's "stash" of vintage and reclaimed fabrics.
The trip to the Cedarburg Woolen Mill and Textile Museum was not only informative, it provided a window into the past when wool processing was done at home or in small, local manufactories.  Kay Walters is single-handedly preserving the traditions of the past using nineteenth century techniques and equipment.  What a treasure she is!
Foster, Emily (ed.).  American Grit, A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier.  Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2002.
Keller, Patricia J.  "Of the best Sort but Plain", Quaker Quilts from the Delaware Valley, 1760-1890.  Chadds Ford, PA: Brandywine River Museum, 1996.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2014.


September 2, 2014

Quaker Quilts at Abram's Delight

This has been a year of quilt activities at the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society in Virginia.  The finishing touches are being put on plans for their Seminar, "A Focus on Quilts from the Lower Shenandoah Valley", scheduled for September 19th and 20th.  (See information at left.)  Currently, "A Collection of Quilts" from their collection can be seen at the Hollingsworth Mill in Winchester, Virginia, through October 31st.

Additionally, it was Mary's pleasure to act as a Guest Curator for a special three-day exhibit of Quaker Quilts that was held June 13-15, 2014 at Abram's Delight, a Museum of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.  The exhibit featured twenty-six quilts made between circa 1840 and 2007.  All were made or owned for generations by members of the Religious Society of Friends.  Many were made by direct descendants of Abraham Hollingsworth for whom Abram's Delight Museum is named.  Built by his son, Isaac, it is believed that construction on the house started before Abraham's death in 1748.

Abram's Delight Museum, Winchester, Virginia.  Photograph courtesy of the
Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.
One of the most recent quilts on display was made by Janney Lupton in 1997.  Janney Lupton is a direct descendant of Isaac Hollingsworth, the original builder of Abram's Delight.
Hollingsworth Revisited, 1997.  Quilt made by Janney Lupton.
Janney based her Hollingsworth Revisited Quilt on the Hollingsworth Family Quilt, circa 1858, which is now in the permanent collection of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.
Hollingsworth Family Quilt, circa 1858.  Collection of the Winchester-Frederick
County Historical Society.  Photograph by Barbara Tricarico.
Janney Lupton's 1997 Hollingsworth Revisited Quilt won "Best in Show" at "A Century of Quiltmaking" at Belle Grove, Winchester, Virginia, and "Best in Show" at the 2007 Maine Quilt Show, Augusta, Maine.  Her straight-set reinterpretation is heavily hand-quilted in a half-inch hanging diamond grid design.  The applique designs include cutwork hearts, similar to those seen in several other mid-nineteenth century Quaker quilts made in Virginia, as well as five blocks of the pattern known locally as "Apple Pie Ridge Star".  (See our post of February 4, 2012.)  This block is at the corners and fourth from the top in green, far right.  Janney Lupton was the first to publish the charming block pattern name after learning it from this quilt's previous owner, her cousin Janney Wilson.
While examining the original Hollingsworth Family Quilt over a light box, Janney made a startling discovery.
Hollingsworth Family Quilt, detail.  Photograph by Mary Holton Robare.
Hollingsworth Family Quilt, details showing the same block of appliqued circles
lit from behind.  Photograph by Barbara Tricarico.
What appeared to be a block of appliqued circles is, in fact, hiding an original "Vase of Tulips".
Theories about why the original block was covered up are numerous.  The first thought is that the "circles" block was a repair.  However, close examination by an expert determined there was no visible damage to the original block.  Furthermore, the fabrics and stitching of the added block appear to be contemporary to the rest of the quilt. 
One possible explanation was suggested by Janney Lupton:  "Perhaps the maker of the hidden block was disowned by strict mid-nineteenth century Quakers, resulting in the block's 'erasure'."  Some reasons for disownment included training in the military, frolicking and dancing, marrying outside of the faith, or even simply attending a non-Quaker wedding.  While we may never really know why the pre-existing block was covered up, knowledge of its mere existence is irresistible to any mystery lover. 
Note:  You can learn more about the three-day exhibit in the new publication by Mary titled "Quaker Quilts: Snapshots of an Exhibition."  (See link at left to purchase it through  The pamphlet-style, 42 page book features a never-before published pattern for creating your own applique template of a "Hidden Vase of Tulips".  The pattern was originally drafted by Janney Lupton directly off of the circa 1858 Hollingsworth Family Quilt.
In addition to some family history and anecdotes pertaining to the makers and owners of the twenty-six exhibited quilts, there is a snapshot of a circa 1850 Quaker quilt that was brought to a Quilt Turning conducted by Barbara Garrett on June 15, 2014, at the Hollingsworth Mill, Winchester, Virginia.
______________  "Quaker Networks Revealed In Quilts."  In Proceedings of the Textile History Forum.  Cherry Valley, NY: Textile History Forum, 2007.
Robare, Mary Holton.  Quilts and Quaker Heritage: Selections from an Exhibition, Virginia Quilt Museum, May 3-September 22, 2008.  Winchester, VA: Hillside Studios, 2008.
Virginia Consortium of Quilters.  Quilts of Virginia: The Birth of America Through the Eye of a Needle.  Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2006.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2014.

