Monday, August 3, 2020

Mud-Dyed Fabric in Southern Quilts

The Texas book Lone Stars: A Legacy of Texas Quilts shows this Whig's Defeat attributed to Gail C. (Gatsey) Worden of Georgia who moved to Grayson County, Texas about 1855. The family thought it might have been made in Georgia before that date but style, pattern and fabrics all indicate it's a Texas quilt made after 1880. They also believed the "unusual solid rosy beige fabric" to have been dyed with Georgia's famous red mud.

QuiltIndex link:

Benita Creek runs through Nacogdoches, Texas
Gatsey from Georgia must have felt right at home in the landscape.

The discussion for this quilt in the book on page 42 is perhaps the best print summary of mud-dyeing in Southern quilts. They quote an interview with a woman in Nacogdoches who recalled "as a little girl going to a river near the old city to the 'community dye-hole' and dyeing fabrics there. The method most frequently used was to bury fabric in the moist red mud until it was the desired shade. According to her, the longer the fabric was left, the redder it got, and all shades of red could be obtained...."

Zilpah Frisbie of Marion, McDowell County, North Carolina told an interviewer gathering North Carolina folk practices for the Frank C. Brown Collection in the 1912-1943 years that "pure red clay and water" made a fast color.

(Zilpah was an editor at the Marion newspaper in the 1920s---she must
have known everything that went on in McDowell County.)

In a 1996 book Carolina Piedmont Country John M. Coggeshall records mud dying of  "extra white cloth that mills sometimes distributed to village residents." A few people in the Facebook group had heard similar stories, particularly in regard to quilt linings or backings, inexpensive fabric or recycled flour or fertilizer sacks that were colored with the local dirt.

For her book Tennessee Delta Quiltmaking, Teri Klassen interviewed Jean Bolding (1932-) of southwest Tennessee who described:
"how her mother used the red clay of North Mississippi to dye fertilizer sacks for quilt backings: 'She would dig a hole outside the house on the hillside. She would pour the water in... She would take the fertilizer sacks... and she'd put it in this red clay, kept water on it, and I presumed it stayed about a week. And she'd turn it every day or two, make sure the color was going to be even all through the material..., and the hole was about like this, about the size of a washtub, and she kept adding water to it to make sure that it'd stay moist all the time.' " Page 45.

Georgia soil, red dirt

Many readers had stories of accidental dyeing with the local red dirt on kid's baseball pants, socks and t-shirts. Anyone who has lived in a region with iron-high soil from Australia to Argentina to Oklahoma has had experience with the permanence of the stain.

Marybeth Thomas Tawfik: "I know personally that the Georgia clay does NOT wash out, at least not on things you weren't meaning to dye."

Claire Bear at Uluru (Ayre's Rock) in Australia

Suzanne Louth "grew up in North Texas, living on a farm between Dallas and Ft.Worth. Dallas has black, fertile soil, Ft.W. had red dirt...we lived closer to Ft.W!!! I am still no lover of 'ochre' in anything! We were loosely known as 'rednecks' and I also, despise that term to this day. (I got to bathe in red water, wear clothes washed in red water, and swim at a lake, full of red water.)"

Trish Gau from Argentina: "It is similar to our Misiones, province in the NE of Argentina. Very red soil. Very fertile." 

The red dirt in the U.S. tends not to be fertile (see Joy's comment questioning this), one reason why it is associated with poor farmers---red necks rather than blue bloods.

The Michigan project saw this mid-20th century quilt 
with a reported mud-dyed backing (no photos though of
the back of the quilt.)

Mud with the right combination of chemicals can indeed color fabric. African textile dyers who know the chemistry have printed mud-dyed cloth for generations. 

Women in Mali stencil Bògòlanfini (Mud Cloth), 
combining a vegetable dye with a mineral dye (leaves & mud)
 in a resist dyeing process.
 Not at all what we are talking about here.

South Koreans mud-dye cotton in a technique similar to U.S. Southerners. Barb Eikmeier spent her time there collecting lovely examples of traditional cloth. She was told these were mud dyed. The shades of pinkish-orange and a reddish-brown seem typical of what we would see in the U.S.  If you come across a quilt backing in these characteristic shades---it's a possibility.

