November 1, 2013

The Sandy Spring Quilt - Part 1

The Sandy Spring Quilt is a single-pattern friendship quilt made ca. 1860 that belongs to the Montgomery County Historical Society in Rockville, Maryland. The quilt is made up of thirty-six, ten-inch square blocks displaying the names of many different people.  The quilt measures 80 1/2 X 84 inches and each of its blocks contains two different fabrics on a background of unbleached muslin.  The block pattern is known, along with other names assigned to it, as "Blazing Star".  (Refer to Barbara Brackman's pieced pattern numbered 3772.)

The Sandy Spring Quilt is seen hanging at top behind the "Pieced Quilt in Eastern
 (Blazing)Star Pattern" featured in our post of October 1, 2013.  Photo taken by Mary
 Holton Robare at the Virginia Quilt Museum, 2008. Both quilts are in the collection
of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.
Filled with thin cotton batting, the bedcovering was quilted in designs of diagonal lines and feather plumes.  The blocks of the quilt were pieced by hand and joined together by machine.  The cream-colored backing was rolled to the front to form the binding.  One of the blocks is inscribed with the name Sarah E. Stabler.
Sandy Spring Quilt.  Details of block inscribed "Sarah E. Stabler".  Photos by Joanna
Church.  Courtesy of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.
Anyone who has tried to decipher old, faded handwriting on fabric can appreciate the efforts required to interpret many of this quilt's inscriptions!
Sarah E. Kirk (as she signed her name on an earlier quilt) married Charles Stabler in 1853.  In 1860 the couple settled on a fifty-six acre portion of the Montgomery County Stabler family estate, in a house called Sunnyside.
Sunnyside in about 1940.  Photo donated to the Montgomery County Historical
Society by Roger B. Farquhar.
By the time they moved to Sunnyside, two of their four children had been born.  They moved in 1866 but moved again "in rather a panic" two years later to a farm known as The Cottage.
The Cottage about 1940.  Photo donated to the Montgomery County Historical
Society by Roger B. Farquhar.
The panic was due to the fact that the railroad was coming to town and that it would spoil the quietude of the countryside.  Although such rumors swirled for over a century, the tracks of the "iron horse" never extended to the village of Sandy Spring.
When was the Sandy Spring Quilt made and why?  The quilt itself offers a dizzying array of seemingly contradictory clues.  To start with, the construction techniques and fabrics of the quilt are confusing.  Upon examination, the quilt blocks appear executed with greatly varying degrees of skill.  Stitches on one block are sloppy while elsewhere they are expert.  Stripes of one block do not line up, while blocks of others contain perfectly matched fabric patterns.  For several decades - from the 1840s onward- manufacturers produced the utilized prints.
Does the finishing by sewing machine offer a definitive date? The sewing machine went into production in the late 1850s and early 1860s.  Even earlier home use was documented in Virginia around 1850.
Seamstress ca. 1853.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
Division, Washington, D.C.
If it was within their means, quilters were using the newly invented machine as soon as it was available.  Since the Quakers of Sandy Spring were affluent enough to purchase the new technology, the most we can deduce is that a machine-sewn binding was completed sometime after the 1850s.
Many diaries and letters mention early home use of sewing machines including a letter from Anna Farquhar whose name is inscribed on one of the blocks of the Sandy Spring Quilt.
Sandy Spring Quilt.  Detail of block inscribed with the name of Anna Farquhar. 
 Photo by Joanna Church.  Courtesy of the Montgomery County Historical\Society,
Rockville, Maryland.
Sometime before her 1865 marriage, Anna Farquhar wrote:  "We reached home without any adventures this morning and I soon seated myself at the sewing machine but could do nothing with it.  Then Miss Mary came down and worried with it an hour without any better success, and I almost gave up, but after dinner Charlie got it to sew a little and this evening it seems to be getting back to its normal good behavior."
Brackman, Barbara.  Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. Paducah, KY: American Quilter's Society, 1993.
A significant amount of this post was adapted from an article first published by the American Quilt Study Group.  See 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.
Special thanks to Joanna Church, Collections Manager of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland.  See and visit Joanna's blog at
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.


No comments:

Post a Comment