Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Fan Quilting: Who, Why & How

Pineapple patchwork quilted with a fan design by
 Francisca Ocampo Quesada of Arizona.
Collection of the Desert Caballeros Western Musem.
Photo from the Arizona project & the Quilt Index.

Who used fan quilting?

As you may notice from the Francisca's quilt above: The quilting design is found all over the country, done by quilters of all ethnic heritages. We don't have a lot of data about quiltmakers' ethnicity and favored quilting patterns but after analyzing information from the West Virginia project Fawn Valentine wrote:
"Quilting in the fans is almost a trademark of quilts from the Southern Highlands in areas populated by families of of Scotch Irish descent, noting that folklorist Geraldine Johnson found allover fan quilting in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina 'everywhere except in those regions dominated by Pennsylvania-Dutch quilting tradition.'"
Detail of a cotton crazy quilt from Massachusetts

Was fan quilting done in church basements of every ethnic and national background? Perhaps not by the Amish, Mennonite and other German Anabaptists of southeastern Pennsylvania but there are probably few other exceptions.

Fan quilted star, by a member of a Michigan Native tribe.
Collection of the Museum at Michigan State University.

More research called for.

Fan quilting on a Seven Sisters quilt from the Nebraska
project. No information on maker.

Photo from the twenties? That many quilters doesn't look too practical.

Why Fan Quilting?
Teddy answers: "It has been mentioned that its perfect for group quilting, and it is."

Virginia B says her mother continues to quilt with an Iowa church group that quilts in the fan pattern.

Fan quilting could be marked as it was quilted (or not marked at all) and as you can see above many right handed quilters could work closely and efficiently.

Marking and not marking the fan design drew several comments.

Most of the quilt photos here are from online auctions with little known
about the quilters but we can guess many were Southerners.

When folklorist Geraldine Johnson interviewed Virginia quilter Ila Patton for the Blue Ridge Parkway Folkways Project in 1978 Ila said she often used the fan pattern.
"Most of the time, I usually laid it off in fans....I would take a string and tie it on a piece of chalk and mark it. Just hold it and just run it in a fan shape, 'bout, with chalk. So you could see to sew and go by, the lines." How many lines should be in each fan?"Well, I guess about six, or eight. Put 'em about an inch apart. Some you'd put closer, and some you'd put a little further apart. The smaller the fans, the prettier they are."
Martha Rouse Thomas, Alabama
Cargo Collection at the Birmingham Museum of Art

Joy Branham of Virginia: "The chalk on a string is how I was taught by my grandmother and still do."

Maggie Cochran Schockley ( 1913-2011 ) 
showed this recently made basket quilt in 1978

Gerry Johnson also interviewed Maggie Schockley in Virginia who described her mother Sybella Dickerson Cochran (1883-1988) marking fans in the same fashion.
"I guess it would be like with a compass. She would...take her string, have her chalk on the end of it, and hold end with her finger, you know, and then she would go out from that and she, an inch each time and go a little farther, however wide her fan would be, or however far she wanted. It started in the corner and then you started from the corner each time and, and your chalk was still on your string, and you'd go around sort of in that way."
This back view of some rather large, double-line fans indicates it may
have been marked beginning in the top left corner.

In a blog post Texan Suzanne Labry recalled her Aunt Neva's fan quilting:
"If she was quilting with friends, the string and pencil apparatus was passed to the next person sitting at the frame, who would draw the fan arcs on the section of the quilt in front of where they were sitting. When the quilt was rolled, a fresh set of arcs would be drawn, with the base point being in the dip between the first set of arcs."
The Foxfire series of the 1970s & '80s featured interviews with craftspeople.
 Mary Franklin described the chalk method. Stella Burell says the fan and the shell are
"almost the same. The fan is just bigger than the shell."

Anita Zaleski Weinraub in Georgia Quilts describes another compass of sorts, the human elbow. Bessie "Beck" Caudell Kirby (1916-2012) of Toccoa, Georgia told her the pattern was:
 "usually marked by starting at the corner of the frame, placing an elbow on the edge of the quilt and marking the arc with chalk, Beck eyeballed subsequent arcs at one- or two- inch intervals to complete the fan. Rows of fans cover the quilt. If fans were begun from both sides of the quilt, a backbone formed where the two sides met."
Beck's description of using the forearm and eyeball to mark is one reason fans and similar L-shaped quilting designs are often called Elbow Quilting. 

Beck also described how a quilting group might mark a utilitarian design in the frame.

Here the quilt is stretched out almost fully on the frame. Quilters often begin with the center of the quilt but fan quilting seems designed to be marked and quilted beginning along the edges and working towards the center.

Beck used the term backbone to describe the center area where the two sets of markings converged.

The "backbone" here literally sticks up
where batting has bunched.