August 15, 2014

A Detour Through Amish Country

Once in a while we like to share current quilt-related experiences with our readers.  Just last week Mary found herself traveling in upstate New York.  Seeing signs for a "Martha's Quilt Barn", she convinced her mother, daughter, and cousin to scoot off their planned route to check it out.

The trip involved passing by many Amish farms populated with dozens of amazingly picturesque children.  They were not photographed out of respect for Amish preference to avoid biblical injunction against graven images, but Mary did snap some pictures of the countryside.

Being a blog about Quaker quilt history, at this point we might explain the differences between the Amish and the Quakers. Instead, we refer you to Youtube for an interview with Quaker scholar Max Carter entitled, "Are Quakers Amish?".  (See source notes.)
The journey continued past more Amish farms until arrival at Martha's Quilt Barn (also known as Sister's Quilt Barn) in Dewittville, New York, displaying signs advertising a large variety of "Fabric, Amish Furniture and Quilts."
Visitors to the Barn are officially greeted by Ranger, a lab-corgi mix, and his beautiful companion, a cat named Toby.
A warm welcome was also offered by the proprietor, John Slater. He is not Amish but he routinely does business with them.  A former cattle and crop farmer, he explained that he initially built the barn for his wife.  Although she passed away twelve years ago, he continues to run his business with his daughters.  Mr. Slater is devoted to quality in his merchandise, his quilting (he serves quilters by finishing tops on his long-arm quilter), and customer service, offering free scissor sharpening along with some wonderful storytelling.  His quilting work has been sent to nineteen countries and thirty-nine states.
At the age of eighty-one, John Slater has no plans to retire.  That is good news since we hope to return to this quilter's haven on future trips to upstate New York.
Quilt made by one of John Slater's daughters.
All photographs courtesy of Helen Robare Mandalinic.
Martha's Quilt Barn is located at 7145 Beech Hill/Walker Road, Dewittville, NY.  Phone: (716) 753-3786.  E-mail:  Web site:
Sweeny, Steven M.  "Lone Star" in The Post Journal, January 25, 2004.
See: "Are Quakers Amish?" on QuakerSpeak@ Accessed August 8, 2014.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2014.



August 1, 2014

"Repurposed" Silk in the Westtown School Archives

The third Westtown School quilt we would like to share with you was made by Alice Comfort Haverstick (1813-1888).  Alice attended Westtown School at age seventeen and was there for six months beginning in October 1830.

View from the South Porch of Westtown School.  Source: Centennial History of
Westtown Boarding School, 1799-1899.

