One of your blogger’s personal favorites from the MCHS collections, the Sandy Spring Quilt, has a fascinating – and somewhat puzzling – history.  It is a “friendship quilt,” made and signed by (or on behalf of) 36 women, most from the Sandy Spring area, sometime around 1860. Each block consists of a pieced “Blazing Star” with an ink signature, such as Anna Farquhar’s, below (her signature is in the upper left corner).


Over the past several years, researcher Mary Robare has dedicated time to helping us solve some of the quilt’s mysteries, such as who made each square, when the full quilt was completed, and why it was created in the first place.  (As Mary says, the quilt “offers a dizzying array of seemingly contradictory clues.”  The best kind of artifact!) Thanks to her efforts, the quilt has been featured in scholarly articles, off-site exhibits, and now on the Quaker Quilts blog.  Curious about the quilt’s mysteries? Want to see some more photos? Take a look at Quaker Quilts!  “The Sandy Spring Quilt – Part One” is here, and “Part Two” is here, with more to come.


The MCHS collections storage spaces are filled with wonderful things.  Some are on exhibit; others are featured here on A Fine Collection; and still more are patiently waiting for their day to shine.  It’s important to remember that they can be waiting for YOU, dear readers, as well as my curatorial self!  Our collections are held in the public trust, and (with an appointment) can be made available for research and study.  For example, here’s a fabulous blog post on one of our quilts, written by researchers Mary Holton Robare and Lynda Salter Chenoweth.  Their expertise is in Quaker quilts, and their work has added greatly to our own information.  Take a moment to read about the Fairfield quilt!


Today we have a silk quilt, an absolutely gorgeous one if I do say so myself (not that I had anything to do with it). It was made circa 1860 by two sisters from Sandy Spring, and is in a pattern known as “Grandmother’s Flower Garden,” created with the English paper piecing technique.

First, the quilt itself. It is 8 ½ feet square, and is made up of . . . a lot . . . of silk hexagons, each one just under 2 1/4 inches wide. The borders on the sides and bottom are 12 inches wide (the top border is narrower, a design feature common to bed quilts), and quilted in clamshell and ocean wave patterns.  The silks are iridescent, and the same patterns appear frequently; it was probably not made of ‘dress scraps,’ but with purposely bought fabric. It is backed with a brown glazed cotton, with cotton batting or filler.

The ‘flowers’ were carefully, meticulously cut out so that there are matching patterns on each petal. The colors across the quilt were balanced, to create a pleasing whole. Each hexagon was quilted (that is, sewn through all three layers of the quilt) in a simple outline. The quilting is fine and even, and the stitches attaching each hexagon to the other are TINY. Perhaps it’s unprofessional of me to marvel this much over one of our artifacts, but seriously, look at these stitches:

Mosaic-type patterns (this one could also be called a variation on “Honeycomb” or “French Nosegay”) were popular in the mid 19th century, and have returned to fashion on and off throughout the next century. This quilt top was most likely created using a technique known as English paper piecing, often used for mosaic patterns. Each piece is wrapped around a paper template, cut to size, and the seam allowance is basted to the paper. Then the pieces are sewn together in whatever pattern the quilter chooses. Using a paper backing allowed the quilter to create precise shapes, and to attach small pieces together without the whole thing flopping around. The paper was usually removed after the quilt top was completed, but before the whole quilt (binding, filler and backing) was finished.  Here’s an example of a quilt with the paper still in, from the State Museum of Philadelphia.

Although a few of the silks suffer from inherent vice, and some of the purple border fabric is fading to green, this quilt is in remarkably good shape; the colors are bright, and there’s little sign of wear. It seems likely that, whether it was made for everyday use or not, it was packed away for posterity and seldom exposed to light, grubby hands, or drooling sleepers.

The quilt was donated by Dorothy Wetherald, who told us it had been made by her great-aunts Mary (1811-1877) and Esther (1814-1902) Wetherald of Sandy Spring. Mary and Esther were born in Liverpool, and in 1819 they emigrated to the United States with their parents Thomas (a butcher and Quaker preacher) and Anne, and two younger brothers. The family lived in Washington and, later, Baltimore, where Mary and Esther ran a school for several years. After Thomas’s death in 1832, his widow Anne moved to Sandy Spring with three of her children, Mary, Esther, and Joseph.

The census records do not indicate professions for the two sisters, except for 1880, when they are “keeping house” for their mother, brother, and his family. (Interestingly, that same year Joseph’s wife profession is noted as “Sews.”) More helpful, at least in the general sense, are the obituaries for each sister, reported in the Annals of Sandy Spring, though I can’t find anything that references their skills with the needle. Both Mary and Esther are noted as intelligent women, avid readers, and French scholars, who “seldom left the neighborhood.” Esther’s obituary adds that she wrote “stories for magazines,” and “enjoyed excellent eye-sight, never needing spectacles.” (No wonder the stitches are so tiny.) Mary’s obituary – she died first, remember – ends, “her inseparable companion and sister had much sympathy in her loss.”

