Saturday, March 25, 2017


Hello friends,

I have an announcement to make. I am in the process of taking down my main website which has been in place since 2002. For 15 years, Quilter's Muse Publications has provided quality educational articles and special features. At the moment, it is a shadow of its former self when there were many song files offered, crossword puzzles, quilt show reviews and so much more. In 2011, the site was badly-hacked and had to be re-established. I never quite recovered my momentum.

Then in 2014, The Quilter magazine for which I was a columnist for 15 years (since 1999) folded. Without traffic being driven to my site by constant exposure through the column, readership began to diminish. In addition to that, I have been unable to change, update or add new files to that site ever since the ownership of the server changed. It has been a frustrating experience in that regard but at one time, the site was a great joy to me and a major way to share my love of quilts and needlework.

As soon as I can manage it, I'll remove the website. I will continue, however, to write articles on this Google blog even though I am "retiring" from the other site. My love of old quilts and of the quilting process itself has not diminished. I have been quilting since 1985 and plan to continue doing so as long as my eyes and hands "hold up." Right now, neither of those are a problem. My eyesight is 20/20 and I have no issues with carpal tunnel or arthritis, thank goodness.

So, things change. Anyone can reach me at if you wish to send me an e-mail.

Patricia Cummings

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Old Quilt Holds Mysteries

“Civil War Era” Quilt Holds Mysteries

Patricia L. Cummings

"Civil War Era quilt" - collection of Patricia Cummings

If only quilts could speak to us, what a tale they could tell! When I spotted a quilt in
an  antiques mall with a tag that said “Civil War Era quilt,” I was hooked at first 
glance. Immediately, I loved its colors as well as its somewhat organized scrappy 
look. No further information is available about the quilter or the circumstances 
under which this 19th century quilt was made. Certainly, the fabric prints suggest 
the possibility of a Civil War time frame but without verifiable information, we 
shall never know all the details we seek. At any rate, by 1870, the patchwork look 
had run its course in popularity paving the way for the ornate Crazy Quilts and
Redwork quilts of the next decades.

Quilt Features: Clues or Coincidences?

The more I examined this quilt, the more my mind went wild with possibilities. 

The backing of the bed-size quilt is slit diagonally for about 22” and the cotton 
batting has been removed in that area along with the short ties that once held all
three layers of the quilt together. To me, it appears that someone could have been
looking for treasure inside the quilt. During the American Civil War, money and
other “treasures” such as silverware or jewelry were hidden inside Confederate 
quilts to keep them from the marauding eyes of Union soldiers who often 
scooped up anything of apparent value to take with them. I wonder if this quilt 
originated in one of the southern states. Perhaps, someone decided to investigate
to see what might be found inside! This is one mystery we shall never unravel!

The Importance of a “Scrap Bag”

Due to an embargo that restricted trade between the north and south during the 

Civil War, the south suffered from a shortage of cotton fabrics. This is one reason
that many of the extant southern Civil War quilts are either silk or made from 
scraps, often from clothing. Women would cut up their dresses, just as they did in
the north, to recycle fabrics due to the scarcity of fabrics.

Pieces of Pieces!

In the quilt shown here, pieces of the quilt are they themselves pieced, as are the

borders, suggesting that the quilter worked from a scrap bag of recycled cloth to 
create strips, triangles and squares. In spite of the wonky piecing, the quilter 
managed to make a finished quilt that is nearly square: 82 3/8” x 83 5/8”. The 
borders of this quilt are variable in size (3 ¾” on the sides and 2 7/8” at top and
bottom). In this “well-loved” quilt, the clue that the quilt looked like this 
originally and does not have repaired borders is the fact that there is a“knife 
edge” finish all the way around.

Color Planning Shows Genius

Overall, the placement of colors in this old quilt is aesthetically-pleasing. The

double pink squares and triangles juxtapose well with the rich brown fabrics 
and indigo color squares and triangle. The quilter employs many neutral 
fabrics like light brown, gray, beige and tan and adds some strong geometric
prints. The quilter seems to have put a lot of thought into just how she would
arrange the fabrics she had at hand. The overall effect is balanced, a lot of 
work for “just” a utilitarian quilt.

