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Personal Belongings And Antiques - Part 3

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( Originally Published 1963 )

The first quilt pieced in a star pattern is believed to have been made in New England. The wives and daughters of seafaring men copied their eight-pointed star from a ship's wheel and gave their pattern that name. Mariner's Compass, also of New England origin, featured a sixteenpoint star in each block. Four Doves in a Window was a variant of the eightpointed star. The doves that gathered at openings under the eaves of the high Pennsylvania barns inspired some woman to cut geometric patches, which she sewed to form four doves in the star of each block.

Another version of the eight-pointed star, developed in New Orleans and called the LeMoyne Star, was based on the crest of Jean Baptiste LeMoyne, founder of that city. After 1803, American women called the design Lemon Star. Among later variations of the pattern was "Pineys," made by making six points in red or orange, two points in green, then adding stems and leaves in applique. Lemon Star also was the basis for some lily and tulip designs. From new homes on the Plains came Harvest Sun, an eight-pointed star pieced of bright-colored patches. Lucinda's Star originated in Indiana. Star of the Bluegrass, Stars of Alabama, Star of Texas, St. Louis Star, Star of the West, Chicago Star, and California Star trace the progress westward. Each one is undeniably a star pattern and quite different from any other. When innumerable small pieces were sewed together to form one large star that covered most of the quilt, the pattern was known as Lone Star or the slightly different Star of Bethlehem or Star of the East.

Many of the flower patterns were appliqued, also known as patched or laidon work. Roses dominated at least two dozen quilt patterns, some of which can be traced back to the early 1800's. Radical Rose, of Civil War days, had one flower and four buds per block. Tulips, peonies, sunflowers, and other big, bold garden flowers inspired many a quilt pattern. Although women loved lilacs enough to carry a bush or roots with them from New England or Pennsylvania to Ohio, Missouri, and Colorado, the blossoms were too fine and airy to inspire a quilt pattern.

Current events inspired the naming of many a pattern. Typical were Kansas Troubles, Old Tippecanoe, Washington's Plumes, Union Calico, Whig Rose and Harrison Rose, Rocky Road to Kansas and Rocky Road to California, Little Giant (named for Stephen A. Douglas), and Lincoln's Platform. Log Cabin, a famous pattern, was an arrangement of rectangular pieces within a block. Squares, triangles, and other geometrical snippets were pieced together in innumerable original ways to give rise to dozens of different patterns.

Most quilts were, and still are, made of cotton. But leftover pieces of other fabrics-silks and satins and velvetwere often cut into odd-shaped pieces and sewed together to form the Crazy quilt. The name applied to any quilt put together in a hit-or-miss fashion without a distinct pattern. It is believed to be one of the oldest types of patchwork quilt, but was made throughout the 1800's. A Crazy quilt with a stenciled design painted on some of the larger pieces or with a flower or other motif embroidered, usually with wool, here and there was meant to be used only as a "throw" that was draped on a piano or the back of a sofa during Victorian days.

Among the most treasured and valuable quilts today are the all-white ones of fine muslin, woven linen, or homespun, with a thin interlining, which were made until the late 1800's. Over a period of more than a hundred years, every woman aimed to own at least one of them to use as a bedspread. The beauty of these old white quilts was in the quilting design and the fine stitching that held the three layers together. Most favored was a large central panel, with smaller designs in the corners, taken from the central one. Around the decorative sections, the background was so closely quilted as to resemble woven fabric and to throw the design into low relief. On some allwhite quilts, the main design was emphasized by stuffing all the important motifs, such as flowers and leaves. Stuffing was a tedious chore accomplished by making tiny holes on the underside and pushing cotton in with a large needle.

A century or two ago, fully as important as piecing a quilt top was the sampler required of every little girl. The completion of her sampler-after countless hours of painstaking stitching -was a milestone in her girlhood. This piece of needlework was well-named, for it was a sample of a girl's skill at sewing. Some of the samplers now displayed in museums were the work of little girls between six and ten years old.

