May 15, 2013

Northern Shenandoah Valley Quilt Show

Every once and a while we get a chance to emerge from dusty archives and hallowed halls of museums and historical societies to see what today's quilters are doing.  Although this post takes a detour from the topic of historical quilts made by Quakers, we thought our followers might enjoy seeing some pictures from the Northern Shenandoah Valley Quilt Show that ran April 12-14, 2013.  Exhibiting about 130 quilts and 5 pieces of wearable art, the show was held at the Clarke County Parks and Recreation Center in Berryville, VA, and was described as "a biennial event that celebrates and recognizes fabric art artisans from the Northern Shenandoah Valley".

Sponsored by the Apple Valley Needle Threaders, the Shenandoah Piecemakers, and the Skyline Quilters' Guild, with participating members from the Stitching with Mary Quilt Group and the Top of Virginia Quilt Guild, this year's theme was "Civil War Remembered".

Northern Shenandoah Valley Quilt Show, 2013.
The theme was reflected in the choice of fabrics and patterns, as in the following 88 X 88 inch quilt titled "Civil War Stars".  It is owned and made by Kristin Westfall and long-arm machine quilted by Christy Dillon.
"Civil War Stars."
Another stunning show-themed quilt on display was the 60 X 60 inch "Civil War Remembered" owned and made by Linda Hammond.
"Civil War Remembered."
With many other categories, vendors, and demonstrations of techniques, one day was hardly enough time to spend at the show but, with permission, we were able to get a few more photos to share.  Kristin Westfall had many of her works on display including "Butternut and Blue" which she made from a pattern published by Barbara Brackman in her book of the same name.  Kristin graciously agreed to pose with her quilt, which was long-arm machine quilted by Cindy Dillon.
Kristin Westfall with her "Butternut and Blue" quilt. 
One of our favorite quilts was the 96 X 96 inch "Heritage", also made by Kristin Westfall and long-arm machine quilted by Cindy Dillon.  (Of the six "featured" quilts in the show, three were made by Kristin.)

Detail of "Heritage".
Before leaving we had to make a stop at the booth of our friendly local shopkeeper, Kelley Bora, who runs the Scrappy Apple in Winchester, VA.
Kelley Bora's booth.
After studying several historical Quaker quilts made within a 15 mile radius of where the show was held, we were so pleased to see the art and craft of quilting still thriving in this community.
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All photographs by Mary Holton Robare.  Special thanks to Linda Hammond, Sue Hickman, Kristin Westfall, and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Quilt show.  For more on the show and the Scrappy Apple see:
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.

May 1, 2013

"I Was at a Quilting Party Last Sixth Day Afternoon, and Ate Peaches."

So wrote Elizabeth Margaret Chandler to her aunt, Jane Powell of  Philadelphia, from Elizabeth's Hazelbank homestead in Michigan on September 2, 1833.  This one sentence generally describes a common activity in the 18th and 19th centuries: a coming together of neighbors, family, and friends to provide communal support to the act of quilt making and to enjoy time together at table.  In addition, these events usually included the opportunity for young people to meet each other and spend some chaperoned time getting acquainted--an activity that fostered eventual marriages and a strengthening of the community.