Questions raised:
How colorfast is this fabric? Coloring is easy---color fastness is not. Perhaps the iron in the soil not only colors the fabric but mordants it too. My white socks colored while camping in Oklahoma did not have red stains, they had nondescript brown stains. Just looked like dirt (which of course it was.)

Which brings up the point that Kathy Moore made:
"The red in the soil...comes from ferrous oxide. That's iron in layman's terms. We know how caustic iron is to textile fibers. Shouldn't we see more deterioration in this very old fabric?"
Do we have to worry about the reds in the characteristic shade is patchwork quilts? In Clues in the Calico, written about 40 years ago, I say: "Plain terra cotta cottons in quilts from South Carolina to the Southwest may have been mud dyed." Scratch that out in your copy. After looking at a lot more quilts since then I don't think we see mud-dyed cottons in the patchwork but as we have learned there are memories and accounts of mud-dyed backings.

Back to Gatsey Worden's Texas quilt:

Note that red spot in the center orange. I bet those
shapes were red when she pieced it but it's
faded just the way Congo red synthetic dyes after 1880 did.
We can imagine why the family believed the diamonds were mud-dyed.

I'd guess patchwork pieces described as dyed with red clay are often variations of that very unstable Congo Red.
See our post on Congo Red and how it fades here:

How-to's on mud dyeing:

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Louisiana Quilts Part 2

Cammie G Henry collection at Northwestern State University in Louisiana
Louisiana woman airing a quilt outside a log cabin, 20th century photo (?)
The house looks much like the "African House" at Melrose Plantation historic site
owned by Cammie Henry. 

The woman in the photograph might have been 
Clementine Hunter (1887-1988), artist-in-residence there, 
who made many quilts but was most famous for her paintings.

Louisiana may suffer as Pennsylvania does with such an abundance of quilts, cultures and quiltmaking traditions that it's difficult to summarize the state's quiltmaking history. Nobody has tried to write a comprehensive book on the topic.

Strip quilt, Cloaner Smith of Lisbon, Claiborne Parish
Louisiana Folklife Program

Louisiana folklorists have conducted projects, most notably the Louisiana Folklife Program's wide-ranging quilt documentation conducted by Susan Roach-Lankford.

Scroll down to read about it.

Friendship quilt signed by 42 women, family date: 1893,
 Shongaloo in Claiborne County up by Arkansas---the Ark-La-Tex region.
From the quilt project.

Dale Drake who did quilt research in the state noted "the Louisiana documentation project covered the northern (American) half of the state plus the southeast edge - New Orleans." Her own research in the Southern region was published in Uncoverings 2017, "Louisiana Acadian Cotonnade Quilts: Preserving the Weaving Heritage of a People."

Cotonnade Quilt
"The cotonnade quilts I researched did not predate around 1890, as a guess, but quilts ARE mentioned in probate records. It's a great research project for someone who lives closer than Indiana."

The Louisiana project photographed four quilts made by Marie DuBois, born 1916, Jackson Parish in northern Louisiana.

Marie's quilts: classic Southern quilts from the 1880-1930 period.

Gaye Ingram, who lives in the area has been our resource on Louisiana culture. She commented on the settlement patterns and likelihood to cross state lines there. 
"This area has a fair number of quilts that came from East Texas. Oil and gas industry and large timber operations created some booms that drew people. I know one quilt that went to TX German settlements from North Carolina, then to Webster-Claiborne parish in North LA (near Minden, a German commune settle originally)."
Why so few quilts before 1870?
"You have to have people before they can make quilts. And the northern part of the state settled late and is still far behind population of Southern part."

Squash Blossom
In 1949 Maude Reid of Lake Charles showed some of her
quilts to a photographer.
Lake Charles is in southern Louisiana.

1930s description of quilting patterns remembered from the 1890s,
Bogalusa, north of New Orleans along the 
Mississippi River in Washington County

Satin wholecloth quilt purchased from Mrs. Hyde of Crowley, Louisiana
for a 1936 wedding. Mrs. Hyde was 
"an early widow, made quilts as a way to add income."

