Wednesday, April 29, 2015



by Patricia L. Cummings

One would not understand the intricacies involved in making molas, if one were a casual tourist to one of the archipelagos off the coast of Panama where this type of work continues to be made by the Kuna Indians. What is a mola? It is a layered garment, usually a blouse panel (made in pairs) that features appliqué and reverse appliqué. The front and the back of the blouse are similar but not exactly congruent and the blouse is often disassembled, each part sold separately to the unsuspecting public who may not realize that they are purchasing worn goods.

A most interesting mola with Black faces and lots of quilting stitches rendered in an echo stitching style

The molas are often very bright in color and often take their themes from sports or news magazines or advertisements left behind by the tourists. The motifs are eclectic and varied and only limited by the imagination of the mola maker. Making molas is a skill passed down from mother to daughter and it is a craft also engaged in by albino men. On my website, there is a lengthy article about molas with lots of photos:

We have seen several excellent exhibits of molas over the last 20 years: one was mounted at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT; the other was at Dartmouth's Hood Museum.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Redwork Cartoon Characters

Redwork Figures Straight from the “Funny Papers”

by Patricia L. Cummings
photo by James Cummings

A unique Redwork quilt reveals a quilter's sense of humor, love of country life
and penchant for fanciful designs!

Recently, an irresistible quilt surfaced at an estate sale held at the former home of Bernice Berkheiser Reeder (1917-2011), Emmaus, (in Berk's County), Pennsylvania. This particular Redwork quilt includes a number of prominent comic strip characters of the twentieth century. Other designs in the quilt call to mind a possible association with fairy tales such as “the Tortoise and the Hare” and “The Ugly Duckling.”At least one nursery rhyme is represented and other blocks demonstrate the quilt maker's love of farm animals. Evidently made to be enjoyed by a young person during the 1930s/1940s, this charming twin size bed quilt measures 75 inches x 64 inches.

Redwork Cartoon Characters Quilt 

Mrs. Reeder, a former silk mill employee who worked in the Allentown, Pennsylvania area, attached little notes to other objects found in her home after her death. For example, the hat she wore in 1935 on New Year's Eve has a paper attached to it that delineates all of her activities that evening. A set of bisque bride and groom figures are identified as having graced her wedding cake. Unfortunately, she left no written provenance to indicate who embroidered and hand-quilted this quilt. Since the lucky acquisition of this special vintage textile, we have been busy trying to identify some sources of its designs.

Li'l Abner”
“Li'l Abner” (Yokum), the main character of a syndicated comic strip that ran from 1934 to 1977, is depicted on a quilt block in the top row. A product of the imagination of cartoonist Al Capp, Li'l Abner lives in the hillbilly haven of Dogpatch, Kentucky. Although handsome, one of Li'l Abner's goals is to avoid marriage even though he is pursued by willing young ladies. He continues to live at the home of his parents, Mammy and Pappy Yokum. Other characters featured in a film that I viewed include “Daisy Mae,” “Hairless Joe” and “Earthquake McGoo,” all very amusing!

Maggie” and “Jiggs”
My husband, Jim, recognizes two side by side figures in the fourth row down as “Maggie” and “Jiggs” from the comic strip titled “Bringing Up Father.” These characters were first introduced by cartoonist George McManus circa 1911 and were firmly established in their own comic strip in 1913. Both the conflict and humor of the series centers on the million dollars that “Jiggs” won in a lottery. He was suddenly catapulted from the status of “shanty Irish” to “lace curtain Irish,” terms common in the twentieth century that amuse me as my paternal grandmother of Irish ancestry was fond of using them! In stereotypical fashion, Jiggs' social-climbing wife is unwillingly to allow him to continue hanging around with his Irish friends who frequent the local tavern and favor eating corned beef and cabbage (an Irish-American dish, not of Irish origin!).

