THE DEEP SOUTH QUILT STUDY GROUP
February, 2004, Meeting

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In Clues in the Calico Barbara Brackman notes that food and the laughter of friends were important elements of the earliest recorded quilt gatherings. "Fine eating and merry quilting," is the way Frances Baylor Hill characterized one gathering at her home in July, 1797. The next day she observed, "Mrs. Garlick and Sally came. Spent the day agreeable eating drinking and quilting." (p.17)

In their first meeting, members of The Deep South Quilt Study Group carried on the tradition of conviviality so early associated with quiltmaking. Thirty-five to forty quilt lovers from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas gathered in Ruston, LA, February 6-7, 2004, for a weekend of quilt study, "agreeable eating" and general delight. Some of our friends from QHL had looked at our agenda and asked whether, between meals, we would have time to look at any quilts. We are happy to report that we did, in fact, see wonderful quilts and that we did not get food on any of them.

Members included quilt appraisers, folklorists, dealers, collectors, and quilters. While many attending had begun quilting during the revival of the 1970's or later, at least as many came from unbroken lines of family quiltmakers dating to the early 19th century.

Heartening too was the presence of Marla Ivy, from Austin. Twenty-something, Marla was beyond question the youngest person present. Her passion for historic quilts and her skill in rescuing them prove the interest which brought our group together extends into a rising generation.

FRIDAY EVENING. The group gathered in the Community Room of Community Trust Bank for an informal supper of Mississippi catfish, Louisiana gumbo, and jambalaya. Approaching the meeting room, the Texans had been dismayed to see a red and green Union Square quilt prominently displayed. When its owner, Gaye Ingram, pleaded simple ignorance and assured them they were, in fact, at the DEEP SOUTH Quilt Study Group meeting, they recovered themselves sufficiently to consume a commendable quantity of Louisiana vittles and to contribute far more than their share to the conviviality and knowledge base of the group.

After dinner, each person shared the first quilt she or he (we had several friends and husbands present) had purchased, inherited, made, or "rescued." Two quilts turned up from families who had lived scarcely a block from the meeting place. One, a late19th-century red-green-and-yellow print, had been "rescued" from a family home in South Carolina by its previous owner, who then passed it on to one of her former students who appreciated quilts. The other had been made next door by the mother of Myra Turnage, El Dorado, AR.

Several participants brought their baby quilts. Ladye Harveston of Jonesboro, LA, displayed a well-worn quilt under which she and her sister had slept. She also showed the very large safety pin their mother had used to pin the quilt to the mattress, thus assuring her daughters remained covered throughout the night. Martha Gilbert, Jonesboro, showed a baby quilt in which the brown wool batting formed little "wads" because of repeating washings.

In keeping with the red-and-green theme, a member of the Louisiana Tech Art Department, Peter Jones, showed a red-and-green pieced and appliquéd quilt (circa 1840) belonging to his family in New York. It had been made in Carlisle, PA, his family's home. Mary Lou Jones, McKinney, TX showed a late 19th-century floral applique, and Stephanie Hanson, McKinney, TX showed an amusing three-dimensional rose block she had made.

Carolyn Miller, Fairview, TX showed the quilt that had made her a collector and quilter, a dramatic19th-century log cabin purchased when, miffed that she had to drive home alone from Colorado, Carolyn had more or less innocently stopped at an Oklahoma antique shop. There, among a group of seven quilts, she discovered one that called to her. So efficacious in reducing her level of ire did it prove that when she got home, she called the shop and bought the other six. A case of one thing leading to another and another.

Friday night participants saw a particularly stunning mid-19th-century appliquéd floral design in disproportionately tiny baskets. It had made its way in the form of blocks and border pieces from Toledo, Iowa(1912), to Minnesota, thence to Arkansas (1940). Linda Clark, Louann, AR, had received the pieces from her mother-in-law, who had preserved them in a pillow case for over 50 years and in closing down her house, had considered giving them to Goodwill Industries. The blocks and appliquéd border appear to have been made circa 1850. Though a stylized pattern, the design is lively and, executed in colorful calicos, indigos, and bright solids. In several blocks the appliqués had extended over the background piece. In order to preserve the character of the originals, Linda had removed the stitching where pieces overflowed their boundaries, hand-sewed the blocks to sashing, and then carefully reapplied the loose parts of the flower edges. She had worked out problems with the borders, then quilted the piece in fine handquilting stitches. The result is an extraordinary multi-generational quilt that preserves the energetic spirit of the inherited blocks and their maker.

