Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Vintage Series VI - Sunbonnet Sue

Come with me again to the
Carriage House 
for a peek at the charming
1930's quilt,
Sunbonnet Sue, 
Dutch Doll.

I am delighted to feature my maternal grandmother's quilt in this post, a tied Sunbonnet from the '30's made in Iowa. Although the phrase "Sunbonnet Sue" dates to at least 1908 (when a song by that title appeared in that year's Zigfeld Follies), quilters - or at least the publishers of quilt patterns - didn't refer to the block by that name before the early Depression.  By the end of WWII, when Work Basket magazine issued a pattern in November 1945, the name had stuck for good - at least in the Northeast and Midwest.  In southern Indiana and in states from Kentucky southward, "Sue" was called "Dutch Doll" - a name that persisted until the publication of national quilt magazines in the 1970s began to eliminate regional quilt pattern names.

Before that - going back as far as the 1870s - it was probably Kate Greenaway who introduced what we know as the "Sunbonnet" design - a young female figure usually in silhouette, whose wide-brimmed hat obscures her face.  As a motif on quilts, the 'sunbonnet' seems to originate from the 1878 publication of Greenaway's first book, Under the Window, in which Greenaway dressed her figures in redwork embroidery - a craze which began in the late 1870s.   
As opposed to the "Sues" made almost three decades later who are shown with no faces, these redwork designs were sewn with sweet expressions.  However, for my post, redwork is not being shown!  What you see here is a classic representation of a change in dye technology which made cheerful - and colorfast - pastel prints possible.  Quilters went crazy mixing these charming fabrics in their quilts in Dresden Plates and Double Wedding Rings - and in the sweet dresses and hats of Sunbonnet girls.  There were many patterns issued in many magazines with different names, but all of them consisted of blocks repeated over the whole quilt top, each of which contained an identical appliqu├ęd figure in profile, sometimes embellished with embroidery, as my grandmother's quilt skillfully displays.  

She was the wife of a rural postal carrier and the mother of four children.  The picture, below, was taken in 1939 with her family - my mother seated in front of her.
And here I am many years later getting ample attention from her and my mother.  Oh, how I would have loved to have lounged around in their dresses!  So feminine.
Thank you for visiting me in the carriage house again!  I hope you and yours have a blessed Thanksgiving.  As for my house, we extend our thanks heavenward for rich blessings, which include friends such as you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Vintage Series V - Jacob's Ladder

Get a steaming mug of something wonderful, bring along your imagination, and take another brief moment to step back in time with me...

Today we'll be talking about a Biblical favorite: Jacob's Ladder. says we seldom find a quilt pattern with just one name. Besides Jacob's Ladder, this pattern has been known as Underground Railroad, Road to California, Off to San Francisco, Gone to Chicago, Stepping Stones and Trail of the Covered Wagon. All these names have one commonality; they all speak of going somewhere.

It's fun to imagine what might have inspired these names. It may be a trip through the garden using stepping stones.  (Certainly the 'elf house' I found photographing my quilts sparks the imagination)!  Yet again, the name for a quilt might been a long journey west in a covered wagon. Women might well have dreamed of traveling as they were sewing on this quilt.

When Marie Webster wrote the first known book on quilting in 1915 she referred to the Jacob's Ladder pattern in this way, "The bold and rather heavy design known as 'Jacobs Ladder' is a good example of a pieced quilt." She showed a black and white picture of this pattern with the caption, "One of the most striking quilts having Biblical names."  Biblical names were often used for quilts in a time when reading the Bible each day was a part of family life.

Another writer, Ruth Finley, wrote a later book on quilting in 1929. Finley mentions the Jacob's Ladder pattern as being of "shadowy pre-Revolutionary origin" but present day quilt historian, Barbara Brackman, points out that no example of a quilt in this pattern has been identified that was made before the beginning of the 20th century.  We need to be aware that during the early 20th century quilt history was often romanticized and people did not yet have the guidelines for good quilt history research that we use today.

All quilt history and authenticity aside, the 20th century Jacob's Ladder hand-pieced blocks in this quilt top were truly sleeping beauties.  Originally, they were sewn together with hideous green polyester-blend blocks to form the quilt top.

I knew I wasn't purchasing a 100% vintage quilt top, but I saw some potential for a useable, beautiful finished piece.  So, I carefully picked each green block out and replaced them with contemporary white muslin blocks.  I machine-quilted the refreshed quilt top in feathers and  TAH DAH - a sleeping beauty awakes!

I thank you again for stopping by to chat about vintage quilts.  When you're antiquing and happen upon a less-than-beautiful quilt top or blocks, take another look.  Use your imagination.  What could it look like when reworked?  Using your imagination is a part of that creativity I've spoken about many times in my blog.  It's what the pioneer women did on the road when they named the quilts we treasure and admire today.  Ignite your imagination - go somewhere with it.  Who knows?  Perhaps the project you're working on now will inspire the future. 
   Until next time!