Friday, June 30, 2017

Tobacco Cloth?

Top in the Whig's Defeat design, 
Turkey red and a fugitive blue. About 1900.
What did people call these inexpensive solid cottons with a low thread count?

Maybe tobacco cloth?

Late winter in 1907 was time for Breckenridge, Kentucky,
 tobacco farmers to buy their tobacco cloth
for the spring crop.

Tobacco cloth is a gauze used to tent over young tobacco plants to shield them from too much sun. 
This photo from the Library of Congress is from 1940, and shows a field in Connecticut. Apparently farmers make tents from plastic now.

H. D. Reddicks's store used the words Tobacco Bunting or Tobacco Cloth
advertising a sale on the 2-1/2 cent cloth: 2 Cents in 1915.

Competitor S. Marcus advertised the following month:
"We are unable to mention all of the many items in our
store such as Homespuns, Sheeting, Tobacco Cloth, etc."

The question is whether everybody in Kingstree knew that tobacco cloth was a cheap cotton for domestic use, in patchwork, aprons, curtains etc.
Or whether everybody knew the stores were talking about unbleached tobacco cloth to hang over their
Or both.

Katy at KatyQuilts paid $9 for this old top
made from some low quality cotton. You could almost read through the white
 She washed it,
fixed it up and is quilting it now:

Louis Harmuth's 1915 edition of Fairchild's  Dictionary of Textiles described four uses for tobacco cloth.
  • wrapping tobacco [perhaps he'd never seen a tobacco field]
  • antiseptic gauze
  • printed drapery [light-weight cretonne perhaps]
  • flags [bunting]
It seems to me that tobacco cloth, like cheesecloth, was a generic term for low quality cloth. One might wrap cheese in cheesecloth but it had many other uses. In Manning, South Carolina, five years later, Tobacco cloth was listed under Domestics.

Tobacco cloth was 
3 cents a yard when check homespuns were 12-1/2 cents and 
higher quality percales cost 19 cents and 24 cents.

 The term tobacco cloth does seem to have been used to describe a sheer, light cloth with many uses.

In 1922 a fashion note from the New York Tribune suggested
a Russian look. The pictured garment was "blond tobacco cloth
trimmed with steel rings."

In 1949 a New York home economics publication gave advice
on stitching inexpensive curtains from"sheers, such as tobacco cloth."

The Montgomery Ward catalog in 1942 sold:
"In 8-yard cuts: bleached...Tobacco Cloth GOOD— Thread Count 22 x 18."

Pat Sloan sez:
"Most quilt shop quality fabric is made with a thread count of 75 [x 75]."
Read more here:
I'd certainly like to come across an ad that described tobacco cloth in colors. Or an interview with a Southerner who remembered people making quilts from tobacco cloth. I've seen discussions of using tobacco sacks to make patchwork, but they are talking about sacking fabric like sugar or flour sacks...

...small pieces of sacking fabric.

Mrs. Bill Stagg shows a quilt made from tobacco sacks which she ripped up,
dyed, and pieced. Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940. 
Russell Lee Photograph. Library of Congress.

The North Carolina project did interview a woman born in 1908, daughter of a tobacco farmer, who remembered using tobacco cloth in family quilts, but she was not talking about the patchwork:
"In Thelma's opinion a now nearly vanished material 'tobacco cloth,' provided the best batting because it was the softest....Thelma recycled this cover by washing it and carefully spreading it evenly to create batting."
North Carolina Quilts, page 128.

I found an intriguing flag quilt at a site in Texas. The Bonham Public Library displayed this quilt with the family story that it was a tobacco sack quilt made by Texan Lois Graham. I looked for seams in those stripes, thinking "That's a good use for small tobacco sacks. You piece them into a stripe"....but there are no seams in those stripes. The stripes appear to be cut from yardage.

Did family memory confuse the words "tobacco cloth" with "tobacco sack?"

Remember, I am from New York City. I don't know a thing about tobacco cloth except what I read in old books and newspapers. You Southern readers may have a few things to add to the discussion. Please comment.

Here's a another post I wrote on Southern cloth in quilts.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Two Early Star Quilts

Quilt embroidered "H Warner 1807"
Thompson collection

We don't have many surviving quilts with dates before 1820 inscribed upon them. Lori Lee Triplett saw this Pennsylvania family quilt at a workshop she was leading recently and was kind enough to get me a photo.

I posted it to my database on date-inscribed quilts, which is public on my Pinterest page here:
I have a Pinterest page for each decade 1800 to 1840.

Quilt by Hannah John, inscribed 1797

Wendy Caton Reed sent a photo of an even earlier quilt documented by the Maine Quilt Project.

If you go to the links you will see the new/old star quilts are in familiar company. Style characteristics include color scheme (classic natural dye shades of pinks, blues and browns with white), pattern (9-patch stars)  and set (block-style).

With such a small number of examples it is difficult to accurately analyze early American quilt style. I was pleased to see these new additions to a small database do not upset any of my notions about quilts before 1820.  I gave a paper on the topic at Colonial Williamsburg a few months ago. Above is a slide from my speech looking at the stars in  quilts from the 18th century.

The 1807 Warner star is the same design used by Rachel Mackey of
Chester County, Pennsylvania, in her quilt embroidered with the date 1787.

That pattern is numbered 2141 in BlockBase and
my Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.

Ms. Warner's and Ms. Mackey's are shaded just like #2141c, the two color blue & white picture in BlockBase.

The star is also seen in the center Mary Stite's 1804 Pennsylvania medallion
recorded by the Goschenhoppen Historians project.