Another family quilt that migrated south from the Midwest was the oldest piece shown, a blue and white central medallion quilt thought to have originated near Philadelphia. It is signed "Ann Moffet" and dated "1801" in small, fine, schoolgirl cross-stitch. A male relative took the quilt west to Atchison, Kansas. It now is in the hands of a descendent, Cindy Pannier, of Brandon, MS. The medium blue fabric has a small, widely spaced white flower print, probably a sweet pea, which appears to have been inked or dyed pink on the central medallion and left untinted elsewhere. Forming a loose inner border design are circles of the blue fabric centered with appliquéd chintz roses. Cindy says an appraiser identified the fabric as indigo which had been bleached and overdyed. She noted the appraiser was working hastily and in poor lighting. The group is interested in learning more about the dye process that produced this fabric and in discovering its ultimate origin. One member theorizes it originated in England.

Watching quilters making notes and sketches of Linda's quilt reminded us that these two quilts represent a newer migration pattern into the Deep South and the effects of a more mobile population. Most 19th-century quilts in the region arrived with their from the Carolinas and Tennessee. Although World War II brought many new people to military bases across the Deep South, the area remained a largely stable population until the 1960's, when dramatic migration into sunbelt cities occurred. The effects this new migration on specific aspects of regional quiltmaking deserve exploration, even in a communication-saturated era like the 20th century.

SATURDAY MORNING, Carolyn Miller presented a remarkable program on Red and Green Quilts, showing over 25 pieces from her personal collection. The room glittered with the exceptional range of glorious reds and greens in quilts dating from 1840 to 1940. Just having the opportunity to see these quilts was a treat, but Carolyn researches every quilt in her collection, and her presentation included not merely discussions of the aesthetics of each one and its relationship to the genre, but also information on its individual history. An inveterate student of quiltmaking and quilt history, Carolyn brings exceptional depth to the new group. She concluded her presentation by showing a finely wrought Delectable Mountains she had pieced and machine quilted. Aside from the beauty of the collection and all that it taught about dyes, textiles, and pattern evolution, this presentation vividly demonstrated how much variety can be achieved within a single category of quiltmaking.

Saturday afternoon, the group got down to the business of looking at SOUTHERN QUILTS. We saw a large number of quilts made in the 1920's and 1930's which had descended through the current owners' families and had intact histories. Among these was a Goblet pattern, made by the Nona Sale's' mother in Webster Parish, LA. It is quilted in the fan quilting design and backed with a dark woven check backing that appeared repeatedly during the weekend. The same characteristics are seen in her quilt Birds in the Air. Myrtis Orr of Lincoln Parish, LA, showed quilts made in the parish by her relatives, including an Ocean Waves quilt made by her great-grandmother, Amanda Chandler and a Japanese Fan and a quilt known in the family as 54-40 OR Fight, made by her mother, Mary Chandler. From her husband's Central Louisiana (Rapides Parish) ancestors, she showed a star quilt made before 1920 by Seany Melder as a wedding gift for Orr's mother-and father-in-law.

Myra Turnage showed carefully pieced and quilted red-and-green Poinsettia. Rising Sun, and Japanese Fan quilts made by her mother during the Depression era. All had similar and interesting border treatments.

A variety of excellent early 20th-century pastel quilts appeared during the weekend. Among these was a Lone Star, a Dresden Plate, a circular Ball pattern, and two quilts with rectangular, embroidered blocks with state flower motifs. One was colored with crayon; the other was not. Members are researching the specific origins of these patterns.

Several quilts and quilt tops from the 1940's also were shown, including a bright Windmill by Euna Clark and a lively scrappy Star quilt, probably meant for utility purposes, but made with an idiosyncratic sashing that distinguishes it and lifts it above the ordinary. It almost surely speaks of its maker's determination to create beauty even in humble circumstances. Carla Rowley, Huntsville, AL also showed a scrap Star quilt from this era A quilt top made in Bristol, TN in early 1940, from a pattern published in the local newspaper, suggests the irrepressibility of its maker's spirits, if not the precision of her piecing skills. Its extravagance makes this funky quilt amusing.

