Writing about needlework is nothing new. The Monday, April 19, 1909, edition of the Bangor Daily Commercial carried a piece headlined Chronology of Fancy Work, Old Time Patchwork Quilt is Now in Style. The article was reprinted from the New York Evening Post. Here are some excerpts:
“No woman [of yesteryear] would have thought it necessary to offer the faintest excuse for her interest in patchwork quilts, or in any of the homelier forms of feminine handicraft that are threatening to supersede the more elaborate kinds of fancy work. For, since artistic taste in house furnishing sanctions the rag carpets, braid mats and cross-stitch decorations of our grandmothers, it behooves the up-to-date woman to follow suit promptly.
“Curious and interesting as the fancy work of the immediate past is, it cannot be said that it ever possessed genuine beauty or artistic merit. Like the rosewood and black walnut parlor sets, with their elaborate carvings, the marble mantlepieces, the brilliantly flowered carpets and the crystal chandeliers of the 1860s and 1870s, the specimens that survive mark a decadent taste. One must go back to the days of good models in mahogany, to the highboys, the four-posters and the spindle-legged chairs of Colonial days, and then the simple good taste of feminine handiwork is in the ascendant.
“Most fascinating to the lover of these until recently neglected handicrafts are the pieced quilts. Somewhat appalling is the labor involved in the making, for to the original sewing of the patches is added the almost interminable work of quilting. A quilt must be judged from two points of view, the merit of its composition and the elaborateness of its quilting pattern. What wonderful variations are possible! From the simplest star design to the most intricate rising sun or hen and chickens creation, they range in bewildering complexity. To invent a new pattern was to attain to local immortality in the long ago, while merely the execution of a difficult one meant fame of no mean sort. From garrets and chests they have been restored to places of honor upon four-posters. Their patterns are studied and classified and the fine handwork of the quilting exclaimed over.
“There is a house in a suburban town not far from New York, a house furnished in genuine old mahogany, where the once-prized lace spreads have been packed away to make room for patchwork quilts. The mistress of this house has been most fortunate in discovering unusually beautiful specimens. Her chief joy is a spread in the star pattern, white with delightfully dull old blue figures. A family story goes with it. It was pieced and quilted entirely by her paternal grandmother in 1832. Another treasure is a startlingly brilliant but rare specimen, also in white, with an appliqued design of red roses and green leaves. Then there is the ‘tea-box’ quilt, in all the colors known to the dyers of the early days.
“Calico in those days was a fabric of value, and the patterns are worthy of study. Small, all-over designs were the rule, and the colors, while sometimes crude, more often have the soft tints of Persian shawls. Even the crudest have been dulled by time to artistic values. Modern makers of pieced quilts complain of the difficulty of getting calicoes of any special merit. Aniline dyes and cheaper manufacture shorten the life of the fabric by years. It is doubtful whether a 1908 quilt, even without the daily use to which the older ones were subjected, will live to see the dawn of a new century.
“Along with quilts and rag carpets has come a revival of knitting. Not that women have not always knitted, but that their knitting is more useful in its results. In a summer resort this passing year the example of one devotee to her grandmother’s art started a score of other women to knitting silk stockings.
“There is surely this to be said for the work that filled the less active hours of the busy days of the past. It was as possible to old age as to vigorous youth. Indeed, even more possible, for it needed the care and deliberate precision that belongs by right to those whom time had taught the lesson of ‘making haste slowly.’”
Does any of this sound familiar?
• Sue Wiersba will conduct a silk painting workshop, 12:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday, April 18, at the Page Farm and Home Museum, University of Maine. Preregistration is required to ensure that enough materials will be available by calling the museum at 581-4100.
• “Portraits in Tapestry,” work by fiber artist Barbara Burns, will be on display through June 30 at Maine Fiberarts, 13 Main St., Topsham. Burns will give a gallery talk about her work at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, May 31. A reception will follow 2:30-4 p.m. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
• Jean McLaughlin and a group of quilters have organized a Spring Fling bus trip to the Keepsake Quilting store and Settler’s Green Outlet Mall in New Hampshire on Friday, April 24. The cost of the outing is $60. For details, call McLaughlin at 848-3749.
• Beads and Baubles Downeast, a show and sale featuring handmade jewelry, is set for noon-7 p.m. Friday, April 17, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, April 18, at The Maine Grind building in Ellsworth.