Friday, February 01, 2013

Quilts from the Civil War

It's always nice when interests converge.  This week my husband and I started a new king-size quilt and in the process of deciding what to make I did a bit of research on Civil War quilts, prompted by the reproduction fabrics and CW-inspired patterns that my favorite quilt store promotes.

One book that I read on the topic was Barbara Brackman's Quilts from the Civil War, which is a combination of historical context, excerpts from diaries, photos of surviving quilts, and photos of reproductions and inspired-by quilts.  Overall, I have mixed feelings about the book.  While I have no doubt that Brackman knows her stuff when it comes to quilts, I was less comfortable with her as a Civil War historian and found myself doubting some of her assertions and speculations, particularly her reasons as to why there are so many fewer Confederacy than Union quilts.  One of the reasons she gave was that the Southern planter-class women simply didn't have the skills of their Northern counterparts.  I don't know whether that is really true--the evidence was all very focused and anecdotal rather than research-based--and in any case, the planter-class was but a fraction of the total population anyway.

One fact that she did mention, in the chapter on "Fairs on the Home Front," is that "the women of the Confederacy through their Fairs and donations raised enough money to buy three ships--the Georgia, the Fredericksburg, and the Charleston."  In the previous paragraph, she mentioned that the gunboats cost abourt $80,000 each.  This means that the Confederate women raised $160,000 by selling quilts, jewelry and other hand-crafted items. 

It made me think of the bumper sticker I still occasionally see...
It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.
Perhaps that notion is not so far-fetched!

Anyway, that curious factoid wasn't substantiated and now I have to try to find out whether it's true or not.  I do hope it is.

I didn't come away with a pattern I simply had to reproduce--most of the actual Civil War quilts are either too fussy (lots of cut out chintz, which doesn't appeal to me) or too simple.  I did learn a lot about colors though, and my preferred pallete of earth tones, blues, and reds is right in line with the popular colors of the day.

It's a book worth reading if you are interested in how women contributed to the war effort and textile history in general.  As a pure Civil War book, I think you can do better.

Now, why are my husband and I making a quilt?  My love of all things pioneer (influenced by the Little House books) inspired my mom to make me a log cabin quilt when I was in elementary school.  When I was a teenager, I embroidered a quilt and hand-quilted it while listening to the Watergate hearings (nerds come in all shapes and ages!).  Since then, I've made lots of baby quilts, including a few for my own children. Then, about eight years ago, my husband and I needed a new bed covering and decided to make a quilt. We took a class together and made a gorgeous quilt for our queen-size bed.  Then, last year we decided to get a king-size bed.  We need a new quilt so, of course, we're making one!  The project has already affected my reading schedule, but it is truly a labor of love and a joy to create something this beautiful, functional, and historical.

Pictures to come!


  1. Jane, how fascinating - both the quilting and the Civil War aspects! I've just read a book about the Navies in the Civil War, and now I'm curious too about those boats that the women funded.

    I have friends who are serious quilters but I haven't gotten hooked into it yet (partly because I have so many unfinished crochet & embroidery projects already). But I do love going to the international quilt festival with them. I hope you'll post some pictures of your quilt?

  2. I know nothing about making quilts but what you are doing sounds impressive as well as neat.

    Too bad the author may not really be a careful historian. This is a subject obscure enough that a good historian who has an interest could really make their mark.

  3. I can't wait for the pictures. I'm making a patchwork bedspread at the moment with the centre patch being appliqued with our house (sort of) and a garden embroidered around it. The actual patchwork is quite simple though. I'll be quite some time!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Katrina. Your quilt sounds lovely. I have never tried my hand at applique, though I love the look of it. Good luck with your project and thanks for stopping by!