Thursday, December 29, 2016

Gussie Herr and the Quilting Church

Gussie Herr worked as a seasonal worker in the fruit packing shed when it was harvest time.  Her husband Clemens was a farmer and cabinet maker, and their three children still lived at home; George was a timber worker, Elizabeth a stenographer and Marie was still at school.

Gussie and Clemens

Gussie was an active member of her church, the First Christian Church in Camas, Washington.  She had a long association with her church - Gussie lived to 103!  Her obituary reads, "She was very active in her church and was loved by all until the day the Lord took her home."  I found Gussie's obituary at one of the genealogists' favourite websites:  Usually a hit brings up photos of tombstones, but this time there were photos of Gussie Herr herself.

Christian Church, Camus, Washington 1911

Quilting was often a group activity in the first decades of the 20th century.  In remote communities the church and the quilting bee were the only opportunities for women to meet and socialize.  In the 1930s signature quilts were till popular as fundraisers for church building programs, or as a presentation to a retiring minister or Sunday school teacher.

Church fundraising quilt made by members of the 
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Allentown, Pennsylvania. Dated between 1934 and 1937

Detail of the Grace Evangelical quilt.  Individuals paid a small amount to have their name embroidered, and further funds were made when the quilt was raffled.

Some church associated groups earned funds by hand quilting tops made by others, the cost being calculated by the size of the quilt, the complexity of the pattern or the number of spools of thread used in the quilting.

Was the Malaga quilt a church project? It doesn't appear to be.  The quilt owner Lena Wallace was a member of the Malaga Christian Church, and the Malaga Homemakers were a church ladies group known for their quiltmaking activities. But the women in the Malaga quilt come from a number of different churches; one was married by a Catholic priest and yet another was Jewish.  Belonging to a church was important to many of the women, but they didn't all attend the same congregation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Mrs. Mead and a Postage Stamp Basket

Sorry for the delay in posting; the next participant in the 1937 Malaga quilt is Onie Mead.  Onie wasn't a farmer's wife like most of the other Malaga women.  Ray Mead was a school janitor until the Depression years, then he had some work as a laborer with the Works Progress Association. Onie and Ray weren't as well off as some of the other families.

Onie made the same Cactus Basket black as Sarah Cannon.  So, I've chosen another basket block from the 1930s to show you. This orphan is from my collection:

This block can be May Basket, Baby Basket or just Basket. I made a six inch one.

This Basket Block may look familiar even to non-quilters.

These stamps were released in 1978; and I imagine the next block was made about the same time.

Freeda Adams  Philadelphia, PA.

If you were a patchworker in the USA during the Bi-Centennial, did you make blocks like this one?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Weathervane and Vive Ste Anne

The Weathervane block was popular with Lena's friends, there are three Weathervane blocks in the Malaga quilt.

The block is a nine patch.  For a 9 inch block the centre is 3 inches.  The half square triangles in the corners finish at 1.5 inches.  Quilter's Cache has instructions for a 12 inch block.

Weathervane is too fiddly to make as a six inch block: I am going to choose a different pattern for a six inch block, probably Sawtooth. 

I went to an antiques fair last weekend.  Old quilts don't appear at antique fairs in Australia but I did find some postcards.

These French postcards are for St. Anne's day, the patron saint of seamstresses.  The messages - in French - on the cards are wishes for good health and good fortune.  The lady on the right is using her treadle with high heels, and the lady on the left is very distracted - can you see a lace garter hanging on the treadle stand?  These cards aren't rare, Google 'Saint Anne sewing machine postcards' and you will find dozens.  I found these ladies again but in different poses.

Do you have any St. Anne postcards?  Are they all French?  Would you send one to your mother?

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Story Continues - Gladys Hill

These are my blocks so far.

The top left hand corner is Weathervane, which is the block Gladys Hill made in 1937.

Gladys Horn was a school teacher when she married Leo Hill, a rancher at Spokane, Washington.  Gladys and Leo were each twenty-nine years old.  It was Gladys' first marriage but Leo was a widower.  His previous wife Ethel died shortly before their third wedding anniversary.  Ethel was also Gladys' older sister.

In 1937 Leo and Gladys had four children, two boys in high school and two girls in elementary school.  Five years later Gladys still had her two girls at home but her boys, now young men, were serving their country while the whole world was at war.

Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Denmark in April 1940 and then advanced on Belgium, Netherlands and France.  The Allied forces were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk in June 1940.  Bombs were falling on London in September 1940.

The United States began to strengthen its own defences and focused on manufacturing and farm production.  The increase in defence spending picked up the economy as a whole after the ravages of the depression years.  In the autumn of 1940 the Selective Services Act required all American men between the ages of 21 and 35 to register for the draft.

Pearl Harbor was bombed on 9 December 1941.  2400 sailors, soldiers and civilians were killed.  The U.S. declared war on Japan and the European Axis forces declared was on the United States.

The draft now expanded to include males from 18 to 45.  Gladys' boys were 19 and 18; the elder joinded the Navy and the younger enlisted in the Army.

 Leo's ranch was working overtime.  Farm prices rose in 1940 and 1941 but labor costs rose too.  The ship building yards in Portland, Oregon and the aircraft factories in Seattle, Washington paid top wages, and the canneries and lumberyards of the Pacific Northwest couldn't compete over pay.  Gladys and the girls had to work on the ranch to keep up with the demand for their beef.

Women and students were encouraged to join for the Women's Land Army and work in agriculture.

Fortunately for the Hill family, both boys came home, both girls grew up, and Gladys and Leo enjoyed their grandchildren and each other.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Friends, Please Bring a Dresden Plate

Dresden Plate is the most familiar name for this block but other traditional names are Aster, Friendship Ring and Sunflower.

The pattern wasn't well known until the late 1920s.  Ruby McKim calls it Friendship Ring.  Her pattern has twenty petals and she suggests a quilt border of individual petals.  It is a Friendship Ring because 'one usually has to call upon many friends for a proper assortment' of different patterned materials.

This is a 12 inch block.  I traced the petals onto washaway applique sheets, ironed each petal onto the fabric and hand stitched like English paper piecing.  The washaway will soften with washing (the package says).

This is a 6 inch block with five petals in each corner.  My inspiration was from a 1930s signature quilt made in Ohio.

The Ohio quilt has a Dresden plate block in each corner and proves that you can have as many petals as you like.

12 Pointy Petals

15 Feedsack Petals

16 Circular Petals

17 Dressmaking Scraps

More information on the Dresden Plate block history can be found at:

Monday, October 31, 2016

Nina Elliott School Teacher

Are you ready for another chapter?  Good, so am I. 

Not all women in the 1930s were stay at home housewives.  The Malaga quilt makers were teachers, bookkeepers, fruit packers, factory workers, a milliner and farmers.

Nina Elliott ~ Dresden Plate

Nina May Elliott was a school teacher when she made her Dresden Plate quilt block.  Nina was single of course - married women didn't teach school.  Nina had a three year college degree, probably from a teachers' college.  Teaching and nursing were two areas in which women were encouraged to participate.  Nina taught at a number of schools and shared a house with another female teacher.

Nina's mother Mildred Love Elliott was also a teacher.  Mildred's mother and stepfather took the family to stake a homestead claim in Del Rio, Washington.  In the 1900 census Mildred was 18 years old and teaching, most likely in a one room school.  No tertiary qualifications were needed for Mildred, she would have gone straight into a teaching job after finishing school - some of her students would be almost as old as she was.  The school opened one term at a time when the parents could afford the teacher's salary.  Miss Love might have boarded with a school family or may have had her own teacher's residence.

School teacher’s cabin in Marlboro, Alberta, Canada, 1930.
Photo legacy of Helen A. Dineen, Wikimedia Commons

Nina Elliott left the teaching profession at the age of 28 to marry Merton Love, her mother Mildred's cousin.  Merton was a hardware salesman, twenty years Nina's senior and had been widowed for five years.  Nina became stepmother to Merton's two teenage children and had two more children of her own.  Nina didn't enjoy good health and died in 1953 at the age of 41.

Mildred Elliott survived her daughter Nina.  Mildred resumed teaching while here children were at high school.  Mildred must have returned to study; in the 1940 census she has completer five years of tertiary education - perhaps she had her master's degree in education?  Mildred outlived her daughter Nina by 28 years and survived to celebrate her 100th birthday.

