Wednesday December 30th 2015

History creates a unique 2012 quilting challenge

The War of 1812 Bicentennial is creating a unique 2012 quilting opportunity, drawing interest from quilting and history enthusiasts in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. Sackets Harbor, New York, is the site of two major battles in America’s “second war for independence,” fought from 1812 to 1815. Much of the conflict occurred along the strategic waters of the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, Niagara River, and Lake Erie in New York and Pennsylvania. Today, the 518-mile shoreline route is the Great Lakes Seaway Trail National Scenic Byway.

Since March 2001, the nonprofit Seaway Trail Foundation has hosted a quilt show with a different history, culture, or travel theme. The two-day show generally coincides with National Quilting Day. For 2012, quilters are invited make an authentic 1812 reproduction quilt for the show.

Historians are hard pressed to find named quilt patterns from the 1812 period. Personal diaries may mention quilts, but in personal terms. It is believed that the first published quilt pattern in America did not appear until 1831. Historian Lynn Z. Bassett has found a pattern in The American Girl’s Book called Hexagon and Honeycomb.

So, Seaway Trail show organizers turned to noted quilt historian and fabric designer Barbara Brackman of Lawrence, Kansas, for help developing the show’s guidelines. She suggests 1812-authentic colors, patterns, and fabrics. The more well-to-do women of the 1812 era would have been able to afford imported French, English, Dutch, and Indian fabrics. While imported fabrics had much variety, the prevalent domestic-made quilt colors of the time were indigo blues, browns, and a touch of pink.

“They loved to mix the large and small prints of the imported fabric,” Brackman says. Arriving just in time for the Bicentennial is Brackman’s new Lately Arrived from London fabric line of 28 prints designed for Moda. This collection recreates the fabrics from the turn of the 19th century when Americans imported their cottons. Traders brought the world’s luxury goods to wharves in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. Each design is named for a trading ship that sailed into American harbors—the Charming Betsy, the Brigantine Sally, the Ship Surprise,” Brackman explains. The colors of the line reflect the worlds from which they would have come: India red, China blue, Pompadour purple, Muslin white, and Nankeen tan.

Actual quilts from this early time in American history are rare treasures. Michigan State University’s Museum quilt collection includes a Four-patch cotton quilt made with copperplate prints, probably English; calicos; glazed chintz, and India prints. One of the collection’s earliest quilts is a bar strip quilt dating to sometime around 1800. The flower, bird, and fruit patterns were likely made with early block printing. Dyes overlap and pin registration marks show. A whitework quilt at the museum is dated to circa 1810 and features stuffed trapunto.

Broderie Perse appliqué work is appropriate for 1812-style quilts. The French term for Persian-style embroidery has come to reference motifs cut from printed English chintz and appliquéd onto a solid fabric. Brackman says, “Many (motifs) were appliquéd with a tiny blanket stitch over raw edges. Rather than carefully cutting around each flower, most seamstresses cut a general shape. The secret is matching the background of the chintz to the appliqué background. From a distance the two blend and give the illusion of more detailed cutting.”

Determining the size for the 1812 quilt challenge was a long thought-out decision made with input from published quilters, quilt historians, and historic re-enactors. “Documentation dates the ‘cot-to-coffin’ size to the Civil War. We hope the 30 x 70 inch size will inspire new quilters to participate, and we think these quilts will make a dramatic display to honor those who fought in the war,” says Great Lakes Seaway Trail President and CEO, and quilter, Teresa Mitchell.

Some of those already registered for the show are researching to find family members or local regiments who fought in the War. Mitchell will appliqué the name of a relative discovered in an enrollment record in the archives into her show quilt, and says, “I will tea dye my quilt to mute the sharpness of today’s new fabrics to look more like the faded recycled fabrics of the 1812 time.” Sheila Cornett of Kingston, Ontario, is dedicating her quilt to Upper Canada’s Glengarry Light Infantry.

2012 show guidelines, fabric swatches, images of historic quilts and from past Great Lakes Seaway Trail shows, and an 1812 challenge blog are online at The photo shown above is a detail from the 1000 Islands pictorial quilt celebrating this iconic destination. Photo is courtesy of The Seaway Trail Foundation.

Written by Kara Lynn Dunn and posted by Christine N. Brown, American Quilter Magazine Editor-in-Chief


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