Friday, September 10, 2010

Kansas Quilters and Kansas Quilts

As pioneers came west to homestead and create new cities and states, they brought their lives with them. That included their quilts, patterns, needlework and history. So it’s only natural that some of their legacy can be woven together by researching and documenting their quilts.

A number of contemporary Kansas authors and quilters have done just that over the last quarter century. In addition, 20th and 21st century quilters have paid homage to their foremothers by either recreating the quilts from early Kansas statehood days and the Civil War or by using those earlier quilts as inspiration for new quilts.

Women have used needlearts and crafts through the centuries to express their views, their feelings, and to support political movements and ideas. It should come as no surprise that they created quilts to accomplish those very things.

Today reproduction fabrics, patterns, classes and tools allow 21st century quilters to explore creating quilts that harken back to the last half of the 19th century. Lawrence, KS is home to several quilt historians and researchers – and also to a collection of historic quilts (held at Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas).

These local quilters are nationally renowned and recognized for their research and writings.

One of them is Barbara Brackman
Brackman’s publications include:

--Quilts from the Civil War

--Civil War Women: Their quilts, their roles, activities for re-enactors (2000)

--Kansas Quilts & Quilters (1993) - The findings of the Kansas Quilt Project
collected into a book that gives the history, not only of Kansas quilts, but of
quiltmaking in general.

The Underground Railroad is a popular area of research and study, and quilts made to remember both the path to freedom in the North and the sympathizers and former slaves are still being created. One recent book by Brackman attempts to put to rest the myths and legends surrounding quilts and the Underground Railroad, and focus on historic facts, pattern histories, and fabric dating to shed light on the true role played by quilts and quilters in this historic era.

Facts & Fabrications: Unraveling the Story of Quilts and Slavery (2006)
A fundamental source of information and inspiration for contemporary quilters interested in quilt history is the book “Hearts and Hands: The influence of women & quilts on American Society” (1987), published by the Quilt Digest Press. One quilt in particular in that book (pp 70-71) distills and illustrates the deep influence and meaning that quilts played both in political movements and the lives of those affected.

The quilt pictured in the photo is an unknown pattern (but could be Birds in the Air). It was made by Deborah Coates, Lancaster County, PA, ca. 1840-1850, pieced silks with stamp work. Here’s the story of that one quilt, and how it continues its influence today (excerpted from the book “Hearts and Hands”):

The Coates family of Lancaster County, Penn. Was well-known in the early part of the nineteenth century. Lindley Caotes was documented by traditional history as he was a prominent and active abolitionist, a Quaker who was among the organizers of the Anti-Slavery Society (1833) and who preceeded William Lloyd Garrison as president of the AASA in 1840.

What we know of Coates’s wife’s role and her abolitionist sentiments has been recorded in a very subtle, indeed fragile, manner: it has come to us quietly and directly, sewn into the center of her elegant quilt. Were it not for a family what has kept the oral history of the quilt alive, we might have missed Deborah Coates’s message altogether. According to the family, two granddaughters of the maker could not agree on who should inherit the precious quilt, and so, with the Quaker sense of equality, it was decided to cut the quilt exactly in half.

When the raw edges were bound over, the small central image was almost totally obscured. All that remained to be seen were a tiny foot on one quilt half and the edge of an arm on the other. Finally, the two halves came down together to a single descendant, along with the story of what lay within the seams. Recently, under the direction of a conservator, the bindings were opened and the fractured image was brought together for the photograph. In researching family history related to the quilt, a descendant has recently discovered that Lindley and Deborah Coates’s home in Sadsbury, Lancaster County, Penn. was Station #5 on one of the many routes of the Underground Railroad. This was clearly a family which found a variety of ways to express a strong moral commitment to justice and the emancipation of slaves.

“Deliver me from the oppression of man.” The image of the bound slave was inked onto a triangle near the center of this amazing quilt.

The quilt below was recreated, using cotton fabrics, in a wall sized reproduction for the book Quilts from the Civil War. The quilt hangs in the Northeast Kansas Library System offices in Lawrence, KS on loan from maker Patti Wiggins Mersmann Butcher.


Heartland quilt network (great resource to find quilters and organizations)

Quilters who blog

Barbara Brackman

Deb Rowden

Linda Frost

Ruth Powers

Alma Allen and Barb Adams


Terry Clothier Thompson

Sue Spargo

Jan Patek

Kansas quilters organization




Kansas City

by Patti Butcher, Lawrence KS

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