A number of quilt tops were shown that had been passed down through families and quilted by the present generation of quilters.

Seeing the quilts and hearing the personal stories attached to them affirmed that traditional quiltmaking, in which the art of quiltmaking is passed down through close social groups, has remained an important element in Southern culture. The value of quilts in conferring dignity and unique identity on the maker and in preserving family histories and traditions was inescapable to anyone at our meeting..

One member showed a family quilt top which she had acquired on eBay. She had never forgotten a special quilt top made by her great grandmother, whom she had never known. It had held a special place in her grandmother's cedar chest, taken out only for admiration and as aid in telling stories about its maker and her experiences during the Civil War. Ultimately the quilt fell into the hands of a childless cousin who had few contacts with the rest of her family but who was not inclined to share her curiously gotten gains. Two years ago, a relative notified the DSQSG member the quilt was coming up for auction on eBay. When it appeared, it matched the childhood colored drawing in the member's childhood autograph book exactly. She bought it, and now it is back in the family with its identity and meaning saved for rising generations.

As members began to show quilts from the South, we immediately noted the large proportion of fan quilting found in pieces from the 1850's through the 1940's and across a wide range of quilt top designs. The fans were finely worked, usually in large smooth arcs, though, surprisingly, one quilt showed delicate, small arcs. In another, two parallel rows were used to form each unit in the fan or arc, similar to double-bar straight-row quilting. Observing quilt after quilt that had the gracefully curving fans, one could scarcely help thinking of Fawn Valentine's hypothesis about fan quilting as an element in the Scots-Irish quilting tradition.

The group was also surprised by the large number of dark woven checks or plaid backings, in blue and especially in brown colors. Research will be necessary to determine why this backing was so common in our region.

The popularity of the tradition in which a quilt maker executes a top and has it quilted by another person, often one who specializes in quilting alone, also became obvious as quilts were shown. In fact, a number of quilts shown could be traced to the same quilter.

The number of area quilts containing wool batts also surprised some. One of the these was a Mississippi Seven Sisters quilt belonging to Joan Alliston, Brandon. Well into the 20th century, the inland South was populated by self-sufficient farmers who grew sheep both for meat and wool. Several North LA archival sources report lambskin rugs placed on cold wood floors and the presence of mutton and lamb in the diet in the 1920's.

We saw two different versions of the dramatic Seven Sisters pattern, a pattern popular across the South. One had been made the hard way, joining red and white triangles to a center circle and then piecing the star unit thus formed to an outer circle. In contrast to those in the more conventional hexagonal units, the stars in this quilt are thin and delicately attenuated. A member of the group noted that many associate this pattern with the circle of six stars which had adorned the original Confederate flag. The question arises: which came first, the pattern in the quilt or in the flag?

Two Louisiana examples of the historic Whig's Defeat pattern were shown. Gaye Ingram traced the history of this pattern to the presidential election of 1844, when James Knox Polk, a Tennessee Democrat and friend of Andrew Jackson, shocked the nation by defeating Henry Clay, a Whig from Kentucky. The Whig Party was popular in the older, established sections of the country and had as its base an uneasy union of northern industrial interests and members of the aristocratic planter class in the South. The Democratic Party favored western expansion, a policy that made it popular with the small farmers who were ever moving westward as they wore out old land. It with populism and the "little man" of the day. Its position regarding territorial expansion made it popular in the territories, including Texas, which became a state during Polk's term, and with many in the slaveholding states. The Whig's Defeat pattern, with its appliquéd "feathers" reportedly representing the feathers in the Democratic rooster's tail, is a pattern seen in a number of outstanding and extant 19th-century Southern quilts. Barbara Brackman lists the construction date of the oldest example of a quilt in this pattern as 1844. Its structural relationship to Richmond Beauty is obvious.

Gaye showed an example of the pattern from rural Claiborne Parish in the hills of North Louisiana, dated 1855 (85?) and signed in ink by its maker, "J. Eppinger," whose initials are also quilted into one corner. Its central motif is a small single-color red print on a bright yellow ground. Alternating yellow and (now faded) solid green "feathers" are pieced. The diamonds surrounding the yellow centers are pieced in excellent solid red and white fabrics. Teal oakleaf designs are appliquéd to alternating white blocks. The quilt has a thick cotton batting, and is backed with a coarse fabric that appears to be homespun.

