Saturday, December 12, 2020

Tennessee to Missouri #5: Who Actually Made The Quilts?

We've looked at several possible Missouri makers of these stuffed work quilts handed down in a Cass County family.

-Perhaps Maria Rodgers Martin, held as a slave in Cass County
-Perhaps other Missouri women in the Roddy/Brown home in Cass County
-Perhaps relatives in Tennessee

It seems most likely to Merikay Waldvogel and me that they were made in Rhea County, Tennessee, where the style was often seen after the Civil War. 

Rhea County, Tennessee west to Cass County, Missouri
The U.S. in 1860

The two quilts are so closely related in pattern, style and quilting to the distinctive quilts of that area (recorded in the Quilts of Tennessee project.)

We have four Feathered Star Variations

And two almost identical Turkey Tracks.

The quilts are all significantly related in the quilting.

This use of a  long stuffed feather in sash as well as in the border is unusual---except in Rhea County.

A gridded basket also seems to be a signature style.

Unraveling the story of the quilts back in Rhea County becomes even more complicated. 

The Patchwork Quilt by E.W. Perry
Harper's Weekly,1872

We might guess the Tennessee women who made the above quilts shared patterns and style at quilting parties and fairs. They were of the same generation and living in a relatively small community. We realize that one or two creative women can inspire a whole community to excellence and in our times we like to think of the artist as making a quilt from start to finish, following her own muse.

The Patchwork Quilt by William Henry Midwood, a British painter,
about 1870

Many of the quilt projects asked the quiltowner (perhaps a great-grand child of the maker) what part of the quilt was made by whom. The overwhelmingly popular response:
Question:"IF SOURCE PERSON IS QUILT MAKER: If the source is the quilt maker, choose the parts of the quiltmaking process that best describes the source's participation. 

Answer: Made entire quilt"

There is NO way a great-great granddaughter who might not even know the quiltmaker's maiden name could possibly know this, but our confidence in the creative process is unbounded by evidence.

1843 Charles Knight Pictorial Gallery of the Arts, England

Once Merikay and I see a body of such similar quilts we tend to wonder if some kind of cottage industry was not stitching these---a cottage industry with a specialty say of feathered star quilts. 

If not a business of piecing or appliqueing fancy quilts, did someone have a quilting business where the stuffed work was the attraction?

And who worked in that commercial enterprise, quilting all those baskets, feathers and flowers?

Quilt with stuffed work feathers in the sashing attributed to 
Sarildabeth C. Smith Rector, Rhea County, Tennessee 
whose great-granddaughter told the Tennessee documenters that Rilda made the entire quilt.

We have no answers to our questions but we have changed our perspective on the steps in the quiltmaking process and the importance of commercial quiltmaking in the past.

See previous posts on the Cass County/Rhea County quilts here:


  1. I think your idea of skepticism about the makers is valid. I know that my grandmother made most of hers herself--hand piecing to hand quilting. Her style is very evident--all her hand quilting was in the fan pattern. However, I do know that once in a while she paid a local woman to do the quilting. When that happened it is very evident in the quilt, even when it wasn't always the same woman! Going back farther, the only thing I would have to rely on would be family stories. I would venture to say that the plainer the quilting, the more likelihood that it was done by the original quiltmaker, especially if it was an everyday quilt.

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