Waldvogel Collection, Quilt Index

I bet this is Celia Pardue Hyde (1881-1972) of Crowley, who won a regional prize with her "Louisiana Rose" quilt at the 1933 World's Fair Quilt Contest sponsored by Sears, Roebuck & Company. Crowley is in Acadia Parish between Lafayette and Lake Charles. Based on her name we can guess Cecelia Pardue may have enjoyed a little Acadian heritage.

Our Facebook group has been a great resource for information about Louisiana culture and quilts.

Matt Macomber posted a picture of a terrific
top he found in Shreveport (1950s-'60s?)

Bill Volckening bought this one from a Louisiana source on ebay,
polyester double-knits with black rick-rack covering the seam lines.
It's 112" x 120". 

Gaye posted her Seven Sisters with classic
fan quilting from that area. Seven stars in a circle seems to be a 
Southern regionalism.

Alden O'Brien and Gaye discussed this quilt in the collection of the D.A.R. Museum, attributed to Mrs. Hornsby of Louisiana. Alden found quite a bit about Almira Crossgrove Hornsby (?-1918) who is found in censuses in Concordia Parish, Louisiana and in Mississippi. Was it a Louisiana quilt or a Mississippi quilt?

Gaye had some insight:
"Concordia Parish is across the river from Natchez. A number of planter families lived in 'town' houses in Natchez, which sits high on a bluff and was relatively healthier in Yellow Fever season, and had their growing fields/plantations across the river in the low lands of Concordia and nearby parishes. The name of one such area house---"Propinquity"---sez it all. Natchez was/is 'town' for both sides of the river."
So the Hornsbys probably moved seasonally from state to state showing us why state lines do not define culture. 

As Alden wrote:
"Ahhhh thank you, see, this is why it's so great to get nationally diverse people thinking together and sharing! I would not have that local info."
Gaye spent some time giving us an overview of Louisiana settlement. Since patterns of culture are so important to quilt history we'll give you her thoughts in full:

"Southwest Louisiana (the original Acadian settlement) was French-speaking into the the early 1950's. It was commonplace to be in a store and hear a conversation between a daughter who spoke both English and French and her mother, who spoke only French. Large parts of that culture were isolated and traditional even then. Dale Drake's research documents the cotonade quilts from that section.

Louisiana's historical settlement pattern was not what one often sees---an even sort of spread from a central commercial area. The early French settlements occurred in New Orleans area and along the Ms and Red Rivers. Military posts were located early in the French period at Alexandria (Rapides Post) and Natchitoches (Natchitoches Post), establishing an avenue of French and later Spanish culture.

But most of the Anglo part of the state was settled only after the close of the Revolutionary War, with the opening of the Mississippi Territory, which included present-day Alabama. The southern part of that area had been held or contended by Spain. The Treaty of San Lorenzo (1795) recognized the 31st parallel as the boundary between Spanish Florida and the United States. It opened the way for American settlement north of that line after years of disagreement. It was not until 1798, however, that Spain actually vacated the area.

The Great Migration into the MS Territory occurred in 2 great waves. The first (between 1798 and 1812) brought 35,000 people into the Territory. Problems with the Creek Indians, which began as tribal wars, spread into the American settlement and raged throughout the region in 1813 and 1814, ending only with Jackson's victory at Horseshoe Bend in March 1814. That opened the area to settlement. 

Most of Central and North Louisiana was settled after 1815, when MS became a state. Settlers came mainly through the MS Territory from the Carolinas. Those following the coastal plain route moved through Amite and Covington Counties in MS, thence north and crossed the MS River near Natchez. Others came through the more northerly route and crossed at Vicksburg. Except for those along major waterways, most were barely established before the Civil War. 

The really fine early Louisiana quilts I've seen were made in the Carolinas. I have two with provenance from 1870's from S.C. and I know two in Central Louisiana from 1850's with Alabama provenance. While there are exceptions, especially along the rivers, the Anglo parts of the state did not develop the large leisured class that tends to produce really fine quiltmaking such as one sees in parts of the Carolinas and Virginia.

Then came the Civil War, and many of those along rivers were destroyed or taken by troops of both sides. Families have many stories about those. In my family a fragment of a quilt from that period exists.

