Saturday, June 27, 2015

Caroline Fairbanks' Civil War Quilt

Reproduction of Caroline Fairbank's Civil War quilt

This reproduction quilt made by Patricia L. Cummings (in spring 2011) re-creates the feeling and intent of a pieced quilt created by Caroline ("Carrie") Fairbanks of Brandon, Vermont during the Civil War in 1862. Her name is shortened to "Caro" on her gravestone to "Caro" most likely because the stone is so narrow and perhaps to save money on the price of the inscription. She donated her quilt to the U.S. Sanitary Commission and it is one of the few known (7?) extant Civil War quilts that bear the USSC stamp. A photo of her, provided by her great-grandson, is one that I printed and made into a mini-quilt to attach to the quilt itself with a small hat pin. The original quilt re-used pieces of a brown calico dress that she recycled for this purpose. The other (white) fabric may be from a bed sheet.

The original quilt bears 23 religious inscriptions from hymns, the Bible, and the Book of Common Prayer. I inked all of the same inscriptions with permanent ink onto the reproduction quilt top (and two of those are located on the back). Written messages are seen on other Civil War quilts and were included to cheer the recipients. A prime example is a quilt made in Maine by a school teacher and her students, now held by the Smithsonian Institution.

Caroline Bowen Fairbanks married her cousin, Luke B. Fairbanks, a Union soldier, on Christmas Day 1862. He was one of six brothers who served in the war. He was wounded in the arm while crossing a river while holding his rifle high so it would not get wet. He delayed returning to his regiment until the following April. According to Grant Fairbanks, Jr., when Luke was asked where he had been all that time, he replied that he had been captured by the enemy for awhile, a likely alibi as that often happened. Actually, it seems he had been a "prisoner of love."

My quilt is not an exact reproduction, size-wise or otherwise. Also, as a decorative feature, I decided to tie the corners of the blocks with embroidery floss. According to Don Beld, this is the only known surviving soldier's quilt made by just one person working alone, that was donated to the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Seemingly, most of the USSC quilts were group-made.

Carrie's quilt features the "Snowball" pattern. For the (pieced) blocks in this quilt, I made larger "corners" than those present on the original quilt and also utilized a quicker method of "flip and sew," piecing with a sewing machine rather than hand piecing. The Fairbanks quilt is now owned by the Vermont Historical Society and was acquired when a museum in Pennsylvania decided to de-accession it. Recently, we had the opportunity to see the quilt on display in Montpelier, Vermont.

Patricia Cummings
member of the American Quilt Study Group
To see other newly-made Civil War inspired quilts, visit:

Friday, June 19, 2015

Quilt Inspirations

Quilt Inspirations

What inspires you to make a quilt? Is it someone else's design, your own flower garden, or does fabric itself "speak" to you, causing you to cut it or use it in a certain manner of your own choosing? There are so many points of inspiration, one would be hard-pressed to name them all. Some folks create kaleidoscope designs by isolating one element of a photo and repeating it in a circular format. Some people, like me, enjoy adding words to quilts, often inked. Others like to feature portraits of people, dogs, or cats. Still others commemorate events such as horses running in the Kentucky Derby, or images from the Day of the Dead.

Patricia Cummings hand quilting "Welsh Beauty," a white wholecloth quilt designed by Holice Turnbow for Benartex. The tradition of wholecloth quilting is very rich. In this case, the quilting lines that are marked in blue, will disappear in cold water after all of the quilting is done. The stitches themselves "make" the design.

Flowers are a favorite theme as are baskets, either full or empty. The pure juxtaposition of shapes brings joy to some quilters who like Crazy Quilting. Existing tapestries, such as the Bayeaux Tapestry, cause quilters to want to reproduce the images. Old quilts forever remain an inspiration as we study their construction, fabrics and their placements, and special techniques and threads used to create them. Certain fabrics, such as chintz, invite us to cut them up and re-arrange the parts in a pleasing manner and appliqué the pieces using buttonhole stitch (broderie perse), as has been done in the past.

The sea, with its fish and coral reefs just under the surface, can provide good subjects. Landscape and seascape scenes are another source for design ideas. Greeting cards can offer motifs that can be adapted in a unique manner, especially when making postcard size quilts. Embroidery can often add another dimension to quilts as can hand quilting lines within appliquéd pieces such as roses. Layering fabrics is necessary for intricate piecework seen in Baltimore Album quilt reproductions.

Yes, there are innumerable ways by which we can be inspired to make a quilt. Family events such as weddings, anniversaries and births often provide a reason to make a special and personalized gift quilt. Personal quilts can often include depictions of the things we love in life and can serve as a "diary" rendered in cloth. Friendship quilts, with their inked messages of love and appreciation, are always appreciated by the gift recipient.

Quilts are about connections. They encompass images from the world around us or else they are abstract or simply geometric, made in colors and shapes that please the eye. Some quilts, with their many tiny pieces, make us wonder at the tenacity of the quilter who was able to finish the quilt! Another category of quilt is the mosaic: quilts composed of many tiny pieces that together form the shape of a rose, a person, etc. Death is not overlooked: there are quilts that record the process of the loss of life. So saying, I am thinking of the quilts of Deidre Scherer, in particular. Her work includes depictions of nursing home residents. We can celebrate the gift of life at any stage!

In general, quilts celebrate life, life as it is and life in an idyllic sense. Think of toile fabrics with their stylized country scenes of people enjoying outdoor activities. Patriotic quilts is another category. Some collectors seek to acquire red, white and blue quilts. Still others prefer red and white quilts, geometrically-pieced or else quilts with red embroidered motifs. Quilts warm the body. More often, they appeal to our color sensibilities and quiet the mind. Alternatively, some art quilts make us "think" or just wonder "why" the artist chose particular fabrics, subjects, or style.

Really, there is endless inspiration available. In the world around us, wildlife and birds, blossoms of all kinds, and mountains and streams offer abundant design sources. I hope that you will encourage yourself to make some original quilts based upon your own interpretations. While it is fun to re-create the designs of others, there is perhaps more satisfaction in coming up with a unique quilt of your own vision.

Here's to happy quilting!

Patricia Cummings
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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hand Quilting

Some people are cut out to quilt by machine. I am not one of them. Oh, I have machine-quilted the occasional baby quilt on my home sewing machine but that involved straight lines of stitches. I do not mind piecing miniature quilts or blocks on my Singer Featherweight machine, a dinosaur that must be pampered, cleaned and oiled regularly if it is to continue to function properly.

For the most part, I enjoy hand quilting, no matter how large the project. The result is that I do not finish many bed size quilts any more but I do like the process of putting in one stitch at a time, trying to make them nice and even, and evenly-spaced. It is relaxing and challenging.

Pat threading the quilting between (needle), always a challenge!

Currently, I am working on one major project that will take (me) forever to accomplish. A white wholecloth quilt, it is a pre-marked pattern called "Welsh Beauty" by the designer, Holice Turnbow, who created the design. When all of the hand-quilted stitches are put in, the blue lines to show their placement will disappear when the quilt is soaked in cold water.

The quilt is a queen size. I am making it for no one in particular, not even my own use. I like the design and the finished project will go to someone down the line, in the future. Some work calls my name even when or if I have no intended recipient in mind.

So I sit in the corner of my den, open the window and listen to the birds. Every now and then I will hear a Cardinal with its distinctive chipping and will arise to look out the window to see the magnificent red bird and his "wife" close by. There is joy to be found in the simple things: in taking one day at a time, one stitch at a time. Life is good!

Patricia Cummings