Sarah Doty Rosseel (1819-1900) of north-central Pennsylvania made a silk basket quilt for her granddaughter, Collette Rosseel Passage, in the late 1800s. I loved the pizazz of a friend’s quilt and her family lore. The little baskets seemed to fit Sarah’s personality; she was noted to be “sparkling with wit.”
In her diary Sarah tells of going to her dressmaker to have her “dress blacks” remade to be more stylish. As a minister’s wife in a small town, I imagined her constrained by dress blacks. Photographs of Sarah suggest a variety of textured dark silks, so I collected my blacks. I speculated that the conservative blacks, browns and lavenders in her quilt were family fabrics, but that friends delighted her with bright pieces.
My friends shared fabric, and I found a bag of old silk scraps. While tantalizing, the old silks deteriorated in unexpected ways throughout the making of the quilt. Silks and velvets shifted and raveled; making a crazy quilt would have required far more skill than I had been led to believe.
Quite a lot of thread was needed for the embroidery, but I found that common crazy quilt stitches lose little thread to the back of the fabric. Were stitches designed with thread efficiency in mind? When Sarah’s quilt was made, silk embroidery threads were produced in the U.S. in diverse styles and colors and brought to remote areas by door to door salesmen. My thread was of international origin and acquired online. It was surprisingly expensive, but “ruinous competition” kept prices low in the late 1880s ($.03 for a 10 yard skein, Sears catalog, 1897). A dollar conversion suggests that a 1890s quilter paid less than ¼ of my price for thread. Thread supply apparently would not limit a determined crazy quilter.