Alice was the sixth of nine children born to Ezra and Margaret Shoemaker Comfort after their marriage in 1800.  She married George M. Haverstick March 4, 1847 in Gwynedd Monthly Meeting, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania..  Alice and her husband had two children: Rebecca born in 1847, and Alice born in 1850.  Alice died February 24, 1888 and is buried in Moorestown, New Jersey.

The Alice Comfort Haverstick Quilt is comprised of pieces of Margaret Shoemaker Comfort's silk dresses and shawls that Alice "repurposed" by piecing and quilting them together.  She bound the quilt with a cotton edging on three sides, producing a quilt that measures 81.5 inches by 89.5 inches.  The quilt's date is unknown.

Alice Comfort Haverstick Quilt.  Full length and detail
photographs courtesy of the Westtown School Archives,
West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Aesthetically, the quilt's muted shades and plain pattern are what many think of as "typically Quaker."  Although evidence of the complexity and variations of colors and patterns found in Quaker quilts often contradicts this plain aesthetic, there were apparently stricter expectations regarding their dress, which was translated effectively from Margaret's clothing into this quilt.
Margaret Shoemaker was born in Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, in 1782, the daughter of David and Jane Roberts Shoemaker.  On October 28, 1800, she was married to Ezra Fell Comfort in Gwynedd Monthly Meeting.  Ezra was from an old and distinguished Quaker family and was an eminent and outspoken minister of the Religious Society of Friends.
Margaret Shoemaker Comfort.  Source: Public Member
Ezra was one of several Quaker ministers who found themselves embroiled in the conflict and debates surrounding the religious schism that took place in Philadelphia in 1827 and split the Religious Society of Friends into two factions, the Orthodox and the Hicksite.  The dispute originated when some Orthodox Friends broke away from the original teachings of the founder of Quakerism, George Fox.  Fox preached that one needed no intermediaries for communion with the Divine; that every individual could be guided by nothing more than the Inner Light.  At the time of the schism, many Orthodox Friends had been called to a more evangelical, Bible-centered approach to their religion - an approach opposed by the followers of Elias Hicks (Hicksites) who believed Friends should remain true to the original precepts of the religion as preached by Fox.
Ezra Comfort was firmly on the Orthodox side of the disputes that took place and was one of the ministers who personally confronted and debated with Elias Hicks about the direction of the church and its beliefs.  Differing views on a variety of doctrinal issues surrounding the turmoil were experienced by all members of the Religious Society of Friends at this time.  Margaret, as Ezra's wife and a devoted Quaker, must have found the times unsettling and unpleasant as they brought even close friends and family members into conflict over doctrine.
Alice Comfort Haverstick Quilt.  Detail.  Photograph
courtesy of the Westtown School Archives, West Chester,
Margaret Shoemaker Comfort died on March 31, 1873 at the age of ninety-two.  The quilt made by her daughter, Alice, provides a fascinating document of the fabrics she wore in her lifetime, as well as a loving tribute to her life.
Accession records, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania. census, family tree, and U.S. Quaker Meeting records, accessed 7/10/2014.
Dewees, Watson W., Sarah B. Dewees and Sarah Lovett.  Centennial History of Westtown Boarding School, 1799-1899.  Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., 1899.
Ingle, H. Larry.  Quakers in Conflict, The Hicksite Reformation.  Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publications, 1998.
Note:  The authors apologize to the Westtown School Archives for the depictions of the two detailed quilt photos.  For some unknown reason, the Blogger software "flipped" the images and we could not adjust them. 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2014.



July 14, 2014

Another Silk Quilt in the Archives of Westtown School

Last time we introduced you to a silk and cotton quilt completed by  Westtown student Elizabeth Dunn in 1867.  She began her quilt in 1860 while she was a student at Westtown School but this project was unrelated to the School's curriculum.  Needlework, taught to girls in many early Quaker schools, was removed from the Westtown curriculum in 1843.  Elizabeth seems to have initiated her quilt project on her own.

