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Quilting the Nineteenth Century
During the course of the nineteenth century, both quilts and quilt making in America changed dramatically. The rise of the American textile industry and the spread of factory-made cotton thread made quilts' essential ingredients more accessible, encouraging the making of quilts. At the same time, ideals of genteel refinement and feminine virtue promoted domestic arts like quilting as worthy middle-class pursuits. Publications that included quilt patterns and quilt-making tips also spurred quilt production.

After the Civil War, the spread of sewing machines transformed home textile work, quilts included. Sewing machines were especially useful for long runs of stitching, such as those used to attach quilts' edge bindings.

In terms of technique, surviving nineteenth-century American quilts typically fall along a spectrum from those that are entirely appliquéd to those that are entirely pieced. With appliquéd quilts, the design elements are cut from various fabrics and stitched to the quilt top, often leaving much of the background exposed. With pieced quilts, the pattern is built from individual pieces of fabric. Pieced quilts emerged during the first few decades of the nineteenth century and became more widely popular after the 1850s, thanks to the availability of published patterns, the influence of quilt competitions at local, county, and state fairs, and other developments.
L2010.42.15
L2010.42.15
Hannah Huxley
(American, 1804-1876)
Star of Bethlehem, 1832
Possibly Delaware
Hannah Huxley
(American, 1804-1876)
Star of Bethlehem, 1832
Cottons
Possibly Delaware
107 x 111 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.15

This quilt's exact origin remains uncertain, an issue often encountered with Kentucky-associated quilts (and with quilts made elsewhere). A label identified its maker as Hannah Huxley, wife of Elisha Huxley. By repute, the Huxleys lived in Covington, Kentucky, at the time of the quilt's creation. However, census, land, and tax records do not place any Huxleys in the area between 1800 and 1850, nor do any Huxleys appear in the Kentucky census through 1870. Confusing matters further, some features of the quilt's design are reminiscent of examples made in Delaware and Pennsylvania; an Elisha and Hannah Huxley who married in 1826 lived in Wilmington, Delaware (this Hannah Huxley's supposed life dates were 1805-1874).

Quilts like this with large, decorated central medallions began to be made in the late eighteenth century. Their vocabulary of forms and techniques greatly influenced the development of American quilting practices of the nineteenth century. This is an especially fine example of a center medallion quilt, using costly fabrics to create a vibrant, meticulously executed design.
Hannah Huxley
(American, 1804-1876)
Star of Bethlehem, 1832
Possibly Delaware
L2010.42.15
L2010.42.35
L2010.42.35
Rose Wreath, about 1850
Valley Station, Kentucky
Rose Wreath, about 1850
Cottons
Valley Station, Kentucky
101 x 95 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.35

Beginning in the 1840s, quilts that combined white backgrounds with designs (usually floral) in red and green became increasingly popular. The style seems to have originated in the Middle Atlantic states of Pennsylvania and Maryland before spreading westward. The color combination and patterns used for many red and green quilts relate to the decoration of other household objects of the time, including professionally woven coverlets, decorative floor and wall stenciling, and painted furniture and tinwork. This quilt's symmetrical combination of stylized wreaths and undulating border, for example, is especially reminiscent of woven coverlets and carpets.
Rose Wreath, about 1850
Valley Station, Kentucky
L2010.42.35
L2010.42.43
L2010.42.43
Susan Frances Poindexter Cooper
(American, born about 1827)
Whitework Quilt, about 1850
Logan County, Kentucky
Susan Frances Poindexter Cooper
(American, born about 1827)
Whitework Quilt, about 1850
Cotton
Logan County, Kentucky
94 x 91 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.43

Though we typically think of quilts as a combination of complex geometric patterns and colorful fabrics, some quilts from the late eighteenth century through the first half of nineteenth century looked like this one: starkly white. The decoration comes only from the quilting, which provides the outline for various patterns and images. These decorative elements were given shape by stuffing cotton batting through the weave of the quilt back. The whitework quilting tradition in America derived from professionally produced European white quilts.
Susan Frances Poindexter Cooper
(American, born about 1827)
Whitework Quilt, about 1850
Logan County, Kentucky
L2010.42.43
L2010.42.27
L2010.42.27
Flowers and House, 1851
Cottons
Probably Ohio
Flowers and House, 1851
Cottons
Probably Ohio
80 x 78 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.27

