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Saturday, October 17, 2020

Christmas Cactus

 Anyone who knows me knows that I love houseplants. I became interested in them as a 4-H project when I was about 12 years old and have kept some plants ever since. Right now, I have two very large Christmas cacti, (three to four feet in expanse), one with broad leaves and the other with smaller, more delicate leaves. The one with broad leaves blooms twice per year for several months. As it has gotten older, one side blooms at a time, quickly followed by the other side. I don't know why that is happening as I rotate the plants a quarter turn every time I water them.




The broad leaf cactus has a history. I started the plant using one segment that had fallen to the floor of my mother's nursing home room when a visitor brought a blooming plant to my mother's roommate. The segment was in very good condition and my mother told me to bring it home to see if I could "root" it. I did just that! The plant grew by leaps and bounds and has consistently rewarded me with many blossoms.

The last time it bloomed was in May. Now it is October and it has begun blossoming again. I expect it will "go" until Christmas, if not beyond.

My other plants are succulents and African violets. I have one orchid that was given to me and when it finished blooming, it has put on more growth but no more buds. I have it under a grow light along with some of the African violets. When it comes to plants, I find it is best to water them once a week, fertilize them occasionally, and just let Nature do its thing. They are so cheerful and an added benefit is that they add oxygen to the air! They respond to Tender Loving Care and they never talk back!


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The "Mayflower Quilt"

 The “Mayflower” Quilt

Patricia L. Cummings

The Oldest Known Wholecloth Quilt Brought to America

Perhaps the earliest known quilt found in North American museum collections is one that at one time was dubiously called, “The Mayflower Quilt.” Described as being made of linen, the wholecloth quilt was carried aboard the “Angel Gabriel” galleon by the Cogswell family.  Members of the family included John Cogswell (43) and his wife, Elizabeth (41), and 7 children: William (18), Mary (16), John Jr. (13), Hannah (11), Abigail (9), Edward, (6), Sarah (3), and Elizabeth, (an infant). They hailed from Westbury Leigh, Wiltshire, England and the “Angel Gabriel” departed from Bristol, England in 1635.



Lovely Lane Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, now owns the quilt. Robert Shindle, Museum Director, noted in an e-mail to me that no facts have ever been found to support an association of the quilt with the “Mayflower,” a ship that brought passengers to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.  

Indeed, no record can be found of this particular galleon ever being called “Mayflower.” Originally, it was called “Starne” and was built for Sir Walter Raleigh to carry him from England to South America. After his unsuccessful attempt to find gold in Spanish-held territory along the Orinoco River, he was beheaded. Later, the vessel acquired the name “Jason.” Records show that at one point, it served to transport cargo such as cotton, lead, and raisins to the New World. The galleon was renamed “Angel Gabriel” in mid-1619.

Museum Acquires Quilt

According to Shindle, the quilt was purchased from Mrs. Susan Litch Williams for $85 dollars by Reverend N.T. Whitaker on September 1897 on behalf of Rev. John Franklin Goucher, then President of the Woman’s College of Baltimore (later Goucher College). Then the quilt was given by Dr. Goucher’s daughters to a church, now known as Lovely Lane Methodist Church, when it was in the process of opening a museum in 1954. Rarely seen by the public, the quilt was published in a 2006 calendar previously offered for sale by the museum

More Information Found

The “Angel Gabriel,” a 240 ton galleon made of wood and sails, carried 25 or more passengers on its final voyage to New England, a trip that was part of the “Great Migration” of Puritans to the New World from 1620 to 1640.

On August 14, 1635, the ship was anchored near Pemiquid Point, Maine for the night. The passengers disembarked by rowboat, carrying enough gear to stay on dry land, including the quilt. At 6:30 a.m. the following day, ferocious winds caused by the “Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635” smashed the ship to smithereens and washed the shipwreck out to sea leaving only scattered floating debris on the surface of the water. The vessel was never seen again, in spite of continued and concerted attempts by searchers who continue to seek out any remains.

Angel Gabriel: The Elusive English Galleon / Its History and the Search for Its Remains by Warren Curtis Riess (Bristol, Maine: 1797 House, 2001), mentions the journal account of Reverend Richard Mather, written in 1635:  “[…] most of the cattle and other goods, with one seaman and three or four passengers, did also perish therein, besides two passengers that died by the way,” (“Richard Mather’s Journal,” Chronicles of the First Planters of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay from 1623-1636, ed., Alexander Young (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1846).