Just Three Blocks

The quilt consists of three different geometric block configurations. There are

 (24) traditional Nine Patch blocks which are placed adjacent to (24) additional
blocks in which the corner squares of a Nine Patch block have been replaced 
with half-square triangle units in light and dark colors. The (1) center block is
a solo affair that has strips (unlike the others) and requires more intricate 
piecing of the side triangles, all of which have four interior triangles. All of the
blocks measure 10.5” square as a finished size.

Why Purchase Old Quilts?

What possessed me to purchase a quilt I shall never use? The reason is fairly

simple to those of us who love old textiles. Old quilts have a certain allure and
can present a kind of mystery. They are fun to “dissect” and study to see just 
how the quilter put them together, what types of fabrics she used and in the 
case of scrap quilts, how she worked magic from the limited materials that 
were accessible at the moment. This quilt, though very photogenic, now 
appears to be quite faded possibly from laundering or exposure to ultra-violet
rays of the sun.

Old quilts are a joy! We can imagine our own grandmothers, making do and

passing their days by crafting warm bed covers for their family. I offer the 
details and photo of the quilt here, just in case you are inspired to make a 
similar quilt. If you do, please do the next generations a favor. Make a tag for
the back of the quilt that indicates who you are, the date you made the quilt
and where you were located at the time. Future quilt historians will thank 
you! Of course, if this article does result in a new quilt you make,
photos are always welcome! Send to

Happy Quilting!

A pattern for this quilt prepared by Patricia Cummings was published in
ScrapQuilts magazine.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Rare Yellow Work Quilt Leads to Research

Rare Yellow Work Quilt Leads to Research

Patricia L. Cummings
Several years ago, a friend who loves quilts and Redwork embroidery came to visit. Little did I know that one reason for seeing me that day was to give me a rare quilt rendered in yellow thread rather than the customary red hue used for a technique called Outline Stitch Embroidery.

Sandra Munsey had acquired this treasure in 1990 from a quilt vendor, Mildred Fauquet, who was selling quilts at the Nebraska State Fairgrounds in a booth called “Raggedy Ann’s Antiques.” A city bus shuttle from the American Quilt Study Group seminar site in Lincoln, Nebraska had transported Sandra to the fairgrounds. She had seen a quilt of this type only once before in all of the years she has been collecting examples of outline-stitch embroidered quilts in different colors (Bluework, Greenwork, etc.). After previously letting a Yellow Work slip through her hands to another buyer, she decided to purchase this quilt, in spite of its lofty price. I was very elated to receive this gift!

Quilt Features Fine Stitches

This quilt is the work of an experienced needlewoman and is very well made and nicely hand-quilted. The Baptist Fan or Methodist Fan style of hand quilting (so designated according to one’s personal choice of religion) is employed over the surface of the blocks and sashes. The outer edge sashes form an enclosed frame around the center and the other two borders are added. The three strips together feature a zigzag diagonal quilting pattern. The quilting lines are spaced at ¾” intervals.

The overall quilt size is 76 1/8” x 79 3/8” with the individual blocks being an average size of 10 1/8”. Sashes are 2.5” wide, the first white border is 2.5” and the outer yellow border is 3 1/2”, including the outermost part covered by a separate 1/4” binding (the size visible on the front). The backing is the same yellow fabric used to construct the top. A curvi-linear botanical motif is repeated (7 times) on each side in the white border.

Designs on this Quilt

Floral motifs and other 19th century designs, including owls, a woman leaning forward to hand an umbrella and hat to an unseen person, a girl jumping rope, a Jack and Jill motif and the customary inclusion of spider webs, cattails and a water scene are seen. All of the designs are stitched with fine pearl cotton thread in a deep ochre color.

Typical 19th Century Motifs/ One Source Found

In searching for the source of some of the designs, I leafed through the J.F. Ingalls' catalog and found three of them. The block of two birds sitting on a pine branch is the reverse image of the design he calls #880. The price of that 7” x 9” patterns is listed as $.15 cents. The second design I found, a girl jumping rope, is reminiscent of Kate Greenaway’s work. (She was a British illustrator of children’s books). Listed as #823, the 4” x 8” design sold for $.10 cents. The third design offered by Ingalls is the one I call “three chicks in a boat.” Originally intended for making a “splasher” (to keep water from off the wall when one used a pitcher and basin to wash up in a bedroom), the design area was 12” x 25” and the price was a whopping $.50 cents!