This quilt bears the initials "C.S.", presumably those of its maker. Did she depict the flowers in her household garden? Perhaps, since she shows us a wide variety of flowers rather than the single, stylized flower used for many appliquéd floral quilts of the period.
Flowers and House, 1851
Cottons
Probably Ohio
L2010.42.27
L2010.42.24
L2010.42.24
Flowers, 1853
Probably Ohio
Flowers, 1853
Cottons
Probably Ohio
91 x 91 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.24

"M.J.O.", the quilter who initialed this example, designed her quilt to be appreciated both at a distance and at close range. From a distance, her diagonal arrangement of appliquéd flowers and foliage moves the eye from corner to corner. Close inspection reveals a rich array of quilted imagery arranged across a textured surface. The quilted décor drew on the popular visual vocabulary of the period. Similar ornamental subjects could be found on everything from painted furniture to glass flasks.
Flowers, 1853
Probably Ohio
L2010.42.24
L2010.42.7
L2010.42.7
Rachel L. Sutherland, Isabella McCoy, and others
(American, dates unknown)
Album Quilt Top, 1859
Western Illinois, McDonough County area
Rachel L. Sutherland, Isabella McCoy, and others
(American, dates unknown)
Album Quilt Top, 1859
Cottons
Western Illinois, McDonough County area
67 x 67 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller


Album quilts like this illustrate the social role of quilts and quilt making. The quilt top, made around 1859, is appliquéd with thirty-six different images of stylized flowers and plants. Many are initialed and a few are signed, creating an album of autographed art work, hence the name "album" or "signature quilt." An album quilt physically embodied the web of friends and kin--the ones who made and/or signed the quilt blocks--that surrounded the quilt's recipient. As such, album quilts were often made as mementos for those about to be married, about to move away, or in honor of other major life events. The album quilt emerged in the Mid-Atlantic States and quickly migrated westward.
Rachel L. Sutherland, Isabella McCoy, and others
(American, dates unknown)
Album Quilt Top, 1859
Western Illinois, McDonough County area
L2010.42.7
L2010.42.26
L2010.42.26
Stars and Flowers, 1859
Probably Ohio
Stars and Flowers, 1859
Wool embroidery on cotton
Probably Ohio
93 x 76 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.26

Rather than appliquéd fabric, "E.F.," the anonymous maker of this quilt, used embroidery to create her pattern. Even so, she remained devoted to the norms of symmetry that marked most quilts of the period. Its mix of embroidery and quilting makes this example quite rare.
Stars and Flowers, 1859
Probably Ohio
L2010.42.26
1986.12
1986.12
Virginia Mason Ivey
(American, born 1828)
Figural and Floral Quilt, about 1860
Logan County, Kentucky
Virginia Mason Ivey
(American, born 1828)
Figural and Floral Quilt, about 1860
Cotton, wool
Logan County, Kentucky
102-1/4 x 85-1/2 in.

Purchased for the Museum through the efforts of the Kentucky Quilt Project, Shelly Zegart, Eleanor Bingham Miller and Jonathan Holstein, and through the generosity of the Bingham Enterprises Foundation of Kentucky, Incorporated, and several anonymous donors 1986.12

In describing her spinster aunt, one of Virginia Ivey's nieces wrote, "She never had any lessons in Art [sic], just her own intent and creative instinct." These qualities served Ivey well; this quilt, made in Logan County, Kentucky (along the Kentucky-Tennessee border in western Kentucky), and another surviving example by Ivey at the Smithsonian Institution reflect the hand of a gifted designer and technician. Ivey was particularly adept at using raised motifs, often of a documentary nature, to decorate her quilts' white grounds. Here, she included the figure of Kentucky statesman and three-time presidential candidate Henry Clay. She copied her heroic depiction from an engraving published in the April 28, 1860, Harper's Magazine that, in turn, reproduced Joel Tanner Hart's statue of Clay erected in New Orleans in 1859.

