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Quilt History Snippets - January 2022
By Kathleen L Moore
Posted: 2022-01-18T18:30:30Z

Quilt History Snippets for January, 2022…by Kathy Moore

 

Happy new year to you all. This month we finish our review of Uncoverings 1989, Volume 10 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group with the research paper Mourning Quilts in America by Gail Andrews Treschsel.

 

It sounds like it might be a bit maudlin because the subject is the material culture of the death and dying practices in America from its earliest days to the 1980s. I didn’t find it so. There is much to learn from Treschsel’s work some of which I have found myself in my nearly twenty years of research into quilts and quilt history. Treschsel begins by noting that “acceptance and accommodation to death varied greatly from one century to another” and that in America in the eighteenth century (1700s) “mourning rituals tended to be simple.” Attitudes toward death were matter of fact and the deceased was prepared at home for burial by family members. The nineteenth century brought with it a more “romanticized” perspective on these practices and more ”elaborate” memorializing practices with needlepoint and watercolor mourning pictures. {p. 139] Most of us have seen some of these…the weeping willow tree with the female silhouettes and possibly a tombstone. 

 

There’s a reason for the prominence of females in these images. As Treschsel notes, men of the nineteenth century participated less in the more elaborate memorializing which “stressed the expression of feelings” and sentimentalized representations. Some of this is also tied to the Cult of Domesticity “ and it’s emphasis on women’s role as the “preserver of home and hearth” prevalent in the 1830s.” [p. 140]  Treschsel provides some interesting details about the material evidence of these representations not the least of which are post-death photographs, especially of children, and quilts with names/signatures of family members and friends. There is, also, interesting detail about the influence of Queen Victoria on many nineteenth century mourning practices, especially the use of black, white and shades of gray in imagery, mourning clothes, and particularly in the making of mourning quilts. 

 

Dr. William R. Dunton’s book on quilt history provides some very interesting details of specific individuals and their quilts including one that measured a surprising “six feet ten inches by seven feet.” [p. 143] There was one quilt name from Dr. Dunton that was new to me, “the Widow’s Quilt, or Darts of Death.” [p. 143] 

 

The frequency of use of fabrics from the wardrobe of the deceased is also a revealing, though not surprising, detail. There are names and dates for several examples of this practice and a notation that Quakers “found the idea of memory quilts particularly compelling.” [p. 144] Also, the use of quilts as “shroud and coffin” during the nineteenth century migration west across the American continent. [p. 145] And a striking example of a woman in Texas who made black and white quilts for each of her nine children to be buried in! 

 

Also included, the story of a memorial quilt made for Eli Lilly, the making of which he participated in. And the intriguing quilt known as the Kentucky Graveyard Quilt made in 1839. It’s a fascinating story and the description is very good. I’ve seen this quilt and it sticks in my mind! There are a few more good examples described and explained up to and including the advent of the AIDS quilt.

 

Treschsel’s end notes are extensive and very informative. This was an interesting and informative read for me and I hope it will be the same for you.

 

We’ll review another article from a new volume next month. If you do not have a copy of this, or any, edition of Uncoverings, check the publication list on the AQSG website to see if the particular volume is available…many still are. You can also access an online version at www.quiltindex.org. Once at the website,  go to “collections”, then follow the links to “AQSG,” “View collections”, “View all records in this project”. You can then select a specific volume you want to look at and you can now print copies. Sorry to say, for several good reasons, images are not available in the online versions. As always, you can contact me at kmoore81@austin.rr.com