Postscript: Most of the women from the Malaga quilt were born in the USA but their parents were immigrants.  Nina Elliott is an exception, at least on her mother's side of the family.  Nina's g-g-g-g-grandfather Robert Love enlisted with the Rhode Island troops as a sergeant in 1777.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Meet the Album Family

Maude Laughlin chose the pattern Album Block for her contribution to the Malaga quilt.

In "The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt" Carrie Hall calls this Album Patch.
The original idea of the Album quilt was a gift for a bride-to-be.  A group of friends would get together and each would piece a block and embroider her name upon it.

Carrie Hall's Album block, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas

Other names for this block are Arbor Window, Courthouse Square, The Crosspatch and Odd Fellow's Block.  Barbara Brackman's blog post has a good collection of Album block quilts.

It's a simple block to make but a challenge to get to the finished size that you require.  I had to make a few to get a 9 inch and a 6 inch block I was happy with.  The difficulty is the points at the seam allowance - you don't want to lose them when the blocks go together.

1880's orphan - points finish right at the edge

For a 9 inch block I cut the squares at 2.5 inches.  The setting triangles are 5 inch squares cut diagonally twice, and the corner triangles are 3.5 inch square cut diagonally once.

 Assemble the pieces in rows including the setting triangles, then add the corner triangles.  Trim to 9.5 inches and the squares should all keep their points.

This similar block is Nine Patch Checkerboard (Checkerboard, Old Mail, The Queen's Favorite).  I don't like cutting 7/8th or 15/16th, I like more sensible fractions, so I made the squares smaller and the setting triangles larger.  For a finished 6 inch block, the squares are 1.75 inches, the setting triangles are 4 inch squares cut diagonally twice and the corner triangles are 3 inch square cut diagonally once.  The block will have a wide margin and I think that suits the 1930s look.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Housewife Maude and the Electric Farm

Maude Laughlin was a farmer’s wife – although it took her a long time to find her farmer.

Maude was 54 when she made her block for the quilt.  In 1937 Maude and farmer husband George had only been married a few years.  Both George and Maude had been married before; Maude’s first husband was killed by a freight train as he was walking along the railroad tracks.  George was a widower; neither George not Maude had any children.

In the 1940 census George Laughlin’s occupation was listed as ‘farmer’ and the number of hours worked in the previous week was 60.  Maude Laughlin’s occupation was ‘housework’; hours worked was left blank on the form.  I wonder if Maude was amused or dismayed by the lack of significance of her labour compared to that of her spouse. 

In the late 1930s 25% of American farms were connected to the electricity grid.  Power poles ran alongside main transport routes so connection depended on proximity to main roads.  If the Laughlin’s farm did not have a grid connection they would have other sources of power.  Windmills, gasoline engines and sets of batteries were standard power sources.  Kerosene lamps were used for lighting and the cellar or icebox would keep food cold. 

Connecting the farm to the electricity network was actively promoted in the 1930s especially for dairy farmers.  The modern farmer needed pumps for automatic watering systems for cows to drink from; milking machines; motorised cream separators; and of course refrigeration instead of ice.  Electricity saved labor and farm costs and thus boosted profits.

When the electricity arrived in the farmhouse the first use was for lighting.  Next were electric irons and vacuum cleaners.  Kitchen refrigerators remained very expensive for years and the uptake was slow.  

In 1937 the thrifty housewife could trade in her old vacuum cleaner and purchase a new one for $21, ten days free trial.  An electric washing machine with wringer was $29.95, although the modern gasoline motor washing machine was still a best seller.  She could even buy an electric kitchen range from the mail order catalogue with

 …inside oven light, a sensational new feature.  Lights up automatically as the oven door is opened, illuminating every corner of the oven.”

Contrary to advertising electricity did not lessen the housewife’s workload.  Social expectations changed with the new power source.  Meals had to be better with more variety, houses needed to be cleaner and wardrobes of clothes were more varied and laundered more often.  Housewives in 1940 worked about 60 hours per week on the housework – just the same as their farming husbands.

“Orange Juice – This mixer is appearing in a new finish of chrome and white to fit the color scheme of the bride’s new kitchen.  It beats, and mixes, and mashes, too.  It has more strength than a dozen brides.”