At the far right side of the fourth row down is a figure that looks like “Blondie,” often described as a “carefree flapper.” The popular slang word “flapper” is reserved for young ladies of the 1920s whose morality was sometimes questioned because of their short dresses, intake of alcohol, and performance of dances new at the time.” First drawn by Chick Young and first published in 1930, the “Blondie” comic strip features “Blondie Boopadoop.” According to wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, the name “Boopadoop” stems from a song popularized by singer Helen Kane in 1928. Blondie is later featured as Mrs. Bumstead, appearing in the series “Dagwood Bumstead,” as a married woman with two children, Alexander and Cookie, and a dog named “Daisy” with her pups.

Popeye” and “Wimpy”
Some of the comic strip figures, such as “Popeye,” are readily recognizable. On a quilt block, his muscular arm seems to be at-the-ready to hit someone (perhaps the bully, Bluto, who was always trying to win over the affection of Olive Oil, Popeye's girlfriend. Those familiar with this character will remember his favorite song, a defining statement: “I'm Popeye the Sailor Man, I'm Popeye the Sailor Man, I'm strong to the finish cuz I eats me spinach, I'm Popeye the Sailor Man!”

On another block, an image of Popeye's friend “J. Wellington Wimpy,” is embroidered. He is better known as “The Moocher” whose main quest in life is to eat hamburgers, especially ones he can attain by trickery. His memorable line is “I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today!”

Mickey Mouse,” “Minnie Mouse” and “Dagwood”
Two Walt Disney stars who are “mouse” figures are featured in the sixth row down and need no introduction. One block over is “Dagwood Bumstead,” appears to be running. He made his debut in Chic Young's “Blondie” comic strip circa 1933. Dagwood is perhaps most remembered for his elaborate “Dagwood sandwich,” a specialty that he concocted that was stacked high with lunch meat and other ingredients. He is constantly tries to manage daily challenges like trying to get to work on time and having run-ins with other characters. He is especially protective of the virtue of his popular daughter, “Cookie,” who has many suitors.

Farm Animal Blocks
Variety of blocks is the name of the game for this unusual quilt. Included are many examples of farm animals. A calf with his head in a bucket, a cowboy on horseback wielding a lasso, a horse jumping a fence, a boy holding a watering can accompanied by his faithful canine companion, a pig with piglets, a goose and her goslings, a sheep and lambs, as well as a rooster, all call to mind life in the country. The former owner of this quilt appears to have loved farm animals. Both plastic and carved wood figurines of horses and cows were found as part of her collected items.

Animals: a Constant Theme
Several large dog designs remind me of “Lassie” but it is difficult to know whether or not that particular fictional dog inspired the blocks. “Lassie” was first introduced in the novel Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight in 1940. Three years later, the first Lassie movie was produced by MGM studios.

A dressed-up pig and a fish in a tuxedo are a couple of the more whimsical blocks. In Red & White: American Redwork Quilts, Deborah Harding identifies a similar image of a bunny holding a shovel as “Peter Rabbit.” The character is featured in the famous book “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter, first created in 1893 and first published in 1901. According to Harding, the inclusion of this particular figure would date the quilt to sometime after 1910.

Various profiles of girls are present, some of which resemble figures seen on other nineteenth century quilts and some of which look like Sunbonnet Sue figures. A nursery rhyme block with the words, “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater,” is the same design that appears on a vintage Bluework child's quilt in my collection.

Public Records
In attempting to learn more about the woman who loved this quilt, the only tangible information came from public records. The obituary of Bernice E. (Berkheiser) Reeder (1917-2011) states that she was active in the Veteran's of Foreign Wars. She was married for 57 years to Bland W. Reeder (1916-1999), foreman in the slag plant of Bethlehem Steel Corporation. He retired in 1978. The couple is buried at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery (for veterans) in Annville, (Lebanon County) Pennsylvania.

The edges of the Redwork quilt show signs of being “well-used and well-loved.” Nonetheless, we are so happy that this precious quilt was saved! Its images are a window to the twentieth century life, a time of turbulence when keeping a sense of humor was crucial to one's sense of well-being. Newspapers at that time were an even more vital means of communication than today and readers could always find a chuckle in the slice-of-life comics section. One point is clear: the person who made this quilt enjoyed choosing these designs!

