Saturday, August 22, 2009

1907 Redwork Signature Quilt, Part II

I had an opportunity to turn a 101 year old redwork signature coverlet into a quilt. It was time to quit hyperventilating and get to work. The coverlet had been in storage for many years, which explained its excellent condition, but after a century of service, everything needs a little work. The main problem was that the red herringbone stitches that decoratively tied the squares together were coming undone.

But first a little history (no, no, don’t skip, it’s not long or boring). Each contributor embroidered a muslin square with a picture (usually domestically oriented), the date, her name, and the town where she resided. This is why it’s called a signature coverlet. The thread color most often used was called Turkey Red, which is where the term “redwork” draws its name. Redwork was very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. See? Was that so bad?

Each square was sewn together, then a red herringbone stitch was sewn over the seams to tie it all together. Later, a ruffle was added to turn the coverlet into a bedspread. This coverlet’s third incarnation would be as a quilted wall hanging. My mantra was “don’t screw up, don’t screw up...”

The first order of business was to repair the seams. After further inspection, it wasn’t so much that the thread had come out of the needle holes, but that the fabric was pulling apart from the thread. There just wasn’t any fabric left at some of the seams to sew them back together. Yikes! Fusible webbing to the rescue! I sewed where I could sew, zig-zagged stitched where I had to (all by hand), then applied fusible webbing to the back of all the seams to make the whole quilt top stronger for quilting and hanging. Next I had to fix some herringbone stitches and completely redo others. It was so cool to find the needle holes in order to duplicate the stitches. It was like following a trail of bread crumbs left by another woman a century ago. Cooler still to know that I was the first person in a hundred years to sew on that fabric. I was really being a big spaz now, but only the dog was around to see.

Here are some of my favorite squares: (1) This is my favorite, because the sentiment is so punny: “I wish you joy from the bottom of my soul” AR AR

(2) This is my second fave. The temperance movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries was an organized effort to encourage moderation in the consumption of liquor or press for complete abstinence. A temperance drink was one that did not have alcohol. A political statement to be sure, but it seems Mrs. Hull thought very little of temperance drinks, comparing them to a donkey drinking from a water trough.

(3) This is a bow wrapped around the violin before the embroidery was repaired. The blue pattern line is still visible after 101 years.

(4) This was a popular redwork pattern at the end of the 19th century. In various pattern catalogs, it was mistakenly labeled a moose. The needlewoman, Mrs. E. Bessey, correctly named the animal on her square (you can tell it's a reindeer because of the antlers). The repair in the upper left corner was done hastily, and consumes all of the herringbone stitch.
(5) Here's Mr. Reindeer after the bad repair was removed.
(6) Here he is after the seam was resewn, and a new herringbone stitch was applied. It was so cool to figure out how the decorative stitches were sewn in order to duplicate them. Even more amazing to know that I was the first person in a hundred years to sew on that fabric.

(7) After all the squares were repaired, it was time to quilt and bind. Piece o’ cake after all the other drama. Here’s what it looked like (a close up anyway) after I was finished.

(8 & 9) The finished product, ready for another 101 years.  The last picture is of the back with the hanging sleeve attached.  The client was extremely happy with her new quilt/wall hanging, which was good, because I think I would have busted down bawling if she hadn’t liked it.
If you would like to see all the squares, and the history behind them, please go to my Flickr page:

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Interesting! I love redwork. My grandmother had a little redwork doll quilt with a teddy bear and doll on it. The bear had his arm around the doll. I had the quilt for awhile and then after awhile only the pattern, and now that is gone too. Precious memories, though!