(Here’s the back – note the hexagon-outline quilting.)

In town for the holidays?  Mary and Esther’s fabulous quilt is on display in the museum, but only through January 6, 2013.  My not-so-great photos do not do it justice; come take a look!

This past Saturday was St. Patrick’s Day (and, more importantly to us here at MCHS, the 13th annual Montgomery County History Day competition) but there was another holiday that day: National Quilting Day, held the third Saturday in March.  In belated honor, here’s one of the many quilts in our collections for your enjoyment.

This cotton quilt is pieced in a Pinwheel (or Windmill) pattern, with a double border, and measures 64″ x 77″.  Most of the quilting is done in straight lines, with some herringbone patterns on the outer border.  We purchased it several years ago from a local dealer, who brought it to our attention because of its provenance; although the maker is unknown, it is thought to have belonged to Titus and Rosie Day of Clarksburg.

Why? Well, their names are quilted on the sides.  (I really cannot overstate my enthusiasm for putting your name on things.)  One side says Rosie B. Day (above), and the other Titus W. Day (below).  Titus Washington Day (1861-1946) and Rosa Belle King (1867-1941), both of Clarksburg, were issued a Montgomery County marriage licence on March 2, 1886.   Ms. Rubin, the dealer, acquired it from someone who inherited it from a grandmother, who had received the quilt from Rosie herself. 

The fabric colors and patterns are appropriate for an 1880s date, which is why we’ve chosen to think it was made to commemorate Titus and Rosie’s 1886 wedding.  Perhaps Rosie made it herself (or maybe it was Titus – we’re equal-opportunity quilters here), or perhaps it was made by a friend or relative.   It’s not the fanciest quilt in our collections, or the one made with the most technical skill (though, as a non-sewer, I am most assuredly not knocking the skill and work that went into this), but it has such a lovely direct connection to the owners that it’s one of my favorites.  We don’t have any photos of Titus and Rosie, but by stitching their names into fabric, the creator left us an evocative glimpse at their lives.

It’s A Fine Collection’s second anniversary, which means our readers should be sending me/the blog some cotton (for you traditionalists) or china (as the “modern” choice).  While I await all those packages, here are some cotton, china and other artifacts for you, dear readers.

Today’s post is all about the details, the visual ones.  Since our museums are chock full of artifacts, and we discourage our visitors from crawling around on the floor with a magnifying glass, some of the finer points of the pieces on display can be lost in the shuffle.  Here are a few close-up views to whet your appetite; next time you visit, keep an eye out for these and other hidden gems!  (And if any of these strike your fancy, let me know you’d like a full post on the object and I’ll try to oblige.)

Red-and-black patterned cotton fabric on the late 19th century “Log Cabin” quilt in the slaves’ room.

One of the images on the Flow Blue ceramic pitcher in the bedroom.

A brass paw on the dining room fireplace fender, early 19th century.

Close-up of the painted designs on the circa 1805 tall-case clock in the front hall.

And a (not necessarily very difficult) mystery for you: Can you identify the location of this woman? [She’s on our campus in Rockville – don’t worry, it’s not a county-wide search.]

Yesterday, June 14, was Flag Day: the anniversary of the adoption of the US flag in 1777. This is a holiday that, I confess, typically passes me by unnoticed. But this year I spotted enough references to the occasion that it made an impression – and that impression was, Hey, an idea for the blog!

Today’s flag-related artifact is a pieced and tied quilt, maker and history unknown. The back is one piece of black cotton; rather than quilted or sewn together, the three layers (top, batting and back) are tied together at intervals with brown wool yarn. It is the top that interests us today, of course. It is made of “tobacco flannels” or premiums: small fabric freebies that came packaged with tobacco products (usually cigarettes, although they’re sometimes referred to as “cigar flannels”). These giveaways included a variety of small textiles, from fuzzy “oriental rugs” to silk ribbons to flannel flags and banners. The patterns were often designed as a series, encouraging buyers to “collect ‘em all!” Resourceful crafters often added these bits of fabric to their work or, as in this case, created an entire quilt out of them.

Our 48″ x 68″ quilt features a variety of flags, plus two “Indian blankets” and a few baseball designs. The baseball teams represented are Harvard, Boston and Chicago, plus two that are too faded or damaged to identify.  The national flags include eighteen US flags, six US Naval “Union Jacks,” and four German Empire; two flags each for Japan, the Netherlands, Greece and France; and one each for Scotland, “Burmah,” Siam, Russia, Chile, Peru and Nicaragua.

The specific history of our “tobacco flannel” quilt is unknown, but there are several hints that help us to assign a probable date. The fabric tobacco premiums were introduced in the early 20th century and were particularly popular in the 1910s; during World War I, most American tobacco companies abandoned the practice. Many of the flags included here are datable by pattern: the US flag, for example, has 48 stars, so it was printed in 1912 or later; the Siamese flag, showing a white elephant on a red background, was changed to a new design in 1916; the black, white and red striped German Empire flag was used 1871-1918. Although it is possible that the unknown maker(s) saved up some flannels during the teens but didn’t make the quilt until years or decades later, sewing with premiums was rather a fad in the 1910s (many women’s magazines provided patterns and ideas to their readers); it seems a safe bet to say that our quilt was made around that time.