Samplers are rectangles or squares, usually of hand-woven linen, filled with designs in cross-stitch. Part and parcel of all samplers was the alphabet, crossstitched first in small letters, then in capitals. A two- to four-line motto to live by was surrounded usually by naturalistic motifs. Sometimes a cat, probably a pet, was the central feature, or it might be an urn of flowers. During the nineteenth century, samplers became more pictorial and were likely to include a little girl's interpretation of the house in which she lived or a small scene, probably glimpsed from a window. Most samplers were enclosed with a border, usually a garland. All of them were signed with the needleworker's name worked in cross-stitch and, often, under it the date and her age. A few crooked letters in the alphabet do not downgrade a sampler, for usually the youngster was sewing more skillfully by the time she got to the garland border.

Other types of needlework based on that customary with the ladies of Europe and England were continued in this country. Needlepoint, worked with wools on canvas, had been an occupation for the ladies of the manors and castles. So had crewel, but the women who helped to settle this country started to do a far different kind of crewel embroidery than their betters in their native lands. The motifs in Early American crewel embroidery were brighter, gayer, more informal and naturalistic than any done abroad. American women used simple stitches such as seed, outline, couching, lazy daisy, and feather-stitch to embroider, but not cover, wool, linen, or cotton cloth with flowers and foliage, birds, and trees loaded sometimes with fruit. Crewel embroidery was used on chair seats, bed valances, hangings and curtains, and coverlets.

Less old crewelwork survives than needlepoint, but more plentiful than either is the more varied embroidery usually done with silk floss on fine cotton or linen in the late nineteenth century. Then every girl and young woman embroidered. Usually she bought the material stamped with the pattern to be worked, for this was the time when pattern companies established their business. Floral and fruit designs were popular and were applied on both household and personal linens. Durings these years, too, almost any woman could put a hemstitched hem in her full white petticoat or her fine linen handkerchief. She monogrammed towels, pillowcases, and sheets, and embroidered pillow shams to cover the bed pillows during the daytime.

A typically Victorian piece of needlework was the tidy or antimacassar made to protect the back or headrest of a chair, sofa, or couch from wear or soil. Narrow matching pieces usually were made for the arms. Tidies might be knit, crocheted, or sewed. If fabric was used-perhaps muslin-it might be cut into small rounds, on which a narrow hem was sewed by hand. Next, each round would be gathered with a thread into a small pouch, leaving an open center, and flattened out by hand. Finally, enough of them were sewed together to make a tidy of the desired size.

Pillow covers or coverlets were made of scraps of silk or velvet in the same manner as the tidy of muslin. Sometimes these finer materials were sewed over small hexagonal pieces of heavy paper or cardboard. The covered pieces were stitched together openwork-fashion, or on all sides for a solid cover.

The chenille bedspreads that are so popular today are machine-made versions of the candlewick ones that used to be made by hand. This combination of weaving and embroidery, which calls for a special needle, was being done before the Revolution. Few examples displayed merely simple tufting. Many were worked in elaborate patterns called Leaves and Swags, Prince's Feather, Eagle, Medallion, and Sunflower. Some patterns such as Robbing Peter to Pay Paul copied those of patchwork quilts of the same name. Crocheted bedspreads are later than knitted ones, but they also copied some of the quilt patterns such as LeMoyne Star, the points of the star being worked out in popcorn stitch. As 1900 approached, handmade bedspreads began to be replaced by Marseilles bedspreads. These were machine-woven of stiff cotton with raised figures.

Homespun sheets and pillowcases were made all over the country. The majority of them probably were used until they were worn out, for fewer of them are still being found than of the cherished knitted or candlewick bedspreads. However, silky linen towels with long, elaborate knotted fringe, banquet cloths of Irish or European damask linen, the red or dark blue and white woven cloths with simpler fringed edges-all of which were the pride of many a Victorian housewife-are still treasures even if they were not woven by hand.

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