This time we would like to share another quilt in the archival collections of Westtown School in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Susanna Forsythe Sharpless Quilt.  Photograph courtesy of Westtown School
Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
This quilt was made by Susanna Forsythe Sharpless and exemplifies the muted color tones favored by 19th century Quaker women in both their silk clothing and their silk quilts.  Newly purchased silk often was used by families and congregations to make wedding quilts for newly married couples.  Silk for quilts also was taken from clothing, such as wedding dresses, or from remnants left over from dress making.
Susanna's quilt is comprised of silk and cotton fabrics and measures 93 inches by 93.5 inches.  It has a solid fabric edging in cotton.  We do not know when Susanna made this quilt or if it is associated, in any way, with her marriage to Aaron Sharpless in 1847.
Susanna Forsythe was born on May 1, 1815 in East Bradford, Pennsylvania, the daughter of James and Ann Truman Forsythe.  At the age of thirty-two, she became the second wife of Aaron Sharpless at Abington Monthly Meeting nine miles north of Philadelphia near Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.  The date was October 6, 1847.
Aaron was six years older than Susanna when they married.  He was born February 13, 1809 to Isaac and Sarah Sharpless, also in East Bradford.  He had been previously married to Susanna Kite, whom he wed in 1835 and who passed away in 1844.
Both Aaron and Susanna had long and close ties to Westtown School.  Aaron became a pupil there in 1823 and became a member of the School's Committee in 1846, the year before he married Susanna Forsythe.  Susanna first attended Westtown School in 1829 and was added to the School's Committee in 1864.  From May 1869 though April 1874, the couple served as Superintendent and Matron of the School.
Susanna Forsythe Sharpless.  Photograph courtesy of Westtown School Archives,
West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Aaron was described in 1899 as "[...] a plain farmer, but of more than ordinary good sense, an elder of discernment and religious experience, and on all practical questions a man of excellent judgment."  Both Aaron and Susanna "[...] represented that of which Westtown was an exponent - good, practical education, and lives of self-denial, dedicated to the service of Truth."  (Dewees, 162.)
A view of the grounds of Westtown School.  Source:
Wikimedia Commons.
Susanna lived to be ninety-two years of age, dying in Chester County, Pennsylvania, on October 8, 1907.  Aaron predeceased Susanna by thirty-one years, dying at the age of sixty-six in Philadelphia on January 14, 1876 - just two years after leaving his position as Superintendent at Westtown School.  Both are buried at the Birmingham Friends Burial Ground, South, in Birmingham, Chester County, Pennsylvania.
Accession records, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
"An American Family History:  The Abington Meeting - Early Years" at census, family tree, and U.S. Quaker Meeting Records, accessed 7/6/2014.
Dewees, Watson W., Sarah B. Dewees and Sarah Lovett.  Centennial History of Westtown Boarding School, 1799-1899.  Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., 1899.
Personal email correspondence between Mary Holton Robare and Mary Brooks, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2014.


July 1, 2014

Silk Quilts in the Archives of Westtown School

Westtown School, founded in 1799 by members of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, houses a number of archives that include papers, letters, samplers, quilts, art work, and other material relevant to the School's history.  Among these holdings are three silk quilts we would like to share with you.

The first, and the topic of this post, was made by Elizabeth Dunn who was a student at the School from May of 1859 until her graduation in 1865.

The Elizabeth Dunn Quilt.  Photograph courtesy of the Westtown School Archives,
West Chester, Pennsylvania.
This beautiful quilt is comprised of both silk and cotton fabrics and features six vertical strips in the Tumbling Blocks pattern about 6 inches wide each, separated by five 8 inch wide strips of sage green silk.  An 8 inch wide border of darker silk surrounds the main body of the quilt and displays a one-half inch edging.  Visible on one corner of the quilt is an inscription in cross stitch that reads: "Commenced 1860 / Completed 1867 / E. Dunn."