Though not technically part of the Bingham-Miller family collection, this quilt came to the Speed thanks to Eleanor Bingham Miller and Shelly Zegart, both of whom were leaders of the Kentucky Quilt Project. During the 1980s, the KQP organized a landmark effort to find and record nineteenth-century Kentucky quilts.
Virginia Mason Ivey
(American, born 1828)
Figural and Floral Quilt, about 1860
Logan County, Kentucky
1986.12
L2011.42.67
L2011.42.67
Attributed to Emma Bridges
(American, 1842-1888)
Cherry Trees, 1860-1870
Kentucky, probably Henderson County
Attributed to Emma Bridges
(American, 1842-1888)
Cherry Trees, 1860-1870
Cotton, silk, silk velvet
Kentucky, probably Henderson County
104 x 84 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2011.42.67

This quilt has a history of ownership in Jefferson County, Kentucky, where it once belonged to Charles (1839-1912) and Emma Bridges. The couple married in Henderson County, Kentucky (located in western Kentucky along the Kentucky-Indiana border), in 1866 and were soon living in Louisville. One thus assumes that Emma Bridges probably made the quilt, perhaps around the time of either her first wedding in 1860 (to Charles Littell in Henderson County) or her later wedding to Charles Bridges. Alternately, the quilt may have been a gift to Emma.

This quilt shares strikingly similar design features with another quilt in this exhibition. It was made around 1860 in Logan County, Kentucky, by Virginia Ivey. There doesn't seem to be any family connection between Virginia Ivey and Emma Bridges, but perhaps there is some yet-to-be-discovered connection between the two women and their quilts.
Attributed to Emma Bridges
(American, 1842-1888)
Cherry Trees, 1860-1870
Kentucky, probably Henderson County
L2011.42.67
L2010.42.22
L2010.42.22
Stars, about 1866
Probably Bowling Green, Kentucky
Stars, about 1866
Cottons
Probably Bowling Green, Kentucky
87 x 65 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.22

This quilt's maker emphasized the linear quality of the pattern by incorporating pinstriped fabric into the diagonals that divide the stars. Careful attention was paid to keeping the pattern precisely pieced and symmetrical. The same care was given to its quilting.
Stars, about 1866
Probably Bowling Green, Kentucky
L2010.42.22
L2010.42.37
L2010.42.37
Flying Geese with Star, about 1880
Probably Ohio
Flying Geese with Star, about 1880
Cottons
Probably Ohio
93 x 93 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.37

Two-color, blue and white quilts were popular from the earlier decades of the nineteenth century on into the twentieth. Like many earlier green, red, and white or blue and white quilts, this blue and white example uses printed fabric.
Flying Geese with Star, about 1880
Probably Ohio
L2010.42.37
L2010.42.5
L2010.42.5
Sampler Quilt, about 1885
Possibly New York
Sampler Quilt, about 1885
Cottons
Possibly New York
79 x 68 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.5

This quilt's blocks include both traditional patterns and unique creations. Several blocks consist of images cut from printed fabrics and stitched in place, a collage-like technique known as broderie perse. Several different quilters produced the blocks, adding a social dimension to the quilt's creation. Names or initials appear in a few blocks, including the name "Alfred Beauclere." Looking at census records from the period, the name "Beauclere" (also spelled "Beauclair") had strong connections to French Canada and often appeared in border areas like upstate New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
Sampler Quilt, about 1885
Possibly New York
L2010.42.5
L2010.42.18
L2010.42.18
Lady of the Lake, about 1885
Probably Ohio
Lady of the Lake, about 1885
Cottons
Probably Ohio
79 x 69 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.18

Amid the increasingly dense visual culture of the late nineteenth century (think, for example, of the cluttered Victorian parlors seen in many period photographs), red and white quilts provided an alternative to the increasing visual complexity of American quilting of the period. Popular from about 1880 until about 1920, red and white quilts came in a variety of patterns, some quite detailed and others quite simple. Most used plain red fabric.
Lady of the Lake, about 1885
Probably Ohio
L2010.42.18
L2010.42.12
L2010.42.12
Strip Quilt, about 1890
Probably Pennsylvania
Strip Quilt, about 1890
Cottons
Probably Pennsylvania
76 x 80 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.12