Another thing that I believe reduced the number of fine quilts in Anglo Louisiana was that the major occupation in much of that section was the forestry industry, which kept people on the move. St. Louis and Chicago investors swept through the pine woods, clean-cutting and then moving on.

As for early Arkansas quilts, their makers most likely came either from and through TN. That migration tended to come from the Middle-South.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Louisiana Quilts: Before 1880

Crazy quilt by Mary Matilda Tarleton Leake (1856-1934)
Louisiana State Museum

Mary Matilda Tarleton Leake (1856-1934) won a prize with this crazy quilt entered in New Orleans's 1884-1885 World's Cotton and Industrial Exposition, depicting fair themes of Louisiana Industry and Cotton. Several crazy quilts were probably displayed at that fair as the style was a nationwide fad at the time.
Quilt Index Record:

Mary Matilda's quilt was the earliest Louisiana quilt with a date on it we could find, which surprised us at the Facebook group.

Rev A.E. Goodwyn, 1867

A contender is this wool & silk embroidered and appliqued sampler made by Methodist Church members in New Iberia. But was it made in 1867?  The style seems later.

Alden O'Brien noted that the Methodist minister "arrived in 1868 [or 1867?? ] The date could commemorate his departure or his service much later, similar to DAR’s Baltimore album honoring Jackson’s battle of New Orleans in 1815." 

The DAR's Baltimore album was actually made years later and this Louisiana album seems likely to date from after 1880 during the nationwide fashion for embroidered quilts.

You don't see that kind of signature in 1869---it's more late Victorian.

Pictures from Jessica Hack who did the restoration work.

New Iberia is a little north of the Gulf of Mexico in the area of Louisiana that some cultural geographers call Acadiana, parishes (counties) with strong French cultural traditions.

New Iberia is the yellow star.
Mary Matilda Tarleton was also from a French
cultural area---New Orleans along the Gulf.

But we see no evidence of any particularly French needlework
traditions in either of these quilts. They could have been made in
Massachusetts, Michigan or Virginia.

So what were women in Louisiana stitching in the years 1840-1870 when seamstresses in New England and New Jersey were piecing friendship quilts and women in Baltimore and neighboring communities were appliqueing elaborate blocks? What was happening there in 1820 when chintz quilts were all the rage in the Carolinas?

Kay Triplett suggested this quilt from her collection
as a Louisiana album stitched before 1870.

A Louisiana album it certainly is. For the book Hidden Treasures: Quilts from 1600-1860 she did much genealogical research on the names, all of which she found in Claiborne Parish, which borders Arkansas in northern Louisiana.

Beautiful shot of the stenciled name of 
Martha Eleanor Bibb Cole Day Zachry (1808-1895)
a Georgia resident for her first seventy years. 

According to her Find-A-Grave website: "After 1880, she went to Louisiana to live with a son by her 1st marriage." She is buried in Dykesville, Claiborne Parish.

Louisiana Parishes

The name on the redwork embroidered block below, Mag Gleason, refers to Margaret Angelina Gleason (1845-1939) who married William Richard Lowe in 1880 and changed her name.

The Claiborne album quilt illustrates well the frustration in dating quilts by interweaving different types of evidence. Without a date on the blocks (or even better the sashing, border or back) we do not know when the quilt was set together. Blocks may have been signed, dated & kept for decades. Genealogy and family stories often conflict with patchwork style as in the New Iberia quilt above.  Mag Gleason's album block is decorated with Turkey red outline embroidery, a technique hugely popular after 1880....

As is Mary E. Taylor's.
Were the blocks begun in one decade, added to and set together at a later date?

There's certainly no lack of quilts attributed to Claiborne County, Louisiana made AFTER 1880.

Unusual pickle dish variation attributed to Frances Kendrick Massey
in the "Camp Community" (Is this actually Campt?)
Claiborne Parish, Louisiana

The maker is probably Martha Frances Whitten Kendrick Massey (1866/7-1952) of Homer who married in 1901. The Louisiana project photographed three of her quilts found in a trunk. She's buried in Lafayette County, Arkansas.