Carolyn showed a more sophisticated example of this pattern, made in orange, yellow, red, and white solids and originating in South Louisiana, near Bunkie. Its seller reported the quilt came from the family of Leonidas Polk, a close relative of James K. Polk and an officer in the Confederate army, Because of Polk's political connections and military rank, the family plantation buildings were burned and looted by invading Union armies during the Red River Campaign (1863) of the Civil War. Assuming the family linens had been destroyed in the fires, Carolyn had originally dated the quilt as post-Civil War. However, she has discovered that along with a number of other Louisiana families, the Polks emigrated to East Texas during the war to avoid danger. Thus, she is reassessing her estimate. Whatever its date, the quilt's direct association with the family of the president responsible for the surprising defeat of the heavily favored Whig Party strongly suggests this quilt was politically motivated. Adding to the historic dimensions of the piece is the fact that the planter class in South Louisiana tended to be strongly Whiggish, and in 1863 several prominent families in the immediate area from which it came incurred the hostility of locals by collaborating with invading Union forces.

A quilt that puzzled everyone was a small feathered star in red and bright teal or turquoise, shown by Euna Clark, Smackover, AR. Family legend places its construction in the 19th century. Since the fabrics are solid, they give no definitive clues for dating. Yet, the teal/turquoise fabric, the style of quilting, and design of the scalloped border point to the 1920s or 30s. We hope more work will be done on this quilt's background and welcome information that will help resolve the questions we have.

Vividly affirming that fine piecing and quilting skills are alive and well in the South was a Dear Jane Quilt pieced by Beth Scammerhorn, Ruston, and painstakingly quilted by Nona Sale, Minden, LA. Like so many others seen, this quilt had a meaningful story. Beth pieced it in the period following the events of 9/11/2001. She felt a deep sense of connection with the its prototype's maker, who also worked through trying times.. Some days, when national events were particularly daunting, she said she would be grateful to find that the next block in the progression she had lined out was a simple one. At other times, the difficulty of a block would test her patience, but draw her attention to beauty and away from the sadness and fear of the time.

At the end of a full day of examining a wide and interesting variety of quilts, we discussed a schedule for future meetings. Because of the distance separating members, twice-yearly meetings seem to present a good beginning model. And because Ruston is located fairly centrally and provides inexpensive, easily accessible lodging, it was thought to be a reasonable place to hold meetings. The suggestion was made that alternate meetings might be scheduled to visit Southern museum collections or special exhibits. Members will discuss these possibilities and arrive at regular meeting dates in the near future. Those dates will be posted to this site.

Following a brief hiatus in which visitors scoped out all of Ruston (It doesn't take long; they had time left over), everyone gathered for supper at a local barbecue restaurant. There, they indulged in "agreable" eating and laughter. After supper, members retired to the home of Gaye and Glynn Ingram for dessert and after-dinner talk. Stephanie Hanson from McKinney, TX, who had won the drawing for the miniature framed quilt donated by Jonesboro, LA quilter Martha Gilbert, entered the Ingram house laughing, "Where's dessert? I feel like I'm in a feeding frenzy."

All of us have happy memories of "fine quilting and merry eating," and we look forward to being together again. The weekend gave us all a new community and new friends with whom we share a special interest. We have defined a number of questions and issues about our region's quilts that deserve study, and we have begun to identify certain characteristics that appear to be regional. Discussions have continued by telephone and email, and we look forward to discussing our findings in future gatherings.

This first meeting was all we imagined and a little more. Its importance was recognized by the local newspaper, which printed on the front page of its Monday edition a color photograph of Carolyn Miller with her red quilts. Since Carolyn has found interesting the stories of bizarre criminal acts that appear in the Ruston Daily Leader (Ruston might be the only place in America to have had a bandit walk into a bank, pull a gun, and say, "Give me all your quarters!"), the local members were happy to see her picture in the paper and even more pleased it was properly captioned. (We didn't tell her that two years ago a police officer also got a color picture on the front page with a headline that read, "Officer Rescues Goat.")