Elizabeth Dunn Quilt, detail.  Photograph courtesy of the Westtown School Archives,
West Chester Pennsylvania.
Elizabeth was born April 23, 1846 in Trenton, Mercer County, New Jersey, the daughter of Phillip Palmer Dunn and Sarah Ellis Decou.  When they enrolled their daughter at Westtown School, Elizabeth was thirteen years old.
Westtown was established not only to educate Quaker children but also to provide a "guarded" environment for teaching and passing on the values and precepts of the Religious Society of Friends. It was located about twenty-five miles from Philadelphia in West Chester County on 600 acres of wooded land away from big city influences.  In fact, the School was a full day's coach ride from Philadelphia and its many distractions.
View of the woods surrounding Westtown School today.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The year after Elizabeth enrolled at Westtown she began work on her silk and cotton quilt.  One can imagine the tranquility of the environment, when not pursuing the rigorous study expected of Westtown students, and how the environment may have lent itself to the quiet pleasure of quilt making.  The quilt probably occupied Elizabeth's free time off and on throughout her stay at Westtown - time that may have been hard to come by given her studies and her role as an assistant teacher during 1865.  She finally completed the quilt in 1867, two years after leaving the School.
Elizabeth may have been inspired to complete the quilt in anticipation of her marriage to Thomas Alsop Bell on September 17, 1868 at Chesterfield Monthly Meeting in Burlington County, New Jersey.  Whatever provided the impetus to finish the project she began as a young girl, the quilt survived these many years and is back at Westtown where Elizabeth was when she began making it.  We would like to believe that the quilt provided fond memories of Westtown School throughout Elizabeth's life.  She passed away in 1898, one year before the death of her husband.
Accession records, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania. census, family tree, and U.S. Quaker Meeting Records, accessed 6/25/14.
Dewees, Watson W., Sarah B. Dewees and Sarah Lovett.  Centennial History of Westtown Boarding School, 1799-1899.  Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., 1899.
Personal email correspondence between Mary Holton Robare and Mary Brooks, Westtown School Archives, West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Smedley, Susanna Assisted by Anna Hartshorne Brown.  Westtown Through the Years: Catalog 1799-1945. Westtown, PA: Westtown Alumni Association, 1945.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2014.



June 16, 2014

Holmes Family Quilts, Part 3

We return once more for a look at the Holmes Family quilts attributed to Anne E. Holmes of Loudoun County, Virginia.

These family quilts are all beautifully constructed, but as they were studied for recurring patterns we noticed that several of them contain odd, seemingly random choices of fabrics.

To creative eyes, the visual effect evokes a feeling of spontaneity, lending a charming surprise fo viewers.
We find the same occurrence on another quilt bearing the name of George W. Holmes.  The large blocks set on point (diagonally) between broad bands of sashing distinguish this handsome quilt, as do the diamonds emanating from the ends of the eight-pointed stars.
Anne Holmes' name is inscribed on two of the seven Holmes Family quilts, but others are inscribed with the names of her siblings George and Lorena.  This is not the first time we have found a group of family quilts inscribed with the names of siblings.  It reminds us that a name inscribed on a quilt might - but does not necessarily - denote the quilt's maker.  Furthermore, while there is documentation of nineteenth-century quilts made by men, there is such a strong oral family tradition that the quilts were made by Anne that it is unlikely that George made "his own" quilt.
George (1847-1915) became a Director in the Loudoun National Bank at Leesburg, Virginia.  He married Rebecca Crockett and they had two children.  They resided in Woodburn, Virginia, in a home they called "Meadow View Farm"
When studying historical quilts, it is important to ask as many questions as possible.  Anne and her sister lived with their parents for many decades and together even after their parents had died and Anne was married.  It is possible both worked on the quilts.  Their mother, Esther (or "Hester") Thomas Holmes lived from 1817-1892.  She may have had a hand in them too, as well as any of the help who shared their abode.  However, given the family tradition attributing the quilts to Anne, we will record her as the most likely maker of these wonderful quilts.
Photographs by Mary Holton Robare.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2014.