On Saturday, 16th May, Susan Cave writes:
The TRC is lucky enough to have a quilt (TRC 2018.2623) we know all about, that is, except for the name of the maker of the actual quilt top. With the calamitous economic downturn in the late 1920’s, quilt-making enjoyed a new revival and the TRC has a large collection from that era. We tend to think of feed-sack quilts being the prime examples, but lots of breezy pastels became very fashionable for those who could afford them. The ‘Jazz Age’ of the 1920’s prompted one Dr William Dunton, a self-described ‘physician to nervous ladies’, to advise that quilt-making was the ideal prescription for high-tension nerves. Perhaps this explains why so many quilters pieced blanket chests full of quilts their entire family could never sleep under during their lifetimes.
Stearns and Foster, makers of Mountain Mist cotton batting for quilts, quickly realized that quilting suddenly had a renewed universal appeal, nervous ladies or not. They held quilting demonstrations in department stores across America and sent a booklet called The Romance of Quilt Making Sales to its retailers around the country. At the time over 400 metropolitan newspapers were publishing quilt material regularly and many were sponsoring quilt shows with attendances in the 10’s of 1000’s. Stearns and Foster saw an opportunity and got on the bandwagon, big time. They offered free patterns inside the batting package and later, printed them on the paper covers that evolved into colour drawings. They also offered catalogues of pattern designs and sponsored extensive contests to help the company become a household name which survives today.
One of these coloured patterns was Sweet Peas and the TRC is fortunate to have not only a quilt, beautifully made, but the original colour pattern from the Mountain Mist batting package. Our quilt was made from the pattern #37, which served as a guideline to several particularly appealing quilts which could re-arranged to suit the makers taste.
The 1930’s revival was not limited to quilt making, as women found all sorts of creative pursuits, such as crochet and needlepoint, but embroidery, in particular, made its way on to quilts. Our Sweet Peas has embroidered tendrils enhancing the authenticity of the pink flowers. The embroidery was not featured on the original design, but creates a lovely effect. The maker has followed the pattern as shown and the appliqué is very good, although she clearly had issues with the short borders – if you look closely, the right hand border has eight full flowers, whereas the left hand border has nine – this then created a space problem in the lower left hand corner, only leaving room for one petal on the flower there. The design has not suffered from this, however, and just goes to prove that ‘finished is better than perfect’ and, indeed it is good to see that a mistake does not detract from the beauty of the finished article.
Our only regret is that the quilt is not signed or dated by the top maker, nor do we know if she was nervous! But we know that the pattern appeared in the 1930’s and the top was probably made by 1937 when designs began to change. The top languished somewhere in a blanket box, was quilted decades later by an Amish woman called Frances Yoder and the edge was bound and finished by Sherry Cook (who donated an extensive collection of quilts to the TRC) in 2016. Although during the previous hundred years, women had been urged to name and date their quilts, perhaps the maker having so many sewing projects shjust e didn’t get around to finishing it. E Pluribus Unum.