“Civil War Nine Patch” from American Doll Quilts
For many of us, one of the great pleasures of our craft is the connection to quilters of the past. When author Kathleen Tracy became a quilter, she delved into American history, eager to learn more about those who had put needle to thread long ago.
Kathleen’s search led her to museums and historical societies, where she found compelling photos, letters, and even diaries. Inspired by these treasures, Kathleen has written beautiful books that bring history vividly to life for quilters and sewists. Her popular books include American Doll Quilts, Remembering Adelia, and The Civil War Sewing Circle.
“Civil War Needle Case” from American Doll Quilts
We wanted to share some of Kathleen’s fascinating research with you, so let’s start with excerpts from American Doll Quilts.
The 1860s were trying times for America, and the many roles that women played are mirrored in their quilts. Quiltmakers were prolific because the need for quilts was immense. Unfortunately, most of the women’s efforts are lost to history—not many of their quilts survived, and we can assume that many were discarded from heavy use or buried along with the men who died.
Before the war even began, as early as the 1830s, many women dedicated their voices and quilts to the abolitionist movement. Anti-slavery fairs, much like our craft bazaars today, moved these women to action and made use of their considerable needlework skills through the thousands of quilts made and sold for the cause.
One quilt pattern in particular—the Underground Railroad—reflects some women’s views on slavery, and even today this pattern survives as a testament to the courage of many during this troubled time.
“Underground Railroad” from American Doll Quilts
The Underground Railroad was not an actual railroad, but an organization consisting of free blacks and whites who sympathized with and aided slaves attempting to flee. Safe houses were supposedly those that displayed a Log Cabin quilt with a black center square, and when these quilts were hung in a window or on a clothesline, slaves could be assured of a hiding place on their journey. Certain quilt blocks conveyed information about when to leave and what paths to take. The actual Underground Railroad pattern, with its light and dark contrasting squares placed in an ascending formation, is said to point to specific directions for escape.
Historians disagree on whether the signal codes involving quilts are fact or fiction. Other than oral records and stories passed down from families, there does not seem to be much evidence that these quilts played such a role. The question of whether the quilts held secret signs is a fascinating one, however, and I have included a pattern for the Underground Railroad design in this book.
While Kathleen was visiting historical societies as part of her research, she came across a rare treasure. She discovered a small leather diary written by Adelia Thomas, a 19-year-old woman living in Illinois in 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War. That diary became the inspiration for Remembering Adelia. Quilting and sewing are frequent topics in Adelia’s diary, and it’s fascinating to read about daily events in her own words.
The following is what Adelia wrote in her diary on June 13, 1861, two months after the Civil War had begun.
Washed the windows in the dining room and cleaned the piazza floor. Made two chicken pies then cleaned the dining room up. Mrs. Miller came to our quilting in the forenoon. Had a grand time. All the women in the neighborhood here and the girls too. Got the quilt all done then went home with Juliette to Mrs. Vosburgh’s. Father and Clara went to Woodstock in the morning. Heard the drums clear from Wauconda when I was coming home from Vosburgh’s.
“Charming Coins Doll Quilt” from Remembering Adelia is a scrappy quilt inspired by a photo of a coins charm quilt from the 1860s.
You can see historical photos and read many more excerpts from Adelia’s diary in Remembering Adelia. This remarkable book includes patterns for 14 quilts featuring Civil War reproduction fabrics—40% off this week only!*
During the Civil War, American women responded to the ongoing need for quilts by gathering in church groups and sewing circles. These groups not only provided tangible support for the enlisted men but also gave needed comfort to the women. Kathleen presents historical photos and heartfelt letters written to loved ones in her popular book The Civil War Sewing Circle. The book also includes 16 easy projects patterned after quilts made during the Civil War era, including large and small quilts plus a pincushion, sewing box, and needle case. Find them in The Civil War Sewing Circle —40% off this week only!*
“Civil War Letter Pocket and Needle Case” from The Civil War Sewing Circle
If you’re familiar with the inspiring work of Carol Hopkins, you know that her Civil War quilt designs are excellent for showcasing reproduction fabrics. The patterns are scrappy and small, perfect for creating doll quilts and wall hangings evocative of the era. Carol presents 15 favorites from her popular pattern line in her book Civil War Legacies—40% off this week only!*
“Brass Buttons” from Civil War Legacies. The small squares in the scrappy Four Patch blocks are reminiscent of the buttons that decorated soldiers’ uniforms during the Civil War.
When it comes to the actual quilting of your projects, you can beautifully complement your work with authentic Civil War quilting patterns. You’ll find historical designs and more in Mary M. Covey’s Follow-the-Line Quilting Designs Volume Five. See for yourself why readers call Mary’s quilting-design collections “outstanding,” “easy to follow,” and “very well planned.”
Are you hearing a bugle call to create with Civil War reproduction fabrics? We’d love to hear about a project you’ve made or would like to make. Describe it in the comments.