Galleon Survivors and Their Descendants

Today, a plaque mounted on a rock at Pemaquid Point, Maine is dedicated to the Cogswell family which later settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts. A similar plaque honors the memory of Ralph Blaisdell (42), his wife (age unknown), and their son, Henry (3) of Lancashire, England who later first went to York, Maine and later settled in Salisbury, Massachusetts. Family descendants of those shipwrecked still live in New England. 

One such person is Barbara Bean Stevens, a resident of Groton, New Hampshire. She is a direct descendant of John Burnham who at the age of 10 was allowed by his mother, Mary Andrews Burnham, to accompany his uncle, Robert Andrews, the captain of the “Angel Gabriel,” along with John’s two brothers, Thomas and Robert Burnham. In information written for the Groton Historical Society in their Winter Newsletter (Vol. IV, Issue 4, 2006), Stevens provided information to Louise Traunstein, Groton Historical Society Archivist and Newsletter Editor.

Stevens recounted she had read in several historical accounts that during the hurricane,  noted ships were lost at sea, ocean swells were over 20 feet high, and Indians (Native Americans) had to climb trees for safety. Hundreds of trees were uprooted and dwellings destroyed as gale force winds continued for five to six hours. Unlike the Cogswell family, the sea captain and his nephews escaped only with their lives and nothing else.

A treasured piece of the past, the “Mayflower Quilt” name evokes a time when Christian believers gathered up their most valuable possessions and ventured from their familiar surroundings to seek religious freedom in the New World. We are very lucky that this quilt was saved and has been preserved in a museum setting. It is an early example of a quilt from a time when quilters simply used needle and thread to work surface designs in pleasing patterns. Perhaps, though, it is time that the quilt was called, “The Angel Gabriel” quilt.

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Patricia L. Cummings is a writer and quilter whose many articles have been published by The Quilter magazine and other publications. She writes books about Redwork embroidery, quilt history, and other topics. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Hmong Needlework Traditions

 Hmong Needlework Traditions

Patricia L. Cummings

Had it not been for the friendship between the Hmong (pronounced “mung”) of Laos and the United States military during the Vietnam War, most Americans would be unaware of the rich textile traditions of these brave and gentle people. Hmong contributions to the war effort were immense. They intercepted Vietcong supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, rescued downed U.S. helicopter pilots, were the eyes and ears of the Central Intelligence Agency, and worked as foot soldiers.




When the U.S. exited Vietnam in 1975, the Hmong people were at the mercy of the Communist victors, who were intent on retaliation. Ultimately, they fled across the Mekong River to reach the safe shores of Thailand. Half of the Lao Hmong population, about 230,000 people, were sheltered at United Nations refugee camps, where they were held until cleared to move on to another country. With little to do in the camps, both men and women passed the time by making embroidered Paj Ntaub (Hmong stitchery). These “story cloths,” containing motifs of animals, crops, and people, show what village life had been like and how it had drastically changed.

Story Cloths

Story cloths consist of two layers and often include embroidered images of pigs, chickens, goats, horses, cows, and water buffalo, which the Hmong customarily kept when they were hillside farmers. The detailed embroidered village scenes feature people at work – many with baskets on their backs – cultivating corn, weaving, or pounding dry-land rice. Women often carried their babies into the field using colorful papoose-like carriers with straps. The babies would wear special, embroidered hats to keep evil spirits away. The colorful huts and overall activity present a tranquil view of life in Laos.



When the Hmong men picked up a needle, a different story was told – that of Communist soldiers with guns terrorizing innocent civilians, while helicopters and planes drop mycotoxins that some called “Yellow Rain.” The lethal manmade concoction was repeatedly dropped on Hmong villages, causing severe illness and death. The story cloths of men show attempts to escape across the Mekong River. These included depictions of bamboo sticks to which they clung, rafts, tires, inflated plastic bags and occasionally boats (if they paid someone). Many drowned because they did not know how to swim. These story cloths serve to instruct future generations as to what actually happened and why it was important to seek asylum elsewhere.

