Shield and Stars Potholder Quilt

Shield and Stars Potholder Quilt

In the study of potholder quilts we have discovered a significant number made in the mid-nineteenth century in the Casco Bay area of Maine. I have replicated blocks from many, and decided to copy the center of this one, made in Portland, Maine. It is a Civil War soldier’s quilt attributed to Cornelia M. Dow, the daughter of General Neal Dow, a national temperance leader and celebrated Union officer. Neal Dow is known as the “Father of Temperance,” and devoted his time, wealth and influence to this cause. While serving as mayor of Portland in 1850, he enacted the first temperance ordinances to pass in any American city.

Cornelia never married, and lived in her father’s stately home on Congress Street in Portland, managing the household after her mother’s death. Cornelia served on the executive committees of both the Maine Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the national organization. The house still stands and is preserved as a museum, open to the public.

The purpose for which the quilt was made is unclear—its measurements are 71 x 81 inches, much wider than the 48 inches recommended by the U. S. Sanitary Commission for soldiers’ cot quilts. It contains 66 appliquéd red or blue 8-inch star blocks, bound in off-white twill tape, surrounding a large center block depicting a Union shield. Each block contains four or five inscriptions, and the center block includes both inscriptions and line drawings. The inscriptions are especially patriotic in nature, all anti-slavery and pro-Union. There are inked depictions of flags, eagles, rifles, anchors, and banners. Cornelia Dow made several blocks, and these are placed in prominent positions near the center of the quilt.

Unlike most other potholder quilts, it is bound with woven tape, not straight grain single-layer cotton strips. I was able to use a running stitch to attach the woven tape binding to the front and the back of the block in one step.

I wanted to duplicate the central portion of the quilt in order to understand how to create a pattern for the Union Shield, found on many mid-nineteenth century quilts. I enjoy calligraphy and particularly enjoyed working on the blocks in this quilt, attempting to imitate several handwriting styles, including that of Cornelia Dow