A Buy for the Soul
All things considered, at the present time this quilt is a favorite! After many washings, the quilt feels very soft to the touch. The batting has migrated, obscuring the lines of quilting from the front. However, in turning the quilt to the reverse side, it is apparent that the quilter drew designs that resemble flower petals as a guide for hand quilting each block from that side. I will enlist the help of readers to discover about this quilt. If anyone knows the origin of any of the other blocks, please feel free to contact me by writing to Studying this quilt and trying to decipher its “mysteries” is certainly a lot of fun!

Copyright 2014. Patricia L. Cummings, Concord, NH. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Why Do We Quilt?

Why are you a quilter? Is it because you enjoy the social aspects of it, being part of a group, or participating in show and tell, or displaying your latest masterpiece in a quilt show? Do you like to be recognized for your hard work, your intricate designs, your prowess with a needle? Are you a hand quilter who concentrates on getting more stitches per inch so as to be considered a "master quilter?" Do you enjoy machine work where you can overcome some of the disadvantages of working on a machine and learn to appliqué by machine or machine quilt the layers together?

Is quilting an emotional outlet, a way to pass time after the loss of a child, parent, or spouse? Do you quilt so "your heart won't break?" Do you choose patterns that have lots of pieces so you can keep track and set a record for the number of pieces in your pieced quilt? Do you like to use scraps from family member's clothing as a way to remember them? Do you use quilting as a means of political expression or to honor specific politicians? Do you include words on the surface of your quilt so others may better understand your viewpoints?

Do you like to include thread painting of animals on your quilts, a trend we are seeing lately in shows? Do you make multi-media quilts whereby part of the design is hand-painted, or embroidered?
Do you make "sane" quilts or "Crazy Quilts"...that is traditional pieced or appliquéd quilts or Victorian style quilts that are asymmetrically-pieced and often embroidered heavily. Do you make quilts that are humorous and likely to make others smile?

Do you work exclusively in one style of quilting, such as Hawaiian quilting, or do you branch out to other types of quilts? Are you an artist who uses quilting as a medium but are not a quilter, first and foremost? How concerned are you with creating pleasing color palettes or using precision in your work? Do you make quilts to sell? Do you finish quilts made by other people either by hand quilting or long arm machine quilting?

"Country Bride" quilt; Rachel Pellman pattern; queen size; hand appliquéd, hand quilted, scalloped edge;
made by Patricia L. Cummings. This was quilted to pass the time during "Desert Storm."
Will your work outlast you, or do you hope that it will? Are you careful about whom you give your work to, making sure that person will be a good caretaker of your creation? People quilt for many reasons and quilts survive whether attributed or not. Sometimes, in the heat of exchange by dealers, names of quilters get lost. This is a reason to document your own quilts with an identifying tag.

Those are a lot of questions to consider? I would hope that quilters think about the process and why they like to quilt. Many would say they quilt for "fun." We all love the finished products but quilting is not all that easy. To make beautiful quilts requires expertise and experience. We wish you joy in the endeavor of quilting. With so many quilters out there, including grandmothers who are making quilts for their grandchildren or anticipated great-grandchildren, there must be something to this thing we call "quilting." Quilts: wrap yourself in their love and feel the intensity of emotion that goes into making each one. Happy Quilting!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Uzbek Ceremonial Textile

Embroidered Textile from Uzbekistan

Patricia L. Cummings

The textiles of Uzbekistan are colorful, ceremonial, and practical. Chapans, a type of robe, are exquisitely-made. Much needlework is required to create the small bags that are used to carry the Al-Quran, the Holy Book of Islam, as well as other small things. Suzani are often a part of a woman's diary and can be useful, as in pillow covers, or decorative items to display on a wall. Traditional styles of dress vary with each region. A Koshukdon is a bag to hold silverware that hangs inside a yurt, a portable home used by nomads. Many of the items are silk adras, a combination of silk and cotton, or wool.

