Monday, January 13, 2014

Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them

Sometimes the best way to learn about vintage linens and needlework is to study books, patterns, and pamphlets from the era of needlework or linens you enjoy collecting. 

I found this delightful book in an Ohio used book store that also had quite a collection of antique and vintage books. 
I've since discovered that the writer Marie D. Webster was quite a successful quilter, researcher, and pattern maker.  In fact, Webster's homeplace in Marion, Indiana now houses the Quilter's Hall of Fame.
My edition by Tudor Publishing Company is one of many. 
In 1990, Webster's granddaughter Rosalind W. Perry released an updated edition of this important quilt book.  Check the link to see quilt pattern books by Perry which feature Mary D. Webster quilt patterns.  (Guess what's getting added to my Amazon wish list!)

Look at this adorable sun bonnet sue quilt. It's one of fourteen color plates included in the1948 book. The quilted fence provides a story detail for these strolling ladies.  Webster suggests using scraps from a little girl's outgrown clothing for the sun bonnet sue dresses.


Notice how the quilt maker used white/light pink for any flowers above the large pink border and switches to pink for any flowers that manage to land on the white inner oval.  It's a subtle design choice that really makes this quilt visually stunning!

The chapter "The Quilt in America" was intriguing to this Appalachian gal. West Virginia, my home state, doesn't even get a mention in her discussion of the rural quilts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, North and South Carolina "mountain women." The mountain families are described as illiterate but industrious with women described as hard-working home-makers. (pgs. 73-74)

I don't know if this 1948 edition is "updated" or simply a reprint of the 1915 edition. The illiterate mountaineer reference would have been more reflective of 1915 rather than 1948.

Webster pointed out several stories and facts that I found interesting.  For example, I loved the print and story of the Civil War era  "Virginia Rose".  At one point, this quilt top was buried in West Virginia to hide it from Confederate soldiers. (pg. 128)

She also describes how hand quilters were paid for their work -- by the 200 yd. spool of thread -- not by time.  Quilters could receive anywhere from $1.00 - $5.00 per spool used.  (Again, I am not sure if this fact is a reflection of 1915 or 1948.  I suspect 1915.) ( pgs. 107-108)

I was also completely unaware of the practice of poorer quilters during the whole-cloth quilt tradition of the late 1800's and early 1900's.  Apparently, poorer quilters turned over their colored patchwork quilts to exhibit the muslin backings on "top".  This turning over of the quilt made the bed appear to be covered by a white-work beauty. Webster suggests that this practice probably destroyed numerous quilts. (pgs. 86-88)

I'm not sure how this practice wore out these quilts.  Webster doesn't explain.  (It was probably obvious during her day.)  Perhaps having the white side exposed on the top allowed dirt and wear that would not have been as noticeable on colored patchwork.  The muslin backing would also not have been as strong and lasting a fabric as the patchwork made from enduring clothing scraps and cotton calicoes.

I loved this read (178 pages).  If you see one for sale on Etsy, Amazon, or your local used bookstore, grab a copy.  It's a vintage treat!



  1. Amy you have found a real treasure in that book. I am going to have to find it. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Donna. I know you love quilting!

  2. Hi, Amy! Thank you for stopping by Bella Nest! I so enjoyed my visit here today! I'm your newest follower!