December 1, 2015

Dot's Circus Quilts

Dorothy "Dot" Everett (Pidgeon) Berry (1899-1987) was a birthright member of Hopewell Meeting, Virginia.  She was known in her later years as a prolific knitter, making up patterns as she went along while rocking in a chair with a cat on her lap and a drink at her side.  She was born into a many-generations family of Religious Society of Friends members and grew up on the Pidgeon family farm, "Circle Hill, that spanned Frederick and Clarke Counties, Virginia.  Dot was Mary Holton Robare's grandmother-in-law and Mary had the great pleasure of knowing her for seven years.

Circle Hill farm house built ca. 1800.  Photograph taken about 1900.  Courtesy of
Ellen Berry.
 
In addition to her knitting, Dot made quilts for family members and, as far as we know, they were all variations of the same pattern.
 
Dot's earliest known surviving quilt was made for her first cousin-once-removed, Cynthia Evans, around the time of her birth in 1926.  Cynthia's mother had grown up on Circle Hill farm as a member of Dot's family.  She was one of four children living on the farm that included Dot, her sister, Cynthia's mother Hannah Williams, and (for a while) James Williams, so baby Cynthia was more like a niece than a cousin to Dot.
 
Circus Quilt, detail.  Made ca. 1926 by Dot Berry for Cynthia Evans.  The quilt was photographed
in an exhibit of Quaker Quilts held at the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, June 2014.
It is shown folded into the Society's "falcon head" or "hooded" cradle along with a doll that Dot
knitted as a toy for Cynthia ca. 1926.  Collection of Mary Holton Robare.
 
There is interest from quilt history scholars in the pattern Dot used to make the quilt.  Each block may have had its own name, and multiple names have been recorded for similar quilts.  Marin F. Hanson discussed this in 2006 in the publication Textile.  A very similar quilt appeared on the cover of Uncoverings 2010, the annual journal of the American Quilt Study Group.  In this journal, Virginia Gunn's research cites the Spring 1926 issue of McCall Needlework and Decorative Arts for publishing the pattern (no. 1633) as a "Picture Patchwork Quilt."  Interestingly, Dot's family always referred to it as a Circus Quilt, depicting scenes in cars of a circus train.
 
Cynthia's quilt.  Collection of Mary Holton Robare.
 
Around the time Dot made Cynthia's quilt she was either living in (or just returning from) Peru.  She had left the rural Virginia farm of her upbringing to travel the world with her husband, Edward Willard Berry.  As a geologist, he took his wife on around-the-world tours three times.  While in Peru, she gave birth to her first child, Mary-Susan Berry (born 1928).
 
Edward Willard, Dorothy, and Mary-Susan Berry.
 
There was a history of needlework and quilt-making in Dorothy (Pidgeon) Berry's family.  Her grandmother was Sarah (Chandlee) Pidgeon, maker of the Pidgeon Family Quilt that is in the collection of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
 
Pidgeon Family Quilt, ca. 1850.  Photography by Barbara Tricarico.  Collection of
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
 

Dot made "Circus Quilts" for her grandchildren decades after she made Cynthia's quilt, adapting the pattern each time.  While Cynthia's quilt contained a top, bottom, and batting, Dot's subsequent pieced works were constructed in various ways.  For her grandson, Christopher Robare, she backed a pieced top for the then three-year-old with a cozy red plaid wool. She also added a strip of cotton for tucking under at the feet and labeled this piece with embroidery on a corner.
 

Dot's Circus Quilt for Chris and detail of labeling.  Collection of Christopher
and Mary Holton Robare.
 
When Dot made a quilt for her grandson, George Berry (born 1960), she chose different colors.  She also used nine-patch blocks as corner blocks within the sashing which she further embellished with embroidered numbers and letters.  This quilt was a gift to Mary from George's widow.  It holds special memories of George who was a member of the Urban Search and Rescue Teams that went to Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center to help following the tragedies experienced there.  Despite all he had witnessed, George maintained a cheery outlook on life.
 
Dot's Circus Quilt for George.  Collection of Mary Holton Robare.
 
Three of Dot's Circus Quilts on display in the Abram's Delight house museum of the Winchester-Frederick
County Historical Society, June 2014.
 
Something about these "Circus" or "Picture Patchwork" block patterns captured Dot's attention enough to make bedcoverings for children in her family over the span of many decades.
 
Selected Sources:
 
Baumgarten, Linda and Kimberly Smith Ivey.  Four Centuries of Quilts.  Williamsburg, VA: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2014.
 
Gunn, Virginia.  "McCall's Role in the Early Twentieth-Century Quilt Revival."  In Uncoverings 2010 edited by Laurel Horton.  Lincoln NE: American Quilt Study Group, 2010.
 
Hanson, Marin F.  "Exotic Quilt Patterns and Pattern Names in the 1920s and 1930s".  In Textile, Volume 4, Issue 2, 2006.
 
Robare, Mary Holton.  Quaker Quilts: Snapshots from an Exhibition, Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, June 13-15, 2014.  Winchester, VA: Hillside Studios, 2014.
 
Virginia Consortium of Quilters.  Quilts of Virginia: The Birth of America Through the Eye of a Needle.  Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2006.
 
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2015.
 







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