Teddy told us that Edie Idleman from Arkansas "called the area the 'ridgeback' and I continue to use the term. It is a ridge on the back. Perfect descriptor.....The arcs are made from the edge toward the center. As the arcs get too close together for another row, they are joined by whatever line it takes to cover the space. Yet another very Southern trait. Not measured? Not perfect? We should care.... why???"

Quilt from about 1910 found in Pennsylvania,
recorded by the Massachusetts project.
Oops, a lump in the middle.

Some people do care. Jean avoids the bump by quilting from one side to the other, not both ends towards the middle. "This ridge back is something that I feel is a flaw in the quilting, personally. Since quilting from the edges to the center would make a lump way too often of excess fabric, I would do it alone or with another friend, working on the same side as each other and working off to the opposite end of the quilt."

Arcs from the top meet arcs from the bottom gracefully here

Virginia: "If the backing is stretched on a old fashioned frame and the frame clamped there is no issue with extra fabric in the center back. My mother quilts with a church group and I have quilted with a group using this type of frame though not in a fan pattern. I have never seen any problems working from both sides to the middle."

Basting is probably a key here too.

Definitely not a Southern quilt. Susannah Brooks Harrison of
York Mills, Ontario quilted with her sister. It looks like each started at one
side and resolved the center gap with parallel lines. From the Michigan project
& the Quilt Index.

Suzanne's Aunt Neva's term for the center "discontinuity."
"Since the design was marked and quilted from the quilt’s edges inward, it was difficult to make the arcs meet in the middle. Most older quilts with the fan design have a thin strip down the center marking this discontinuity. Old-time Texas quilters called this strip 'the hog’s back,' probably because it is reminiscent of the ridge along the back of a big pig."
The marking system combined with old-fashioned batting would cause a bump. Joy from Virginia points out:
"The batting at the time was usually unglazed cotton which balls up and shifts if not heavily quilted, so it was simply a matter of course to add a lot of quilting."
Oft-laundered quilt. The border is practically corduroyed.

Batting that tends to clump is one reason for drawing the fans in close lines. Ila Patton told Gerry Johnson why so many quilts are so heavily quilted. It wasn't only aesthetics: 
"It made 'em look a heap prettier and held 'em together. They lasted a lot longer, too....Holds 'em together good, in case you want to launder 'em." 
Teddy from Florida: 
"An inordinate number of Deep South quilts are fan quilted. They are also thick, heavy. Every laundering caused enormous amounts of batting shift that translated into wads and ridges of batting. The resulting raised areas of the quilt suffered wear and abuse and breakdown. So it stands to reason the more quilting the less shifting the less deterioration."

It is also entirely possible that the hand quilters had no need to mark. The quilting was eyeballed or hand-guided.

Wenonah: "I am fascinated by quilting without have to mark...because I hate was this accomplished so it came out looking good?"

 Joe Cunningham, master hand quilter, has been heard to say
 that if you can draw with a pencil you can draw with your quilting. 
Some people, of course, are better at drawing than others.

Sally added a few twists with her tale of scrappy quilts made by her great-aunts from Pond Hollow, South Carolina, who machine-quilted "curved rows of quilting similar to Baptist fans, but not as rounded. The curves were sometimes more elongated and almost straight in places. All quilting was done on their treadle (which I now have/use). It’s almost like they quilted one area as much as they could without shifting the quilt, then when they did shift it, they changed direction....(They didn’t mark any quilting lines.)"

Necktie quilt from an Alabama online auction

More on Suzanne Labry's Aunt Neva's fan quilting:
"She would sometimes forego the string and pencil altogether and just eyeball the arcs, which made for some wonky rainbow-shapes that nevertheless got the job done. The concentric arcs were easy to quilt because the needle could always move in the same direction and the quilter didn’t have to twist her arm around to follow the design—the arcs follow the natural movement of the arm."
Suzie's blog:

So we are back to where & when?
In summary: Quilters everywhere quilted in fans, shells or rainbow fashion, most likely after 1890.

Applique quilt done in fan quilting by Joanna Staples, 
Lynn, Massachusetts. Massachusetts project & the Quilt Index.

But there are two styles of fan quilting. One is quarter circles of  single lines, rather widely spaced on thin batting as in the Massachusetts quilt above.

Could be anywhere

The other has closely spaced arcs, often double and triple lines, with thick batting as in the quilt above, recorded in the Arizona Project as done by  Mary H. Phillips who signed it in ink. The family had no idea where she was from but we can guess it was someplace in the south. 

The clues to distinctly Southern fan quilting might be 1) varying spacing of the concentric quarter circles, as in the triple line quilting below, 2) variability in the drafting of the arcs---more freehand style, 3) thicker batting.

Would we see this style in Massachusetts?

So how did “Baptist” get attached to the fan name?

Suzanne from Texas says her "Aunt Neva was a staunch member of the Church of Christ, but she still called that design the Baptist Fan (she also sometimes called it a shell, but perhaps that was because she didn’t want to give too much credit to the Baptists)."

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