Pa Ndau Applique

In addition to story cloths, the Hmong make “flower cloths,” needlework designs called pa Ndau (pronounced “pond-ouw).  To make a flower cloth, three layers of cloth are required. The fabric is marked, cut away, turned under, and appliqued down with tiny stitches. Of the geometric designs most common is the “Elephant’s Foot” motif.



 Another common design is “Snail House” which symbolizes the (important) extended family. “Dragon’s Tail” is a version of a “Snail House” design. Star designs and heart designs are also common.  Pa Ndau is often embellished with additional small designs and embroidery.

Needlework Traditions

Mothers begin to teach their children needlework from as young an age as three and the embroideries create an important connection for mother and daughter. Ia Moua Yang, in her booklet, The Pa Ndau of Ia Moua Yang: Keeping Alive the Treasure of the Hmong, touchingly observes, “As the mother gets older, she and her daughter make a very special Pa Ndau for a gift exchange so when they get to the spirit world, they will be able to meet each other again.”

Included in every Hmong girl’s dowry are special burial cloths that are given to her when she leaves home. Funeral celebrations are very important to the Hmong. New Year’s celebrations are also a time to show off Hmong-embroidered clothing and to compete for the “best of show.”

Besides story cloths and flower cloths, the Hmong make a variety of embroidered objects, including cross-stitched belts, purses. holiday ornaments and many other small textiles. Their needlework has become a means of revenue.

New Beginnings

Since the end of the Vietnam War, the Hmong people who came to the U.S. have had some time to become acclimated. There is no doubt that their culture is changing, an inevitable result of being exposed to a much different way of life. There is also a danger that Hmong needlework traditions will not be a priority with the younger generations. The skills may stand as an endangered species, just as the tigers they left behind.

About the Author

Patricia L. Cummings had her own column, “Pieces of the Past” in The Quilter magazine for 15 years. She is certified by the Embroiderer’s Guild of America as a master craftsman in quilt making. James Cummings serves as the photographer for all of Pat’s books and articles.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Adult Coloring

I was introduced to the idea of adult coloring at the senior center in my hometown. It was set up as an activity for people to do while the knitting group carried on in the same room. The seniors coordinator provided gel pens, colored pencils and a treasure trove of coloring books and loose pages presumably printed from the Internet.

After telling a friend of my new interest, she bought me a set of 36 colored pencils and later gave me a set of gel pens. My husband, who had taken an art course at (adult education) at the high school, had acquired a nice set of Prismacolor pencils. He has since ordered more art supplies such as flesh-colored pencils for doing faces. He also bought me some earth-tone gel pens on amazon. All in all, we are well-stocked with coloring supplies.



We have a "date" every Sunday night. We color in my studio while listening to the Folk Show on National Public Radio. Music is a good background for our artistic efforts. It is not as easy as it looks to choose appropriate colors.

Recently, Better Day Books offered a free coloring book to download. It has quarantine themes and words related to "flattening the curve," etc. So far, I have finished two of the coloring pages. Here is the second one.


I like the message. "It's a Good Day to Have a Better Day." We could all use better days these days. We are tired of the stay-at-home order and limited access to businesses. It is unlikely that we will ever get back to "normal" again, or so it seems. There is hope of a vaccine and limited testing has been done so far. A vaccine is our only hope of resuming all activities as we once knew them and even then, many of us will approach public activities with caution as our brains have been programmed to fear being with other people. For now, we can only make the most of Today and try, against all odds, to have a better day!


Thursday, April 30, 2020

Cloth Dolls to Love

Today I am going to show you a collection of cloth dolls I collected a few years ago. I purchased them at an antiques shop. They are small, printed and embroidered, and each has a number at the bottom. I am wondering if anyone has any information about them (such as who the print manufacturer was and when they were printed). They are really charming! The "backs" are printed and embroidered, too. Hope you enjoy seeing them. All photos were taken by James Cummings.








There are seven of them in all. The boy with the dog and watermelons and the man playing a banjo make me think of these dolls as having a southern theme. They will all be going to a good home - to a collector of cloth dolls. I hope she enjoys them as much as I have!

Please leave a comment if you have any further information about them. Thanks!