Chimildik  87" x 56"

We are happy to be able to show you a Chimildik that was used to decorate the front entrance to a yurt (portable housing for nomads) after a wedding to welcome the new couple. It dates from the early 20th century and is described as a "rare Suzani." Hand-dyed silk and cotton, dyed with natural substances were used. The piece is heavily embroidered. The base is velvet and is bordered by silk ikat-adras, as described by the former owner. This type of work combines Uzbek and Kirghiz techniques.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Dutch National Skirt

The Dutch National  Skirt – A Means to Remember

Patricia L. Cummings

After the end of World War II, a woman in the Netherlands, Mrs. Mies Boissevain-van Lennep (1896-1965), a feminist, a social activist, and a resistance fighter during the war who gave refuge to Jewish children and others, instituted a program whereby Dutch women would construct patchwork skirts in a type of Crazy Patchwork style. Each skirt would be composed of pieces of cloth that had a memory associated with them. Perhaps, the fabric had been part of a shirt or other garment of someone who had been taken away by the Nazis, never to have been seen again.

A National Movement Inspired by a Scarf

The making of skirts became a national movement.  The women were asked to embroider the date “5 mei 1945” on the front of the skirt (the date represents Liberation Day on May 5, 1945). Each skirt was required to have a set of triangles to serve as the bottom hem and those were to be embroidered with the date that the skirt was worn for either special family occasions or public events such as the Queen’s Jubilee or the National Memorial Day.

Dutch National Skirt with embroidered dates on the orange triangular hem to indicate when the skirt was worn.

For her efforts of harboring refugees, Mrs. Boissevain was arrested in 1943 and sent to two different German-run concentration camps. At the first camp, her laundry packet from home included a patchwork scarf that had been made for her. After seeing how much joy the colorful patches brought to her fellow inmates, she was inspired. The scarf was confiscated but lived on in memory and is credited with being an incentive for the Dutch National Skirt.

Registry of Skirts Established

Mrs. Boissevain paid a high price for her political/social activities. Her husband was also arrested and sent to a camp where he died, and her two sons and a nephew were executed. After the war she was not dissuaded from further involvement in causes.  She encouraged the establishment of a National Registry of the skirts. Of the 4,000 skirts made, perhaps no more than 100 exist, some in private collections and some in museums. An Moonen, a Dutch textiles and quilts specialist, has one from her aunt. Each skirt was stamped, numbered, and given a card.

The skirts were seen as a means of healing and comfort to families, and a way to provide the solidarity needed for reconstruction of the country.

Names of Skirts

They were called feestrok (Festival Skirt); or in Holland, were also known by three different names which, translated, mean “skirt of life,” “liberation skirt,” or “orange skirt.” The latter is a reference to the House of Orange from which the royal monarchs (Queen Wilhemina and her daughter, Princess Juliana) had descended. When skirts were brought to the United States to be put on display in 1948, the name “The Magic Skirt of Reconstruction” was assigned them, according to Jolande Withius of Amsterdam, Netherlands in her research paper “Patchwork Politics in the Netherlands, 1946-50: women, gender and the World War II trauma [1].”

Interpretation of Embroidery of One Skirt, Seen Online

My Dutch-born friend, the late Hendrika van Dongen, who lived through World War II in her parents' basement, subsisting on tulip bulbs during the “hunger winter of 1944-1945,” spotted a lion Dutch Coat of Arms. The initials “J” and “B” stand for Queen Julianna and her husband, Bernat, who was German-born.  Van Dongen said there is a reference to church bells being silent (not tolling), probably because metals were confiscated to make armaments for the combatants. There is an image of food parachutes that dropped white bread in the center of the city. [Parachutes can also represent English troops being dropped from the sky]. The words “Bent but not broken” are embroidered on that particular skirt, used to describe a flagpole, as well as the attitude of the Dutch people, she said. The word “mof” is slang and means “rotten German” and is a word her father, a school teacher, used a lot. The skirt was formerly visible on an online website. quilting Entry

At an antiques market (in the Netherlands?) some years ago, a woman named Marianne found a patchwork skirt with the embroidered date of 5 mei 1946. She recognized the item as being a Dutch National Skirt. She knew the background of the woman who started the movement, and to accompany a post on quilting, she added a photo of her [Mrs. Boissevain] when she was on tour in New York. [During her U.S. tour, she compared color to vitamins, calling them “a life necessity,” according to Withius' paper.]

