Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Farmers' Daughters, Farmers' Wives

I get a lot of comments about the workmanship of the original quilt and the obvious talent of the maker.  I certainly will never match the tiny even stitches in the piecing and the quilting.  Without detracting from the overall quality of the sewing, the makers of the quilt were using everyday skills that all women used in the USA in the 1850s.  Sewing by hand was the only option; the sewing machine wasn't affordable for the average household until the 1870s.

The women who made the quilt weren't professional seamstresses.  I can state pretty confidently that each one of them was a farmer's daughter.  Many became farmers' wives, some were farmers' maiden aunts or farmers' mothers.  A few became schoolteachers, one of the few professions available to women in the 1800s.  One became a medical doctor.
For the women of Chester County, sewing wasn't a hobby, it was an essential skill for everyday living.  Education for girls in the 1850s included learning and polishing sewing skills.  Sewing taught neatness, accuracy, careful planning and patience; it was practical as well as creative.  It was an essential part of the school curriculum along with English, reading, spelling and arithmetic. (Source; 'Patches of Time' by Linda Haplin)

The quilt blocks in the Chester Criswell quilt reflect similar sewing abilities.  There is one exception.

Block made by Martha of Oak Grove, Sadsburyville

The fabric is badly damaged, but those little 'spokes' of the wheels are turned under and stitched along each side.  The big circle is like a gear wheel with regular little teeth all the way around.  I don't think I will be drafting a pattern for this block, I hope someone else can show how it was created.

Yes, there are men's names on the quilt too.  My hypothesis is that the men didn't actually make quilt blocks themselves, but signed a block made by their wife or mother.  I would love to be proved wrong.


  1. Sharon, what an interesting post & intriguing block!! on closer inspection it appears to me that the applique pieces are the white clam shell shapes of the wheel, not the spokes. I think the base of the block was perhaps red and the applique shapes [white] are stitched onto the red fabric. Nevertheless, it certainly is an intricate design, which i hope you can work out and draft a pattern for. cheers...Marian

  2. Marian, you might be right. I will take a closer look at this block the next time I have the quilt out.

  3. l am wondering if we are being put off by the fact there is white. Maybe the white is the original color of the main fabric. The red was appliqued on and then some reverse applique where the cream ( which also become discolored like the rest of the quilt) wheel spokes are. Just a thought!! Will look forward to closer examination of this particular block in a few weeks!!!!

  4. Can't wait to start this quilt....have ordered the background fabric...I wanted to keep this quilt looking really old looking so have bought the vintage muslin...also a question are we allowed to ink the names of the people on our blocks...would love to see a close up of the names as we get the quilt blocks each month.

    Adele xx

  5. I think Linda is right and it does appear to be reverse appliqued. I think it is a fascinating block and I like the saw tooth edge. Almost finished my first block.

  6. Hi Sharon, your blog and recreation of this quilt is very exciting. You have inspired me to create my own first blog. I love your fresh honest approach to this project and was attracted to the idea that it was a bit of a mystery, therefore I was disappointed to hear that you will be publishing a complete 'flat' photo next month. Anyway, many thanks for the opportunity to re-create your family heirloom.

  7. I have already started the first block and enjoying it very much. I hope that we will be able to have at least 2 patterns a month. I am up in years and don't know if I have 35 months left to sew. Love the history with the quilt. Looking forward to September. Phyllis


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