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.



  1. What a 'secret garden' for quilters. It would be difficult to leave such a place.

  2. Thanks for this post. I was at the seminar but didn't take the woolen mill trip. Too bad we have to make a choice between wonderful study sessions and wonderful field trips! I've enjoyed both of you the last two weeks - met Lynda at the seminar and thoroughly enjoyed Mary's talk in Winchester on Saturday.