The other photo she posted was of two skirts in a museum. She states “Mine is very similar to the right one. The patches are sewn on a foundation, the seams are folded inside and with white thread and a straight stitch is sewn very close to the edge. (It wasn’t made by a quilter…),” she adds, “But I’m very happy to have found this piece of history.” Marianne did not divulge what her nationality is or in what country she found the skirt.


The trend of making the skirts lasted only a few years. There is one skirt that was collected by the Fries Verzetsmuseum that was made by Mrs. De Jong-Bronwer. She embroidered very violent and tragic scenes and included the Nazi swastika. The museum owns two of these skirts. At least five or six museums in the Netherlands are saving Dutch National skirts in their collections. They are a reminder when women joined together to have one “voice,” that of harmony. They even sang the “National Skirt” song that has three verses some of which say, “Plait into your skirt the pattern of your life,” and “Shape your skirt a together connectedness.” Yes, connectedness and solidarity were the watchwords of the Dutch National skirt phenomena. The skirts are all but forgotten today but they continue to show the importance of textiles in our lives.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"Seven Daffodils"

Daffodils in our yard

Travelin' on with the Weavers (Loom Productions Inc., 1966) is a songbook that features folk songs including "Seven Daffodils." The song was written by Fran Moseley with music by Lee Hays. One of the verses says:

Seven golden daffodils
All shining in the sun
To light the way to evening
When our day is done.


And I will give you music
And a crust of bread
A pillow of piney boughs
To rest your head.

In our yard there are two patches of daffodils, the ones the bloom first, up near the house in a sheltered place; and those that bloom across the yard where the tall bushes shelter them from direct sun. They are cheerful little things and for us the first harbinger of spring along with the Glory of the Snow little blue flowers which always compete with being the first to open.

It seems appropriate that daffodils would find their way into a  love song that ends with:

But I will show you morning
On a thousand hills
And kiss you, and give you
Seven daffodils.

The Weavers is a performing group that will not soon be forgotten. Their folk music is timeless. Some of my favorite songs appear on the pages of the two songbooks of theirs that I own.

Happy spring!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Quilts as Message Conveyors

Signature Quilts made for a specific person are perfect places to write messages of love and appreciation. In future years, the messages will bring remembrance and a fondness for the past. The most famous Signature Quilts are the Baltimore Album Quilts made in the 1850s for departing ministers of the Methodist Church who had served in the Baltimore area. I can think of many other quilts of this type that I have either seen or participated in making over the last 30 years. Today, I am writing this blog to share one touching statement that is from a quilt made in 1850 in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

"May the sweet gales of happiness bear you safely down the currents of time and land you gently on the shores of eternity."

The late Lucinda Cawley had recorded this message while viewing the quilt on display and shared it with an online list afterward. She was known for her travels to see quilts and her lengthy and much-appreciated descriptions of what she had seen. Like all of our dearly departed quilt friends, we certainly hope that she landed "gently on the shores of eternity."

This Friendship Quilt has birthday wishes

Saturday, April 11, 2015

"The Meaning of Forever": the UGRR Myth

This is a reprint of an essay I wrote in 2006 about the "secret quilt code." I am posting this today in response to a photo in a recent issue of a popular quilting magazine which shows a copy of the disputed book Hidden in Plain View, a book based on the "pure speculation" of the author that a code existed as stitched into quilt blocks that provided slaves directions for escape: where to go and how to act, specifically.