Mindboggling Number of Sources for Designs

Encouraged by finding these designs, I looked through the many pages of the M. J. Cunning & Co. catalog with its 3,000 designs but found no matches there. That company bragged of offering the most designs for sale than any other company, the same claim made by their competitor, T. E. Parker. At the height of the Redwork phase in the 1890s-1920s, a trend that began in Kensington, England, quite a few women’s magazines for women offered designs as premiums for subscribing.

The book titled
Briggs Transferring Designs: Patented for the United States of America and published by J.F. Ingalls, Lynn, Mass. The back page of the 234 page book, full of all kinds of botanical motifs, stylistic letters of the alphabet, designs to decorate handkerchiefs and more, features an advertisement for Briggs’ Silks for Embroidery and states that they can be used with the transferring designs and are available from J.F. Ingalls. Other companies made offers for cloth to be used with their products.

Many companies offered collections of designs. A non-comprehensive list would include
magazines and journals such as
The Modern Priscilla, Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s
magazine and
Godey’s Lady’s Book, sometimes offering sets of free designs as a premium for new subscribers. The Montgomery Ward catalog, the Victoria Art Manufacturing Company (William Pinch), and Virginia Snow Studios (a.k.a. Grandma Dexter) were soon competing for their share of the market by offering designs.

Eva Niles capitalized on the needlework fad by writing her own book,
Fancy Work Recreations: A Complete Guide – Knitting, Crochet, and Home Adornment (Minneapolis, Minn.: Buckeye Publishing Co., 1884), in which she pirated Kate Greenaway designs, in some cases. One design in her “Outline Designs for Patchwork” is almost identical to a Greenaway design, yet no mention of the British artist is made. In the days before copyright was stringently enforced, any artist’s drawings were up for grabs. In fact, one magazine (that shall go unnamed) suggested that people trace Kate Greenaway designs directly from her books and from the look of some extant Redwork quilts, many ladies took that advice!

Designs Frequently Offered by Sales Catalogs

Common images of designs to be copied for embroidery were butterflies, musical instruments, sayings, religious icons such as Jesus or Mary, squirrels, owls, canes, vegetables growing animals, Nursery rhyme characters (often call kindergarten blocks and intended for children to embroider), and border edge motifs and corner fillers for square corners of doilies. Water scenes appear on many splashers, some of which feature herons, the rising sun, children jumping off a bridge into water, children in a rowboat, cattails, or sailboats at sea.

What is the Best Way to Transfer Designs? Companies Compete

Companies that sold designs also provided advice and products for transferring designs to fabric and in the 20th century, they began to sell linen already stamped with designs. Before that time,
The Art Amateur: A Monthly Journal Devoted to the Cultivation of Art in the Household provided a recipe for making a stamping paste.

The M.J. Cunning Co. includes a huge perforated pattern that is the same size as their oversize catalog (10 7/8” x 15 3/8” large) as a sample in their 1886 catalog.  One must hold it up to the light to see the design. In their 1905 catalog, they offered stamping pads to use as a dry stamping method. Other methods included wet stamping by soaking a wool cloth with gasoline, running it over stamping wax and in turn, rubbing it over the top of a perforated pattern weighted at each end. J.F. Ingalls sold a stamping paint. In addition, women found they could use flour, starch, charcoal with perforated designs, or pencil lead that filled a whole sheet of paper in order to transfer designs to cloth.

Let a Sewing Machine do the Work!

Sometimes, ladies would also draw their own designs and purchase a sewing machine attachment called “Little Wonder Perforator” to perforate their own paper. Presumably, a home sewing machine could do this work with an un-threaded large needle, reserved for just that purpose because over time, the needle would become dulled. A dressmaker’s tracing tool with saw-tooth edges could manually perforate the design lines. Failing that, M.J. Cunning Co. offered to perforate anyone’s design sent to him and charge prices similar to those seen in their catalog for designs the same size. The catch was that the company would consider those designs an acquisition to their own library of patterns and could very well include them in their next publication.