What else can we tell about our unknown creators? Not much, alas. There is definitely a preponderance of US flags here, but maybe more US flags were printed and sold. Likewise, the baseball images could indicate a sports fan, or it could simply mean that’s what the cigarette buyer ended up with. Although some thought went into the design – the US flags line the long ends (until he or she ran out of them), and a large “Indian blanket” is in the center – the quilt is, let’s call it inexpertly made; seams overlap strangely, blocks are cut off to make them fit, and the large, uneven stitches are starting to come apart. Perhaps it was a first effort, or something whipped up in a hurry. Nonetheless there is evidence of use in the worn, flattened batting and water-damaged corners; whoever made it (or received it as a gift) must have thought it was worth the maker’s efforts.

Intrigued? Here are a few links to information on tobacco premiums, and examples of other tobacco quilts in museum collections.

“Textile Tobacco Inserts and Premiums Used in American Quilts…” by Laurette Carroll

“Better Choose Me: Collecting and Creating with Tobacco Fabric Novelties 1880-1920,” Johnson County (KS) Museum of History

Rocky Mountain Quilt MuseumGreat Lakes Quilt CenterThe Bowers Museum

A quilting group is coming out this afternoon to take a look at some of our quilts*, so I thought I’d share one with our online audience as well. This is a pieced cotton quilt, circa 1880, in the “Ocean Waves” pattern with a plain strip border. The name H. A. Holland is quilted into the center diamond. It is part of a large collection of quilts from the Holland family of Brookeville, donated by Marjorie Holland Friel.

Family history says that these quilts were made by sisters Sarah (1799-1871), Ann (1808-1873) and Mercy (1810-1867) Holland of Brookeville, but an expert view** shows that a few of them – including this one – were more likely made by their niece, Hannah Ann Holland (1849-1883), who lived next door. Several quilts in this Holland collection combine pre- and post-Civil War fabrics and techniques. In this case many of the fabrics used, and the twill-tape binding technique, are typical of the 1840s or earlier, but the Ocean Waves pattern and overall “scrap” look were popular during the 1880s. Hannah’s name stitched into the quilt itself is another hint that she made this one (although it could also indicate that it was made for her). Records from the Montgomery County Fair show that Hannah A. Holland won at least one prize for her quiltmaking (in 1881, she won a First Premium in Worsted Quilts). Looking at the family stories and the physical evidence, it seems likely that Sarah, Ann and Mercy taught their niece how to quilt; it would appear that she used their techniques – and fabric stashes – to create her own works.

* Hint: Want to see something from our collections in person? Make an appointment to visit!

** Not my own expert view, I confess.  My thanks go to the many knowledgeable quilters who have advised me on our collections.

Woodbourne designIt seemed like it was about time for some quilting-related items on this blog.  MCHS has a fine (if we do say so ourselves) collection of quilts from Montgomery County, including the “Woodbourne Quilt,” a lovely Compass Rose quilt from the 1850s.  Along with the quilt, the donors gave us a collection of illustrations that the quiltmakers used to design the patterns stitched onto the quilt, one page of which is shown here.

The Woodbourne Quilt was, according to family tradition, begun by Susan Maria Waters Dorsey and finished by Harriet Woodward Dorsey Blunt.  Susan was married to Henry Woodward Dorsey, Harriet’s half-brother.  (Henry was also Susan’s brother-in-law; Henry was Susan’s younger sister’s widower.)  (To add to the family-connection fun, the DAR Museum has a companion quilt in their collection; it contains some of the same quilting designs as the Woodbourne Quilt, and was made by Mary McCubbin Waters Waters, a relative of Susan’s.)

The quilt itself is “signed” (in quilting stitches) “S.M. Dorsey 1852.”  Now that I’ve gotten this far into today’s post I realize there’s no way I can do justice to either the quilt or the collection of drawings in one little blog post, written on a Tuesday evening in something of a hurry before it’s time to go over to the museum and open up for tonight’s speaker.  So this is merely a taste!  The drawings include birds, fish, flowers, leaves, hunting scenes (including men, dogs, horses and at least one running fox), and elaborate medallions.  The names “S.M. Dorsey” and “H.W. Blunt” are also designed.  They were drawn on the backs of  letters, invitations and the like, with tantalizing scraps of information about County people and places. 

Maybe I’ll break with tradition (if a 3 month old blog can have “tradition”) and post some more on this quilt on Thursday. In the meantime, more about the Woodbourne Quilt can be found in A Maryland Album: Quiltmaking Traditions 1634-1934, by Gloria Seaman Allen and Nancy Gibson Tuckhorn; we don’t have it for sale, but it is in our library in Rockville.  We are thinking of reprinting our “Woodbourne Quilt Designs” pattern book, as well; if you read this blog and think “Yes! Reprint it!” let me know, and I’ll add your interest to the arguments in favor.