Entirely pieced from strips and triangles, this quilt manages to be both precise and random at the same time. As such, it illustrates one of the fundamental principles of human material expression: the ability to innovate within the confines of established norms or traditions. Here, the quilter was limited by accepted practices of late nineteenth-century quilting including the use of a rectilinear format, the preference for a grid-like arrangement of elements, and the emphasis on symmetrical patterns. Though bound by these constraints, the quilt maker still avoided the use of a familiar pattern and, by using multiple fabrics, introduced an unpredictable vitality to her work.
Strip Quilt, about 1890
Probably Pennsylvania
L2010.42.12
L2010.42.23
L2010.42.23
Sampler Quilt, about 1890
Probably Pennsylvania
Sampler Quilt, about 1890
Cottons
Probably Pennsylvania
86 x 70 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.23

As the name implies, sampler quilts incorporate a variety of different patterns. This example mixes abstract, geometric blocks with pictorial elements. The latter includes the heart-in-hand at the center, a pair of coffin-shaped pieces with crosses, and an anchor. These may relate to one of the many fraternal societies popular during the late nineteenth century. The International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), for example, used the heart-in-hand symbol on its ritual staffs and used the coffin as a symbol of universal equality (at death, all are equal). Though organized by and for men, fraternal societies developed women's auxiliaries beginning in the 1850s. As a result, the symbols of these groups, most often the Masons and the IOOF, found their way into quilts. Quilts associated with fraternal societies helped reinforce the social bonds that connected group members.
Sampler Quilt, about 1890
Probably Pennsylvania
L2010.42.23
L2010.42.29
L2010.42.29
Stars and Double Chain, about 1890
Cottons
Probably Kentucky
Stars and Double Chain, about 1890
Cottons
Probably Kentucky
70 x 59 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.29

During the late nineteenth century, many quilt designs became increasingly complex, whether in their patterns, in the number of fabric pieces required, or a combination of the two. The maker of this quilt used hundreds upon hundreds of postage-stamp sized pieces of fabric. As such, the quilt is not only a remarkable example of quilt making, but an interesting index of some of the printed cotton fabrics available at the end of the nineteenth century.
Stars and Double Chain, about 1890
Cottons
Probably Kentucky
L2010.42.29
L2010.42.46
L2010.42.46
Flossie Sheriff McClure
(American, born 1892)
Log Cabin--Barn Raising Variation, 1910-1915
Lexington, Kentucky
Flossie Sheriff McClure
(American, born 1892)
Log Cabin--Barn Raising Variation, 1910-1915
Cottons, wools and silks
Lexington, Kentucky
75-1/2 x 74 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.46

This quilt's history indicates that it was made by Flossie (Florence) McClure and her mother, Sallie, between 1910 and 1915. They chose one of the many variations of the Log Cabin pattern. Log Cabin quilts consist of square blocks, each pieced together from rectilinear strips of fabric. Manipulating the strips' arrangement, their colors, their shades, or some combination of the three produces different optical effects. The exact origins of the Log Cabin concept remain uncertain. The United States? Britain? Whatever the source, Log Cabin patterns became popular in the United States during the late nineteenth century and remain popular among quilters still today.
Flossie Sheriff McClure
(American, born 1892)
Log Cabin--Barn Raising Variation, 1910-1915
Lexington, Kentucky
L2010.42.46
L2010.42.13
L2010.42.13
Flying Geese and Diamond in the Square, about 1915
Probably Ohio
Flying Geese and Diamond in the Square, about 1915
Cottons
Probably Ohio
74 x 74 in.
Collection of Eleanor Bingham Miller L2010.42.13

Amid the increasingly dense visual culture of the late nineteenth century (think, for example, of the cluttered Victorian parlors seen in many period photographs), red and white quilts provided an alternative to the increasing visual complexity of American quilting of the period. Popular from about 1880 until about 1920, red and white quilts came in a variety of patterns, some quite detailed and others quite simple. Most used plain red fabric.
Flying Geese and Diamond in the Square, about 1915
Probably Ohio
L2010.42.13


 
 
 


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