Quilting Party.  From Godey's Lady's Book, September 1849.
Communal quilting events have been variously described as "parties", "frolics", and "bees", the latter only from the second half of the 19th century presumably to describe the busy, communal activity as similar to that of a beehive.  As early as 1799, Quaker Elizabeth Drinker mentioned such a gathering in her diary:  "Sally Downing is gone to Tommy Downings next door to a quilting match where I was invited, but did not suit me to go . . ."  (Crane, 214.)  One wonders what she meant by the word "match".
Margaret Elizabeth Chandler's published letters mention three occasions of attending a "quilting".  One in the summer of 1832 was attended by "about twenty girls besides myself" who were joined in the evening by "about the same number of young men".  (Mason, 121.)  She goes on to discuss the dress of those attending, assuring her aunt that they were as well attired as Philadelphians.  The second quilting, in the fall of 1833, was where Elizabeth ate peaches.  "We had a prodigious variety of cakes at tea--and there were two tables full sat down--first the girls and then the young men--though the party was not so large as the first one I attended after we came here.  I was at another a few weeks ago, but twas not so large nor so pleasant a one as this."  (Mason, 196.)  Accounts from other women's journals and letters indicate that some gatherings such as these also included, at day's end, dancing to music provided by one or more attendees who played instruments such as "fiddles".
Although Elizabeth was a Michigan pioneer, the community around her seems more settled and sophisticated than that of Anna Briggs Bentley, a Quaker from Maryland who settled on the Ohio frontier in 1826.  In a letter home dated 3rd mo 2nd 1828, Anna described a "chopping frolic and sewing party" which included twenty-two women and twenty-men.  With the help of neighbor women, Anna provided this crowd with a sumptious repast that included both a midday meal and supper.  "For dinner [the midday meal] we had a turkey, 3 fowls, 3 quarters of a small fat veal, a nice piece of corned beef, potatoes, turnips, cold slaw, parsnips, pickled cucumbers and beets for supper and excellent green apple pies, peach and green apple sauce, real coffee, tea, rolls, light bread, pickles, fruits stewed, and relishes of the cold meat left at dinner, etc."  (Foster, 41.)  All of these delights (except for the coffee and tea) came from livestock, poultry, and gardens raised by the Bentleys and their neighbors.  There was no mention of dancing.  Hopefully a lot of wood got chopped that day because Anna noted afterward that she was totally exhausted and that not much sewing was done.

Women sewing together.  From Women, A Pictorial Archive from
Nineteeth-Century Sources, copyright free illustrations selected by Jim Harter.
Not all women on America's frontier in the 19th century were lucky enough to have contact with neighbors or a community nearby.  Many of them pieced and quilted in solitude, sometimes taking many years to complete a quilt in the small amount of time allotted between chores and other family obligations.  They lacked not only the help to finish quilting tasks but also the companionship of other women, so important to sustaining their lives on the frontier.  When Ella-Elizabeth Spaulding from Ludlow, Vermont, married Joseph Willard Reed on September 5, 1854, Willard immediately migrated west taking Ellen, as she was known by her family, far from home to the frontier of Wisconsin.  Here she lived in virtual isolation and poverty until her early death from tuberculosis in 1858.
Ellen's letters to her family repeatedly revealed her loneliness and longing to see her family and friends back in Vermont.  Her parents were encouraged when they finally received a letter describing Ellen's attendance at a quilting party.  "I have been and helped her [a Mrs. Cady] quilt two afternoons she had a great quilting there was a lot of the neighbors there and some of them spoke to me and some went home without as much as saying why do you so (as Uncle Alden said)  I expect they were afraid they should get bit."  (Lipsett, 80.)  This was reportedly Ellen's only social event in Wisconsin.  Mrs. Cady and her family moved farther west shortly thereafter.
Throughout 19th century America, in metropolitan areas and on the western frontiers, quilting parties seemed a preferred way to finish a quilt project.  These parties not only helped to complete quilts, they provided women with some things that were much more important: companionship, social interaction, good food and, frequently, a roaring good time.
Crane, Elaine Forman (ed.).  The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, The Life Cycle of an Eighteenth Century Woman.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

Foster, Emily (ed.).  American Grit, A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier.  Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2002.

Fox, Sandi.  For Purpose and Pleasure, Quilting Together in Nineteenth-Century America.  Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 1995.

Lipsett, Linda Otto.  Remember Me, Women & Their Friendship Quilts.  Lincolnwood, IL: The Quilt Digest Press, 1997.

Mason, Marcia J. Heringa.  Remember the Distance that Divides Us, The Family Letters of Philadelphia Quaker Abolitionist and Michigan Pioneer Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, 1830-1842.  East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2004.

Reich, Sue.  Quiltings, Frolicks & Bees, 100 Years of Signature Quilts.  Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2012.

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.