Brother William Austin Kendrick (1852-1934) & family about 1894 
based on 1892 birthdate of baby Oddie. 
They moved to Texas about 1900.

Patchwork on the chair?
Fan-quilted blankets as backdrop.

We digress to William and his classic Southern family photo to illustrate the fluidity of the culture in Northern Louisiana---the Ark-La-Tex region. People came in. The region was "settled by Anglos from the Carolinas, Georgia & Tennessee," according to Gaye Ingram who lives in Ruston about 40 miles from Homer. People like the Kendrick/Masseys went out. Texas always calls. Margaret Gleason Lowe whose name is on the redwork block from Claiborne County went to Texas and is buried in Dallas.

The original question:
What's the earliest Louisiana patchwork quilt we could find in the literature or on-line?
Has evolved into
Why are there no reliably attributed Louisiana patchwork quilts made before 1870 or 1880?

Pink border between parallel cultures. 
Below it French/African/Spanish traditions. 

I have two guesses.
1) Women in the state's Southern areas were not members of a quilt-making culture. As we have seen in Pennsylvania where German speakers did not begin making quilts until about 1840 and in the Dutch Fork, North Carolina where German descendants did not begin the craft until the end of the 19th century, patchwork quilts tended to be a British import.

See a post on German bedding traditions here:

The darker the area the more French native speakers fifty years ago.

Traditional bedmaking customs dictated other types of coverings; traditional needlework forms did not include patchwork to any degree. It's only when people in the parallel cultures adopted that rather distinctive mainstream bedding style that quilts become common.

"An Acadian Quilting Party," perhaps photographed in the 1950s.

2) Why no early quilts made in Anglo-Louisiana above the map's pink line? 

Quilt dated 1869, signed Mary A Turley (1854-1917)
Found in the Kansas Quilt Project, made in Indiana before
Mary came to Kansas to marry Levi Morgan in 1871.

This may be explained by lessons we learned in the Kansas quilt project. During the quilt craze along the Atlantic coast in the 1850-1870 period Kansas was settled by immigrants from those areas. Easterners could not bring much west but bedding was considered a necessity. Settlers brought their quilts (a mix of function and sentiment) and it isn't until the 1870s that we found Kansans beginning to create new patchwork bedcovers. Time and again we were disappointed to find mid-19th century quilts like Mary Turley Morgan's, which families attributed to Kansas, to have been made in the east.
See a post here:

1876 Drusilla Showalter Cole, Mound Ridge, Kansas
Earliest date-inscribed quilt made in Kansas out of over 10,000 quilts examined
in Kansas Quilt Project.

When Louisiana women began stitching quilts about the same time as Kansans they adapted current styles popular in the Southern states from which they'd come and the patterns and fabrics their neighbors used at the time. They did not seem to recreate the older quilts they'd brought with them.

Quilt recorded in the Louisiana project, bought in Canton,Texas.
Owner thought it might be 1850 stitched by a slave, but size & style
 (quintuple sash, fading solid fabrics & bold
applique) indicate it is post 1880.

Distinguishing a late-19th-century Louisiana quilt from a late-19th-century Arkansas or Texas quilt is a fool's errand. Sharing style across state lines must have been common---back immigration, regional fairs and quilters just visiting the relatives on the railroad networks.

We can make some pretty educated guesses as to dates even if we can't guess location without family history, so unless we find new dated examples reliably inscribed before 1870 we will have to assume quilting was a late-19th century craft in Louisiana.

Earliest fair record of quilts so far found in Louisiana, 4th State Fair results
in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, May, 1870

UPDATE from Teri Klassen:
Observation on state fairs and quilts:
"4th LA state fair was in 1870, meaning they started just after the Civil War (assuming they were continuous). This was at least a couple decades later than many eastern seaboard and eastern Midwest states (ie Ohio) started having agricultural fairs, which surely were a huge driver for the popularity of fine quiltmaking."

Good point, now we'll have to look at fair origins. When & where.
Next post:
What Louisiana quiltmakers did once they took it up.

See a preview of Lori Lee Triplett & Kay Triplett's 2019 book Hidden Treasures, Quilts from 1600 to 1860: Rarely Seen Pre–Civil War Textiles from the Poos Collection at this link: