July 14, 2012

More About Block Placements in 19th Century Signature Quilts

Our last posting concerned the placement of inscribed blocks on a quilt's surface based on the closeness of relationships to the quilt maker or quilt recipient.  When studied closely, other patterns can reveal themselves based not only on inscribed names but also on the fabric used in creating the blocks.

A lot has been learned by studying the Pidgeon Family Quilt, including seemingly deliberate patterns that emerged after close consideration of its block placements.  The quilt was made ca. 1850 by Sarah (Chandlee) Pidgeon of Sandy Spring, Maryland, shortly after her marriage to Samuel Pidgeon of Brucetown, Virginia.  She arranged her blocks in a pattern that alternated blocks of cotton applique with blocks of chintz-work. 

Pidgeon Family Quilt.  Collection of The Colonial Williamsburg
Foundation.  Photograph by Barbara Tricarico.

After transcribing and identifying the people whose names were inscribed on its blocks, something less obvious was discovered.  Of those blocks with legible inscriptions, Maryland residents signed all that contain the chintz; Virginians signed all of the inscribed, cotton applique squares.

Furthermore, some of the actual quilting appears to emphasize relationships, such as identical leaves that were stitched around the names of the sisters-in-law on these blocks.  (The stitching is in white so the leaves are difficult to make out in the photographs below.)  As you can see, Deborah and Beulah Iddings Lea also shared the same chintz.

Close-ups of the Pidgeon Family Quilt showing the initials and last name of Deborah
Iddings Lea and the initials of Beulah Iddings Lea.  Photographs by Mary Holton Robare.

The center block is an exception to the Maryland and Virginia block styles as it contains both cotton applique and chintz-work.  This combination is strikingly symbolic.  In essence, it emphasizes a union-in-cloth between the communities of the bride and groom.  Sarah's sister left the inscription, barely visible below the flowers, that says: "Eliza Chandlee, Friendship Offerings".

Pidgeon Family Quilt, detail.  Photograph by Barbara Tricarico.

Sarah and Eliza were extremely close.  This we know from their letters and journals that are now archived at the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College.  Almost every surviving letter written by Eliza Chandlee refers to quilting and needlework.  It was an inextricable part of her daily life, part entertainment, part necessity, but always worth a written mention.  She wrote: "I have an invite to a quilting tomorrow, if it should storm & I have to stay at home I will have to do as I have done today, hunt up all the fancy work I can find in the way of patching, darning, etc., etc., etc."

For those who sew and quilt as a way of life, it is not hard to imagine the care and planning women put into the everyday tasks of mending as well as into their placement of blocks in historical Quaker quilts.


Robare, Mary Holton.  "Cheerful and Loving Persistence: Two Historical Quaker Quilts."  In Uncoverings 2007, edited by Joanna E. Evans.  Volume 28 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group.

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare

July 4, 2012

Name Placement on Signature Quilts

One of the most interesting aspects of signature quilt research is determining the relationships of those named on sampler-album and single-pattern friendship quilts.  The names on these quilts represent people who were considered part of the quilt maker's and/or quilt recipient's community of friends and relations, whether dead or alive at the time the quilt was made.  People with the same last names are usually related to each other and may even be members of the quilt maker's or quilt recipient's family.  Other family members may not be readily apparent if they have different last names, but research into what-appear-to-be the dominant families named on a quilt can define and clarify the familial, community, or other relationships they share.

One clue in trying to establish the relationships of those named on a quilt is the physical location of names on the quilt's surface.  In her book Philena's Friendship Quilt, A Quaker Farewell to Ohio, Lynda Salter Chenoweth cites three examples of Quaker quilts where the names of close family members are grouped together in the center or at the top of the quilt in prominent positions.  These quilts are all single-pattern friendship quilts.  One was made in 1847 for Ann Coppock (Knox Township, Columbiana County, Ohio) on the occasion of her marriage; the second was made by Elizabeth Stanton 1859-1865 (Barnesville, Belmont County, Ohio) to affirm her family ties to the Wilburite faction of the Religious Society of Friends; and, the third is a silk wedding quilt made in 1851 for Sarah Williams and Samuel Emlen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The cotton Ohio quilts are in the collections of the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus.  The silk quilt is at the Winterthur Museum, Gardens & Library in Delaware.

Silk quilt made in celebration of the marriage of Sarah Williams and
Samuel Emlen at the Sixth Street Meeting in Philadelphia, September 30, 1851. 
Photograph courtesy of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens & Library.

Close-ups of Williams/Emlen quilt blocks pieced in the LeMoyne pattern that display
the names of Hannah and Mary Ann Webster.  Photographs courtesy
of the Winterthur Museum, Gardens & Library.

There are 91 names inscribed on the Williams/Emlen quilt but only about 70 of them are still legible.  The central portion of the quilt displays the names of family members, including Sarah's parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Additional groupings of names on the quilt cluster: 1) those of friends Sarah made attending Westtown School in Chester County, Pennsylvania; 2) the names of friends made through her work with the Female Society of Philadelphia for the Relief and Employment of the Poor; and, 3) the names of members of Sarah's Quaker Meeting and neighbors who lived near her home.  The groupings of non-family names on the quilt are placed out toward the edges of the quilt while the family names occupy central position.

Quilt made for Philena Cooper Hambleton (Columbiana County, Ohio)
in 1853 to take with her when she, her husband Osborn, and their two
daughters moved to Iowa.  Collection of Lynda Salter Chenoweth. 
This photograph is used by permission of Ohio University

Genealogical research into the people named on Philena Cooper Hambleton's quilt revealed that the blocks forming the center three columns of her quilt display the names of Philena's in-laws and immediate family.  The outer two columns of blocks contain the names of more distant relatives and Philena's friends and neighbors in Butler Township. Since Philena and her husband are not named on the quilt, it took a good deal of time delving into Quaker Meeting records, public records, and family histories to figure out the relationships of all the people named on the quilt and to determine, beyond doubt, that Philena was the quilt's recipient.

This process started by color-coding blocks by family name to reveal any groupings that might exist and that might suggest family members by prominence of name placement.

Color-coded chart of the blocks in Philena Cooper Hambleton's quilt
and the placement of these blocks by name.  This chart is reproduced by
permission of Ohio University Press, www.ohioswallow.com.

Philena's immediate family members turned out to be those coded green and yellow: green for her parents and brothers (Coopers), yellow for her Clempson half-sisters, born to her mother after her father's death and mother's remarriage to Reuben Clempson.  Her Hambleton in-laws are displayed on the blocks coded red.  Aunts, uncles, and cousins (plus close neighbors) are named on the color-coded blocks in the left and right columns at quilt's edge.  These outer blocks reveal a deliberate, symmetrical placement of the blocks in each column based on family name.  But, the most interesting and subtle feature of Philena's quilt turns out to be the placement of the Hambleton blocks in a manner that forms a large "H" at the center of the quilt.  This was only detected because the Hambleton blocks, like all the others, were color-coded in search of groupings and patterns of placement.

Discovering the relationships and stories of people named on signature quilts is one of the many pleasures these quilts provide.  Clues that point to familial relationships can, at times, be seen by the placement of names on a quilt.  The next time you try to decipher the relationships of people named on a quilt, color-code the blocks according to family name.  You may find patterns that give placement prominence to one or more surnames.  If so, these people probably had a closer relationship to the quilt maker or quilt recipient than any of the others.


Chenoweth, Lynda Salter.  Philena's Friendship Quilt, A Quaker Farewell to Ohio.  Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2009.  (c) Ohio University Press, 2009.

Eaton, Linda.  Quilts in a material world, Selections from the Winterthur Collection.  New York: Abrams in association with The Henry Francis du Pont Wnterthur Museum, Inc., 2007.

(c)  Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2012