"The Meaning of Forever" - an essay written in 2006

by Patricia L. Cummings

Like war, taxes and the dust in my house, the Hidden
in Plain View
Myth will go on and on amid
false claims, disgruntlement and complaints. I
don't like unpleasantness but I also did not create
this situation. The responsibility for that lies
elsewhere. To lie down in the road only to be run over by a
10 wheeler truck of deception is a little much to

As far as explaining why the secret quilt code is not
feasible, in terms of quilt blocks and their names,
I've already made a stab at doing that on my website
and in magazines available for anyone to read. If someone
has more information about those historical details,
that has not already been provided, please share it with me.

As a quilter and needleworker, I am a creative person,
and this whole HIPV issue has been a major sidetrack.
Yet, I've taken time from my own work to keep
addressing the issue, ONLY because it keeps coming up.
However, the fact remains that my words either preach
to the choir, as I had said previously, or tick off
those who are not in accord with my opinions and those
shared by serious quilt historians and historians of American
history. We all have been working hard to dispel the myth.

Today, I shall go into my studio to work on something
lovely. I shall play enchanting Celtic music, and I'll
try NOT to think of this thorn-in-the-foot topic. I shall
also give a silent prayer of thanks for ALL of
you. Isn't it great that we live in a country where
the voices of ALL can be heard? The price of your
personal freedom has been great and continues because
of the sacrifices of many!

One name of this block is "Bear's Paw"

My Thoughts Today

Since 1999, the secret quilt code as purported by Raymond Dobard in his book Hidden in Plain View has taken on a life of its own, promoted by individuals who have neither read the book nor are quilt historians (those who understand the time frame of some of the quilt pattern designs mentioned, some of which are 20th century designs not in use at the time period of the Underground Railroad). Worst of all, perhaps, was a book by Eleanor Burns: Underground Railroad Quilts. The book built upon the legend by providing designs for quilters to make a so-called "Underground Railroad Quilt."

I am appalled that after all of the public discussion of this topic that people are still "true believers" of the quilt code. It is as though the book(s) have a cult following. It must be easier to believe this sanitized view of Black History than to reconcile oneself to the viciousness and hatred and domination that prevailed toward Blacks at the time they were attempting to escape. My writings on this topic are a matter of record, having appeared in magazines (illustrated articles), and (previously) online.

I revisit the topic here, years later, as a reminder that like "dust," the story seems never ending. Why should it? I understand that there are still presenters who give lectures on this topic and their stories get more and more elaborate (and made of wholecloth) with each presentation. My main objection is that the code is taught in schools as Gospel truth. It is such a shame to feed baloney to our children. I predict that the secret quilt code shall be present in our lives forever.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Crazy Quilt Block to Remember Mother

Greetings from New Hampshire,

Crazy Quilting was considered the first form of "art" quilting and to some extent reflects the aesthetics of the Japanese penchant for asymmetry, first noted at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Recently, I posted a photo of my latest Crazy Quilt (just a block) which is more of an tangible expression of emotion than a quilt for quilting's sake. You see, when I made the quilt, I was remembering my mother. I wrote an article about the experiences of her life, late in the game, and I include a photo of the quilt block. What is art, if not to express our reflections and responses to life?

Best regards,

Patricia L. Cummings

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bunnies and Easter

Bunnies in Redwork Embroidery
On this Easter weekend I am wondering how bunnies ever became associated with chocolate and how the Easter bunny's bringing candy of all sorts ever started. We love bunnies! They are cute, cuddly, and usually don't make any noise. They are soft, fun to watch when they are hopping about or eating.

On antique coverlets, I have seen plenty of bunnies including the mother and babies design above, rendered in Redwork, a perfect medium for catching the "expressions" on their faces, don't you think?

Happy Easter, if that is a holiday you celebrate. It is a day more special than Christmas to Christians inasmuch as the idea that Jesus rose from the dead gives hope to all of eternal salvation.

Easter will be a tad colder than usual here in New England. We are waiting for the weather to warm up but it is still in the 40s and windy. Wherever you are on Easter, I wish you a happy day filled with joy!