Here are published names I recorded in my Encyclopedia, differentiated by shading. The earliest published reference is 100 years younger, "Unnamed" in Farm & Fireside magazine in 1904. Wallace's Farmer called it Star of Virginia in 1928. The standard names today such as Variable Star or Ohio Star come from Carrie Hall's 1935 index to patterns. She also called it Texas Star, a geographical reference that was not yet invented in 1807. Too bad no one published it Pennsylvania Star, which seems to be the place the design was popular.

Hannah John's Maine star is a more
basic variation of the variable star
# 2138
With such a small number of examples, any addition to the database can upset the analysis. The two new examples do conflict with one idea I talked about in my speech.

I saw in the quilts before 1810 that the
stars were blocks, but generally not set block-style
---set more in medallion style format
as frames, borders or the center.

The Warner quilt in particular is classic American
block-style set: Repeated blocks alternating
with plain squares, framed by a border.

Very much like the quilt date 178X by R Porter
in the American Museum in Britain.

The two additions to the database give more support to the idea that when Americans began
making patchwork quilts in the last quarter of the 18th century they developed a uniquely American   block-style.

Thanks to Lori and Wendy. Any date-inscribed quilts before 1850 are welcome additions my database.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Morris Hexathon Label and Paper Patterns

The blogger at SewLittleToSay
has finished her Morris Hexathon quilt from last year.

On the design wall

She used the classic palette of color
complements red and green, but toned down and lightened up.

Morris Hexathon

And set it with long hexagons of black plain cotton.
It's quilted and bound.

A 19th-century silk quilt from Averil Colby's collection
now at the Quilt Museum in York, England

See a post on sets with long hexagons here:

I realized I had forgotten to make a label so here it is. I designed it for a 5" square box but you can print it any size.

To Print:

Create a word file or a new empty JPG file.
Click on the image above.
Right click on it and save it to your file.
Print that file onto pre-treated fabric.

I added the Morris Hexathon patterns to my Etsy shop so you can buy the whole set of 28 pages. 
Here's a link to a PDF you can download and print yourself.

Or I will print them for you and send them to you by mail (U.S. only)


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Past Perfect: Lori Smith

Floral Delight by Lori Smith
82" x 101"

This month's Past Perfect post is about Lori Smith whose Minnesota pattern company is named From My Heart to Your Hands.

Floral Delight seems to have been inspired by this
antique on the cover of the Quilt Engagement Calendar Treasury.

Eagle Applique
68" Square

Here's her web store:

New Beginnings, 49-1/2" Square
Lori is probably best known for her small quilts inspired by
traditional design.

Kathleen Gregory won a ribbon
at this week's Kansas City Regional Quilt Festival
with a wall quilt in a Lori Smith pattern.

Lori has a Fit to Frame Series. This one is
number 13---18" x 24"

But she also sells patterns for large quilts, applique & pieced, wool applique, BOM's---
a wide variety.
All inspired by quilts from the past.

Virginia's Star
This pattern comes with blocks finishing
from 4-1/2" to 10-1/2"
The finished quilt can be 39" across or 91".

Quilt signed & dated ELH 1839
Collection of the Shelburne Museum

Was this antique was her inspiration?

Road to Freedom 
67" x 74"

Pretty in Pink 
39-1/2" x 49-1/2"

Lori doesn't teach, lecture or design fabric. She just creates and sells patterns.
A great specialization.
Look for her booth at quilt shows.

Scott T. Dog
16" x 20"

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Cargo Collections

Lureca Outland
Collection: IQSCM

Helen and Robert Cargo collected Southern folk arts for about forty years, including hundreds of Alabama quilts. In the 1980s and '90s Robert operated the Robert Cargo Gallery in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Robert was a professor of romance languages and classics at the University of Alabama. Helen McCain Cargo who taught French was a quilter herself. Helen died in 2008 at 75; Robert in 2012 at 79 years of age.

Cyatus Fowler, Alabama
Collection: Birmingham Museum of Art 

When Robert retired daughter Caroline Cargo moved the gallery to Paoli, Pennsylvania. The Cargos specialized in Alabama quilts and particularly in those made by African-American Alabamians. Most of the collection was made in the last years of the 20th century.

Bettie Finch
Collection: IQSCM

The bulk of their quilt collection went to two institutions: The International Quilt Study Center and Museum and the Birmingham Museum of Art. IQSCM has over 150, donated in the year 2000.

 Mary Ann Rouse Thomas
Blount County Alabama, Late 19th century.
Collection: Birmingham Museum of Art 
Mary Ann was Robert's Great-Grandmother.
Inheriting her quilts inspired him to add to his collection. 

The Birmingham Museum has 300, part of their collection of 700 folk art objects from the Cargos.
Quilts from the Cargo collection can also be found in other museums.

Quilt from the Cargo collection in the 
American Museum of Folk Art

Read more about IQSCM's Robert and Helen Cargo African American Quilt Collection:

Edgie Steventon
Collection: IQSCM

Roberta Jemison
Collection: IQSCM

The legacy of Robert, Helen and Caroline Cargo will remain a significant contribution to the study of American quilts.

See the IQSCM collection by clicking here and scrolling down to choose IQSC Collection and select Robert and Helen Cargo Collection.

Robert's mother Mildred Thomas Cargo pieced
the top; Robert quilted it. 
Collection: Birmingham Museum of Art 

The quilts in the Birmingham Museum collection are not so accessible online. 
Click here to see their quilts. 
Most haven't yet been photographed and this webpage is rather difficult to navigate as clicking on a photo puts you back at square one. However, it's worth the trouble. There are some great quilts in the files.

Mrs. Dove Brown or her mother
Collection: Birmingham Museum of Art 

Gail Andrews did a catalog in 1982. Alabama Quilts: Black Belt to Hill County.Alabama Quilts From the Helen and Robert Cargo Collection