When I first saw this quilt, I was stunned by its ambitiousness, the technical challenge it presented to the maker, and the wide range of fabrics. I was also intrigued by its imagery of women, soldiers marching and on horseback, and especially the story connected with it. The early quilt historian Florence Peto described the quilt in her 1949 book American Quilts and Coverlets and sold it to the Shelburne Museum in 1952. According to Peto, a Union soldier made this medallion quilt while recovering from his wounds. Images of soldiers are depicted alongside hearts, birds, plants and moons. The female silhouettes in the center are based on a trademark figure adopted in 1780 by the manufacturer of Baker’s Chocolate, which had been copied from Jean-Etienne Liotard’s earlier pastel, La Belle Chocolatiere.
My version of Civil War Soldiers is a scaled-down reproduction of the original. However, I resolved to construct it using as many 20th- and 21st-century quiltmaking techniques as possible. I used a digital projector to project an image of the original onto graph paper, reduced it to meet the AQSG Study Quilt size requirements, and traced the basic layout and appliqué figures. I bought fabrics at quilt stores, festivals and online. I used a rotary cutter to cut all the angular shapes, fusible web to fuse the figures to the background, basting spray to hold it together for quilting and a simulated hand quilting stitch on my 21st-century sewing machine to quilt it.
While working on this project, I imagined what it might have been like to be a recovering soldier, with leisure time to sit and sew but still haunted by images of war. I fantasized that his days were less frantic than mine. Even using modern methods this project took a long time to complete, and by the time I reached the outer border I ran out of steam. Two borders of the original incorporate triangles and squares that are on a much larger scale than the rest of the quilt; perhaps the maker had the same “ready to be done” feeling that I did. Perhaps he had recovered enough to go home.