September 15, 2013

A Variable Star Quilt Top

Last week we had the great pleasure of seeing an unfinished quilt top inscribed with the names of at least two mid-nineteenth century Quakers, members of the Religious Society of Friends. ( Research is just beginning to further identify the people whose names appear on the quilt top.) The top displays inscribed dates of 1844 and 1845 and measures 87 X 87 inches.  Many of its forty-one square blocks, sixteen triangles, and four quarter-blocks contain names.

Variable Star Quilt Top.  Collection of Nancy Hahn.  All photographs by
Mary Holton Robare.
Both men's and women's names appear on the quilt top, but just one couple is represented together in one inscription, although we do not know why -- or for whom -- the blocks were compiled.  The block inscribed with the names of the couple was placed nearer a corner (rather than the center) of the quilt top.  Whatever the role the couple played in this quilt project, they were fascinating people.
The quilt top owner's initial research discovered Daniel and Hannah T. Longstreth (inscription seen below) were prominent Friends.  Daniel married Hannah Townsend on 25 December 1832 at the Green Street Meeting, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, twelve years before this top was inscribed.  They were both clerks of Quaker Meetings.  Hannah was an ardent abolitionist and a friend of Lucretia Mott.  She was also a member of a relief organization that sewed and prepared supplies and clothing for soldiers during the Civil War.

Several blocks include hand-drawn art.  As a serious collector of antique quilting tools, the owner explained there were elaborate stamps available at the time.  However, stamps did not produce the finely-described lines and evenly applied ink to the degree seen in this quilt top's inscriptions.  Two  of our favorites are seen below.

One bonus of seeing unfinished work is that, because it is unused, the colors are still vibrant.
It is also fascinating to see how blocks were constructed.  In at least one case, the maker pieced fabrics so that the pattern on the front would match-up, as seen in the foreground of the image below.
Thank you to Nancy Hahn for sharing her wonderful quilt top, and to Georgina Fries of Bellwether Dry Goods for additional observations.
Jordan, John W. LL. D., ed.  Colonial Families of Philadelphia, Volume II.  New York & Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1911.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.

September 2, 2013

Back to School Clothes for Rebecca Jane

People often wonder about the aesthetics of Quaker quilts.  Why do some appear to adhere to a tenet of simplicity and prescriptions for plainness, while others are almost a riot of color and complicated design?  While we continue to speculate what influenced historical Quaker quilt makers, we find it interesting to detour from quilts and learn one Quaker girl's opinions on the fashions of her day.  Her outlook reflects her life as a country girl attending school outside of Philadelphia in the 1830s.

Rebecca Jane Walker was born in 1815.  She was the daughter of Quakers, Isaac and Susannah Talbott Walker of Waterford, Virginia.  (Images of Susannah Talbott Walker appear in our posts of September 9, 2012 and June 1, 2013.)  Rebecca Jane exchanged several letters with family members during her stays at two different boarding schools in Pennsylvania.  Historian Bronwen Souders kindly shared her annotated transcriptions of these privately held letters.  Excerpts are reproduced here with permission.

Abolitionist Emmor Kimber founded and ran the boarding school (known as the Kimberton Boarding School by 1830) that Rebecca Jane attended at the start of her correspondence.  The school was closed in the late 1840s when parents discovered he was also using the building to aid escaping slaves.

Painting by Kimberton artist John Pierce (1900-1970) as the town was thought to be
in 1834.  Kimberton Boarding School is seen at the top middle.  Courtesy of Kimberton Inn.
Rebecca, age 15, noted many details in her first letter from Kimberton addressed to her mother and grandmother, postmarked 8 May 1830.  (Rebecca Jane's nineteenth-century punctuation, grammar, and spelling are retained here, as transcribed by Souders.)  Although homesick, she reported "I know I shall have to stay there I will think it is for my own good [...] we sew on seventh days after we are questioned in every thing about siphering [sic] Botany history and many other things."
She almost always concluded her letters by extending affection to her other family members, including her seven-years-younger sister, Mary Elizabeth (seen below as a young woman).
Mary Elizabeth Walker Williams (1822-1875).  Courtesy of Theodore Robare.
On the third page of this letter Rebecca wrote, "I dressed the evening in what they/thee[?] told me [...]I washed and put on clean clothes so the girls dress as if they were at home when I went to meeting.  I put on my black cape and ple[a]ted ruffle black silk apron."
Her letters frequently mention clothing.  From Kimberton, 10 Mo 19th, 1830, she implored "if thee makes my dresses, line the sle[e]ves and make them as large as father is willing."
Ferdinand Geor Waldmuller, Die Familie des Notars Dr. Josef August Eltz, 1835
 showing fashionable sleeves of the times.  Collection of
Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere.  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
11 Mo 14, 1830, Rebecca Jane wrote to her parents, "Mother I have not made up my mind whether I will make my frocks myself.  I have to mend a great deal."  She further explained, "I have got holes in both of my calicoes [sic] got in the summer All of the girls are going to wear worsted."
Rebecca apparently found some time to sew for herself.  On 12 Mo 12th, 1830, in a letter to her grandmother Rebecca Hirst Talbott Moore, "I have finished my worsted apron all to the hooks and eyes."
Two years later on 10 Mo 14th, 1832, a more worldly Rebecca Jane wrote from West Chester Boarding School to her mother: "about my clothes.  I intend to get two gingham aprons and some muslin for capes with that money in the first place for I have had no new capes of any kind since I have been here and I begin to need some.  And I should like to [have?] some other new clothes which I expect the[e] will send."
She later continues, "I should like to look pretty smart among the rest for I think there is something in your dress that makes you popular here, though I think it a very foolish practice [...] And please mother send me a nice little mareno shall [shawl] dress for I need one [...] Please send good full paterns [sic] for my dresses and not light colour no more little dotted calico please.  I think thee never heard such talk about it, the dress I had, I want my dresses made here, and if the[e] sends my dark gingham please make it short in the waisted [?] And tighter in the body, and it will be most too long in the skirt for this place and if it is made shorter in the waist it will just fit ..."
As our readers return their children to school, we hope to offer comfort in that some things never change.
We are grateful to Bronwen Souders who so generously shared her transcriptions.  All excerpts reproduced with permission, courtesy of the Waterford Foundation Local History Collection, Waterford, Virginia, from Lewis Leigh Jr.
Thank you to the Kimberton Inn for permission to reproduce the painting by John Pierce.  It now hangs in the lobby of their establishment.  See
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.