21 October 2011

Between the Wars textile symposium - Part 2

Butterflies, c. 1935. Nina Schrock.

On October 15, 2011, I was privileged to attend a day-long symposium, formally titled
Fabric, Fashions and Quilts: From the Armistice to Pearl Harbor. That is a rather unwieldy header, so I'm using a short title, Between the Wars, from one of the presentations, for my blog posts. The symposium was co-sponsored by the New England Quilt Museum and the American Textile History Museum. Our activities alternated between the NEQM and ATHM facilities. We made quite a sight - dozens of women shuttling between the buildings on a bright yellow school bus.

In the afternoon we enjoyed a "quilt-turning" of quilts from the collection of the NEQM, led by quilt historian Merikay Waldvogel. Merikay's assistants, who I believe were Stephanie Hatch and Cyndi Black (they were not introduced but are listed in the program) stacked quilt after quilt on a large table for our admiration. We received a wonderful hand-out with thumb-nails and description of each quilt, and the information in this blog is taken from the hand-out.

Pink Boudoir Whole Boudoir quilt, c. 1920.
Maker unknown.

The design for this quilt, whose true color is represented by the image on the right, above, was produced by the McCall Kaumagraph Company, which made iron-on transfers. The full-size pattern was printed on tissue-like paper and the consumer, presumable having pinned the paper to the fabric first, transferred the design to her fabric with the heat from her domestic iron.

Butterflies with Central Medallion, c. 1930.
Susie Alice Farnsworth Smith.

Ms. Smith, who lived in Massachusetts, arranged her butterflies around a central medallion made using the traditional broderie perse method, in which motifs are cut out from floral prints and then appliqued into a new arrangement. Broderie perse is an old technique, seen in 18th centuries quilts. Hence this quilt is an unusual combination of techniques.

Double Wedding Ring, c. 1930.
Ida Moore Gwin or Elizabeth Ann Landes Pierrel.

This quilt contains several fabrics print in New England Mills, and, yes, that is a swastika design in the detail on the right. The swastika is an ancient symbol which did not acquire negative connotations until the ascendency of the Third Reich in Germany. The presence of the motif is one way to establish definitively that the fabric, and the quilt, were produced before World War II. Since quilters often saved fabrics for years, making dating a quilt without documentation difficult, the presence of such markers as the swastika fabric is as important to the quilt historian as carbon dating is to the archaeologist.

Star of Bethlehem, c. 1925
Pearle Gwin Pierrel.

Like many quilt designs, this pattern has multiple names, including Star of Bethlehem, Lone Star and Blazing Star. Quilters could purchase complete kits or packages of die-cut, color co-cordinated diamonds.

On the wall behind the symposium participants are some of the other items on display in this room, including feedsacks, still with the purveyor's labels, and aprons. Not visible are many scrapbooks and swatch books set out around the room for our perusal. This type of documentation is essential to rigorous textile history research, but also just a treat to see.

Grandmother's Flower Garden, c. 1925
Susie Alice Farnsworth Smith.

Many versions of this popular pattern feature a center hexagon in light yellow, so the use of black centers makes this quilt a bit unusual, but I like the contrast between the dark center and the pastel tones of the petals. The quilter "fussy cut" many of the petals, as can be seen in the details on the right.

Postage Stamp Irish Chain, 1933.
Margaret Lottie Covey O'Brien.

Packages of tiny pre-cut cloth squares, or "postage stamp" pieces, were sold to quilters, so the maker of this bed covering may not have had to cut each and every tiny 3/4" piece. The hand-quilting is exquisite, and Ms. O'Brien embroidered her name, as well as the date of her quilt, in the border, a gift for quilt historians.

Butterflies, c. 1935
Nina Schrock.

According to our hand-out, "During the Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged women to participate in making traditional crafts as part of the Work Relief Program of the Works Progress Administration. Magazines like Good Housekeeping published patterns for scrap-bag quilts, allowing the quilter to use bits of left over materials."

Ms. Schrock sorted her scraps with a good eye for color, and the polka dot fabric of the insect abdomens sets off the plethora of prints beautifully.

Martha's Vineyard, 1937. Julia King.

The history of quilting is also the history of targeted marketing and advertising to women. In 1929, Fritz Hooker, the sales manager for Mountain Mist, maker of quilt battings since 1846, came up with the idea of printing quilt patterns on the inside of the batting wrappers. Martha's Vineyard was pattern number twenty-eight in a popular range that grew to one hundred and thirty patterns.

Merikay Walvogel displays an old quilt batting wrapper.

During the presentation, Ms. Waldvogel shared many additional items with us, including contemporaneous newspaper clippings, original patterns and other ephemera. Ms. Waldvogel has written several quilt history books and has ferreted out much primary documentation, including this quilt batting wrapper, on the inside of which is printed the pattern for the quilt.

Not so long ago much quilt history was a bit fuzzy, with more reliance on quilt lore, and an emphasis on the romance of quilts, than hard facts. Ms. Waldvogel's excellent research is a welcome corrective. Ms. Waldvogel was an excellent presenter, and I plan to track down her books, which include
Soft Covers for Hard Times: Quiltmaking and the Great Depression and Patchwork Souvenirs of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.