Charter Oak . . . Wandering Food . . . Rose of Sharon . . . Burgoyne Surrenders . . . Forbiden Fruit . . . Dove in the Window . . . Delectable Mountains.
Respected art connoisseurs hail such American patchwork quilt patterns as textile abstractions displaying a high degree of sophistication in design and color concept as well as craftsmanship.
"With the increased interest in American folk art, the American quilted bedcover and the crazy quit have come out of the attic and the trunk in which they used to live," says Christa C. Thurman, curator of textiles at the Art Institute of Chicago. "the optical effect of most quilted patterns gained in popularity years ago when Op Art was so much in vogue. Today, quilts are part of historic textile collections in most musuems."
The fabrics used in quilts offer another perspective on our history. The predominance of browns in early quits was a result of the commercial introduction of manganese bronze for dress materials in plain brown or printed in blue, green, red or purple. Such fabric was fashionable in the 1830s and 40s. The leavenders and gray that become popular in the 1850s promptly showed up in quilts of that period, but browns returned after the Civil War. During the mexican War period, brilliant reds and greens, accented with yellow or black, were predominant.
Really fine antique quits now run from $100 to 1,000. Mary Popma, who runs the Turtle Creek Country Store here, says, "Women poured all their creative energies into their patchwork. Just the quilting on the average antique cover represented 300 hours of work. "As a general rule, the very best quilts were made before the Civil War. After the Depression, the quality of workmanship tended to decline. The price today usually depends on the age, condition, size, complexity and overall craftsmanship and appearance of a piece. Women were very proud of the work and they often put it away. That's why there are antique quilts around today. Everyday quilts were used and thrown away after they wore out. "Four years ago, beautiful quilts were selling for 50 cents to $5 in the rual areas. Now country people realize what they have."
Unqualified admiration is relatively new for patchwork. For almost three centuries it was popularly regarded as something of a homely cousin in the domestic arts -- nice in its place but certainly not anything to be taken very seriously on esthetic ground alone.
Born of the most critical necessity, they quite literally helped early settlers survive the hardships of the harsh wilderness. Although patchwork quiliting has been known and used since ancient times, Americans quickly adapted the style of needlework to their own immediate and dire needs in a new land. Bed coverings the colonists brought with them from Europe where scarely adequate for the brutal winters and rugged existence they found here. Almost immediately, the bed clothing began to wear. Neither replacements nor new fabrics were available so they had to be patched and mended with whatever bits and pieces of materials the colonists had at hand.
Quilts were the best solution to the persistent problem of keeping warm. They had to be made by cutting used clothing and household textiles into patches and piecing or appliqueing such scraps together into simple or elaborate geometric patterns.
Early settlers often were forced to use dried grasses, leaves or moss as stuffing for their patched quilts in an attempt to endure the cold. Even when life became a little easier with increasing civilization, new fabrics were a prohibitive luxury. Blankets as we known them didn't become widely available to the general population until late in the 19th century.
Needlework historians divide American quit-making into three separate phases, which were repeated again and again as new frontiers were pushed farther west into the wilderness. When an area was opened, one of the first requirements was warmth. The order of a more settle society then made more intricate designs possible. Finally, in some instances, there was real luxury in materials, conception and design.
The complexity of patterns and colors used and the leisure time for sewing often were a legitimate indication of how well life was going for pioneer Americans in any section of the country. Considering the enormous hardships and very real dangers the early settlers routinely endured, it is a wonder the women could create any fine needlework much less supurb expressions of lasting individuality and beauty.
Quilters also left us a graphic glimpse of movement across the continent, Initially, inspiration for patterns was brought to the New World in the form of motifs and sewing techniques of European homelands. Once here, however, women changed their work to reflect their new surroundings and style of living.
The Lily pattern of Elizabethan England thus become the Virginia Lily. Later it appeared with at least eight different titles, including the Mountain Lily of Kentucky, The Day Lily of the Midwest, the Prairie Lily farther west and, finally, the Mariposa Lily beyond the Rockies in California. Many names were associated only with the communities in which they originated. The 1star of Le Moyne, honoring the founder of New Orleans Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, was familiar in the South. In the North, however, the same basic pattern was the Lemon Star.
While patchwork quilting started from simple thrift, it soon served a district social function as well. No one could afford to waste fabric, so scraps of the precious materials were traded among friends and neighbors. The quilting bee was a picturesque fixture of a broad spectrun of society. A full-scale gala, the party started with women gathered around the quilting frame during the day and concluded when the men-folk joined the group for dinner and entertainment.
An early American girl begin sewing when she was a small child and made many quilts during her lifetime. The most significant always was the bride's quilt, the elaborate piece de resistance of her dower chest. Custom demanded that this quilt could not be started until a young woman was actually betrothed, and an invitation to quilt a Bride's quilt was the equivalent of today's engagement party.
Album quits were an!!her specialized from of the quilter's art. Also known as Friendship or Presentation quilts, they were created from blocks donated by friends and often were characterized by a variety of designs that were original with the makers.
The random-patterned crazy quilt is the oldest form of American patchwork. As farrics became more readily available, quilters had more freedom to indulge in systematic patterns and patchwork declined in popularity. It was revived again about 1880 when a variety of silks, velvets and ribbons were combined and elaborately embroidered for lavish effect.
Most of the quilts from the 17th century onward had been lost with the passing years but some of the treasures that survived are to be seen in museum collections.