More Innovation during the Victorian Age

Briggs developed the iron-on transfer method which they first demonstrated at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. Iron-on transfers became the mainstay of companies like Aunt Martha Studios. The bold embroiderer could draw designs directly on the fabric with the indelible pens developed for inscribing quilts with signatures. Failing that, there were rubber stamps for imparting designs to fabric.

Skilled Transference of Designs

We do not know exactly how the quilter who made this quilt transferred her designs but the manner is imperceptible on the finished quilt. After checking all of the major catalogs and books in my personal library, I did not find any other exact matches for the designs of this Yellow Work quilt. At least one purveyor of patterns encouraged his clients to use their own creativity in combining designs.

Is this a Case of Humility or Humor?

There are two motifs that are purposely added in an upside down orientation. There are those people who believe in the myth that quilters included a “humility block” in the past, in order to show deference to the Almighty who is perfect in every way. As a quilter, I can safely say that this quilter either had a sense of humor or was doubly humble!

A Fun Research Project

As usual, I cannot undertake a research project without learning a lot more about old quilts. Unfortunately, we do not know the name of the lady who made this quilt in the early 1900s. Influenced by the designs that were all around her, the quilter put together this unique quilt that has been “well-loved.” At one point in time, someone apparently spilled ink on the surface. In an attempt to remove the stain, a harsh substance was used that did not totally succeed in that effort but also inadvertently removed some of the yellow color from the sash. Nothing and no one leaves this life unscathed, un-scarred or perfect. With these old quilts we have to love them for what they are even when we can only envision what they had been like when new. I hope you have enjoyed this special feature as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Patricia Cummings is the author of books about Redwork and its History (as well as other books). She is an E.G.A. certified master craftsman in quilting, a quilt historian, a quilt judge and a free-lance writer.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Winter is for Hibernating

This winter I have been doing more reading than quilting. I read the entire 12 books of the continuing novel whose main character is "Ross Poldark." The series was written by the late British novelist Winston Graham. The books are so well written, they are riveting, if not lengthy. I first became interested after seeing the (first) televised series on PBS. The second series is to be offered later this spring. It will be interesting to see how much the plots align between the books and the televised version.

Pat hand quilting. Photo taken in 2015. This project is taking a long time!

Wholecloth Quilt Work Continues

Winter is the time for hibernating. We have enjoyed watching the woodpeckers at the suet feeder and I have found the opportunity to work on the queen size white wholecloth quilt that I am hand quilting. I prefer the straight lines to stitch rather than the curvilinear lines or "feathers."

Redwork Kit a Challenge!

The only other project I am currently working on is a Redwork design that features barn quilts. It is a kit that was purchased at Colonial Williamsburg and given to me by a well-meaning relative for Christmas. The work is very demanding, with stitches that are supposed to be only 1/8" large and with frequent stops and starts on the larger, main design as the one strand thread called for cannot be carried on the back more than 1/4". It means re-threading the needle constantly. The pattern also called for basting on a piece of batting to the back of the printed muslin before beginning work, an unusual and new-to-me way of working.

The "other" designs feature line drawings of actual barn quilts as documented by the book Barn Quilts. Coincidentally, I was also given that book by another party who had no idea that I would also be given the Redwork kit. There is a suggestion to make the 4" barn quilt designs into ornaments or to (somehow) add them to the main design that depicts the back of a boy and a girl looking at a barn that has a barn quilt. The instructions are very scanty and leave much (expertise) up to the (advanced) needleworker.

We cannot wait for gardening season. This is a view of one end of our herb garden.

Spring is on the Way!

Daffodils have peeked through the soil and are budded up here in New Hampshire just as temperatures are dropping to 20 degrees and below after a spring-like past week when the temperature high reached 73 degrees in Nashua. We have brought some forsythia branches in and put them in a vase of water to "force" blooms. It will be nice to have an early touch of spring in the house.

Of course, spring also means quilt shows! We are looking forward to the MQX Show at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, New Hampshire as well as other smaller venues, local shows that are always fun! We hope that you have been busy quilting or collecting quilts that others have made. Remember that March 18 is National Quilting Day, a day to celebrate all things quilt!

Happy Quilting!