By: Rachel May and Linda Welters
The Cushman Collection in the University of Rhode Island’s Historic Textile and Costume Collection includes three unfinished quilt tops and two fabric swatch books, along with over 500 other artifacts. The quilt tops, which were begun in 1833, reveal a family story of North and South that spans two hundred years. The tops were similarly constructed of hexagons with a central star motif, made with the template-pieced mosaic patchwork method. Many of the paper templates remain in the backs of the quilt tops. Dates in the paper fragments range from 1775 to 1940, revealing generations of history from the colonial and antebellum periods to the Colonial Revival movement. The fabrics in the quilt tops and swatch books mark the transition from hand-spun and hand-woven cloth to machine-made textiles. Further, the quilt tops, swatch books, and related archival materials shed light on deeply intertwined family relationships between those who lived in Providence, Rhode Island, and Charleston, South Carolina, and their connection to larger themes in the Atlantic world, notably capitalism, trade, and slavery.