Saturday, 24 May 2014

Mrs Lincoln and her dressmaker

My recent researches into American quilt history have meant getting to know a bit more about American history, women's history and the American civil war. This led me to find out more about the amazing story of Lincoln's wife, Mary (Todd) Lincoln, both generally, and in particular her relationship with freed slave and seamstress, Elizabeth Keckley.  Keckley became the favourite modiste of Mary Lincoln, designing her dresses as First Lady and subsequently writing a somewhat controversial account of her time at the White House and her relationship with Mrs Lincoln.

This is a quilt is said to be made (1850-1875) by Elizabeth Keckley from the scraps of fabric used to make Mrs Lincoln's dresses. You can find out more about it at The Quilt Index.

Photo from The Quilt Index

If you are interested, there is an interesting article by Susan Wildemuth about Elizabeth Keckley and the quilt here. And Jennifer Chiaverini, writer of the Elm Creek quilt novels, has written a very decent fictional account of Keckley's story. Meanwhile, for my birthday I have just got a copy of Jean H Baker's biography,  Mary Todd Lincoln, and Ken Burns classic documentary The Civil War, reputedly one of the best historical documentaries ever made. 

At least I can stitch while I watch that!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A Stitcher's Story - Preston Museum

I spent a lovely day on Saturday at the Harris Art Gallery and Museum in Preston, Lancashire. 

Harris Museum, Preston
The Quilter's Guild held a Quilt Study Day with tutor Isabel Dibden Wright and Isabel had invited me to come along and do a session on using libraries for research. We then spent the afternoon touching and fondling old quilts and quilted garments. Very enjoyable indeed!

The Museum's current Exhibition is Behind the Scenes - the secret life of clothes which is an opportunity to see some of the techniques used to care for costumes and textiles. The display includes a beautiful 19th century hexagon quilt and and an excellent range of samplers. Most serendipitous, I thought, having recently rediscovered my love for these precious pieces of needlework from stitchers of the past. And lo and behold, in the bookshop I found this beautiful book by Rebecca Scott :

Samplers by Rebecca Scott

I jotted down a few of the names of the girls who had stitched the samplers and later asked my DH - our family historian - to investigate them through genealogy resources. One name, Catherine Grafton, gave up some secrets. Catherine, born in 1874 in Preston, stitched her sampler in 1885, aged 11, at the Parish Church Girls School.  Her parents were Daniel and Christine Grafton. Her father came from Ireland. By 1891 when she was 17, Catherine was working, still in Preston, as a Stationer's Assistant. In 1898, aged 24, we find her in Chorlton, Manchester, marrying widower with three children, Edward Parker, who at 40, was quite a bit older than her. Edward Parker is rising through the ranks of the Constabulary, a Police Constable in 1881, a 'Bridewell Keeper' in 1891 (police stations with cells were called 'Bridewells' after the London prison), and by 1901 he is Inspector of Police in Birkenhead on the Wirral. A meteoric rise indeed! 

Catherine has two children by Edward. In 1911 we find her back in Preston with her two children and her elderly aunt Alice, Catherine as Head of the household; she and her aunt recorded as living on 'private means'. 

Edward Parker remains in Birkenhead with his three children by his first wife, Elizabeth. He is now Superintendent of Police, but is eventually promoted to Chief Constable in 1913. You can see his photo  here.

Interestingly, Edward must have been quite a progressive man. During WW1 the shortage of men due to conscription led him to recruit women and by 1917 there were several women serving in the Birkenhead Borough Police Force. Read more at

Women police officers. Photo from the Wallasey News 

Edward retired in 1923 and died in 1932. Catherine  died back home in Preston in 1960 at the ripe old age of 86.

And that little piece of history all from a beautiful Sampler stitched in Preston in 1885!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Appliqué, Star blocks, cross stitch revisited

The small appliqué quilt  is finished. I used this pattern by Lori Smith, called Pinwheels in my Garden  to practice the freezer paper and starch method. Joanna from Fig Tree & Co. explains this method  here.

This little quilt was also an experiment in making small blocks accurately. I followed the pattern and cut the small squares precisely to make HSTs and generally this was successful. Next time I think I will cut the squares larger and trim them down to size. I could do this with the pinwheels, but they worked out OK, mostly!

Pinwheels in my Garden 16" x 22"
Meanwhile, I have started another quilt. these are the star blocks for the "Stars to Freedom" quilt pattern by Carol Hopkins in her lovely book, Civil War Legacies - quilt patterns for reproduction fabrics.  

Central block
And the four corner blocks,

The quilt looks like this, and involves a lot of small HSTs, which, this time, I will cut larger than required and trim!!

So that I have some slow hand stitching in the evenings, I have taken up my cross stitch sampler, which I began a good 5 or 6 years ago,

And as a bonus, while I was re-organising my embroidery threads for this project I came across a lovely free printable download  at alteredartifacts blog for a selection of  lovely vintage card thread keepers. Just scroll down the free printables until they appear.