Quilt Creation

Civil War Counterpane. Pieced and appliqued. Cotton. New Jersey, ca. 1850-1875. 96" x 111". Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT. Pictured in Orlofsky and Orlofsky, Quilts in America, 165.

The ability to create a quilt in times of hardship proves the valiant efforts of people during war. One wounded Civil War soldier created an intricate appliquéd quilt while he recuperated. Woven into his fabric are figures of soldiers on foot and horseback, surrounded by doves and oak leaves.38 Quilt CreationThe symbolism of peace and strength is clear; also appropriate for discussion is the value of the very act of quilt creation in times of struggle.

Patriotic Commemorative. Allie Butler Roberts, Whitfield County, Georgia, 1944-45. 75 1/2" x 75 1/2". Hand-pieced and hand-quilted cotton. Private collection. Pictured in Weinraub, Georgia Quilts, 139.

A World War II mother quilted a commemorative patriotic quilt in 1944-1945, as the family story goes, to ward off the loneliness and concern she felt while her three sons fought in Europe.39 Quilt CreationQuilt scholar Janet Berlo comments

that the act of quilting provides a different sort of cover: people “come to quilt making looking for a respite from one set of challenges by embracing a very different set—involving color, pattern, sensuality, skill, and order, in an ever-changing mixture."40 She writes that quilting often became a pastime for women to deal with their difficult situations. The act of cutting fabric into scraps, then repositioning them allowed for creative reconfiguring and dealing with uncontrollable events associated with war.

Alabama Gunboat Quilt. Martha Jane Hatter, Greensboro, Alabama, ca. 1861. Silk taffeta, wool challis, and cotton; applique; silk embroidery; stuffing, 66" x 66". Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama. Pictured in Ramsey and Waldvogel, Southern Quilts, 87.

Sometimes the act of creating something of beauty from scraps in a very non-utilitarian way allowed women to feel a sense of control in their lives. The Alabama Gunboat quilt by Martha Hatter Bullock, for example, demonstrates incredible skill and fine craftsmanship in its crosshatch diagonal lines and its double clamshell stitches. Highly-detailed appliqués of flowers, strawberries, and a basket illustrate unusual skill even for fine chintz appliqué quilts of the time. The chocolate brown silk fabric in the center and the blue taffeta border reveal refined tastes in materials rare for that time and place.41 According to Brackman, “During wartime women might feel guilty about the expense and frivolity of fancy work, but making beautiful and creative items to be donated to a fair was a patriotic duty.”42 This gentile refinement demonstrates the ability of these women to transcend their day-to-day struggles and maintain their Southern pride and capabilities. The quilt then becomes a testament to their memory.

Quilt Creation

Notes

[38] Patsy and Myron Orlofsky. Quilts in America (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974), 164.
[39] Weinraub, Georgia Quilts, 139.
[40] Janet Catherine Berlo, Quilting Lessons: Notes from the Scrap Bag of a Writer and Quilter (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 4-5.
[41] Henley, 17.
[42] Brackman, Quilts from the Civil War, 68.

 

Quilt Creation