Two real disappointments of the weekend were the absences of Kris Driessen and Deborah Clemm. Debbie, from Atlanta, was one of the first two people to express interest in this quilt study group. Her plans were cancelled at the last minute by the necessity to make up a meeting in Washington D.C. that had been cancelled earlier because of weather. Kris's scheduled flight, on the other hand, could not get into D.C. in time to make it to Louisiana because flights into the capital were backed up, because of heightened security concerns. Without Kris and QHL, there would have been no DSQSG, and so all of us were lookng forward to her being able to enjoy its fruition with us and were sincerely disappointed she could not join us for our first meeting.. We hope both Debbie and Kris will join us for a future meeting.

We are grateful to Kris Driessen, Amber Mohr and AQSG, Cord, Judy Grow, Sue Reich, Judysue Kelius, Nona Sale, and Teddy Pruett for their encouragement and doorprize offerings. Judy Grow also loaned a fabric and quilt block notebook which inspired members to begin similar collections.

Hosts for the meeting were Martha Gilbert, Ladye Harveston, Gaye Ingram, and Susan Roach. Peggy Kierstead helped coordinate mailings and represented our group at the AQSG fall seminar in Dallas. Stephanie Hanson, Mary Lou Jones, Jay Conrad, Ladye Harveston, Peter Jones, and Susan Roach provided photographs for our general report.

Those interested in participating in the activities of the Deep South Quilt Study Group may contact Gaye Ingram, sending copy to Peggy Kierstead.

The pictures below are thumbnails.  Click on them to see them closeup.

Folder Cover for DSQG meeting (Ladye Harveston)Folder Cover for DSQG meeting (Ladye Harveston)

 

LadyeMartha_at_doorLadye Harveston, Dorris Stewart, Martha Gilbert greeted guests

""Marla Ivy, Plano, TX, youngest member: with rescued quilt

 

""Martha Gilbert baby quilt w/wool batting

 

 

""Carolyn Miller’s first quilt purchase

""""1840 appliqued quilt, Linda Clark, Louann, AR

 

 

""1840 appliqued quilt detail

""""1801 Ann Moffet, Cindy Panniet, Brandon, MS

 

""""1801 Ann Moffet, Center detail

 

""Carolyn Roller Miller (Fairview, TX) collection:Prince’s Feather

""CRM: Loose Floral applique

""CRM:PA Hex/Birds/Floral

""CRM: Border detail: scissors

""CRM:pieced red-&-green, chintz border

""CRM: Delectable Mountains

""Wild Rose block, Stephanie Hanson, McKinney, TX

""Goblet, Nona Sale, Minden, LA

 

""Birds in Air, Note fan quilting, back

""Myrtis Orr, Choudrant, LA. shows Ocean Waves

 

 

""54-40-or-Fight, Lincoln Parish, LA

 

""Japanese Fan, Lincoln Parish, LA

 

""Pieced Star, 1900-1910, Rapids Parish, LA

""1930’s Red&Green Poinsettia, Ruston, LA, Myra Turnage, El Dorado, AR

""Rising Star, 1930’s, Ruston, LA,

""Green Japanese Fan, 1930’s, M. Turnage

""1930’s Pastel Lone Star

 

""1930’s Pastel Balls, Euna Clark, Smackover, AR

 

"" 1930’s State Flower, Embroidered, Glenda Worley, Bastrop, LA

 

""1940’s Windmill, E. Clark

 

"" 1940’s Scrap Star, G. Worley

 

""1940’s Scrap Star, Carla Rowley, Huntsville, AL

""""1940 Funky Floral Basket, G Ingram, Ruston, LA

 

""1855-1875 Rescued Family Quilt, Rapides Parish, LA, G. Ingram

""Fan quilting and Dark Backing

""Another dark backing

""""Seven Sisters, circular units, wool batting, Webster Parish, N. Sale

 

""Seven Sisters, hexagonal units, Joan Alliston, Brandon, MS

 

""1855 (85?) Whig’s Defeat, Claiborne Parish, LA, L. Eppinger

 

""Whig’s Defeat (1850-1890), LaFouche Parish, LA, C. Miller

""Red Star w/turquoise/teal blocks, circa??,

 

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