Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Due to camera difficulties, I'll be taking a short hiatus from the blog.  It's hard to discuss projects without pictures. :(

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: Dating Fabrics, A Color Guide 1800-1960

Dating Fabrics, A Color Guide 1800-1960 by Eileen Jahnke Trestain

Dating Fabrics is, as the name states, primarily a fabric guide.  Its more particular focus is on the prints (usually cotton) used in quilting. The 160-year span is divided into 20-30 year sections (each about 30 pages long); for each era, there are general notes on the period, an explanation of the contemporary color and printing technologies, and notes the popular quilt styles.  Most importantly, each section contains several pages of fabric examples.  Each page has 12 samples, in uniform 1.25" squares; within the section, they are arranged by color, and where appropriate by design as well ('shirtings', 'diaper prints and stripes', etc.).

Where Dating Fabrics stands out from other, similar titles like Textile Design or America's Printed Fabrics is in the commentary on print design trends which accompanies each section; it also discusses the fugitive nature of certain dyes, and how the appearance of a fabric today may differ from its look when it was new.  Compared to Textile Design, the main difference is in size (Dating Fabrics is half as long, with smaller pages), and in the divide-by-time format (which it shares with America's Printed Fabrics).  Compared to the latter, Dating Fabrics has less discussion of quilts and more fabric examples; both books date the fabrics within a 20+ year time window, which makes their usefulness variable.  As I mentioned before, pinpointing an 1845-style fabric would be difficult with this format; it is, however, easily laid out for estimating an antique quilt's age, or familiarizing oneself with the aesthetic of the era.    

The main change I'd like to see in this book is larger-sized samples for some of the prints.  The small-scale ones work fine as they are, but some of the larger prints are severely truncated, and only a small selection of those the get bigger images.

Stars: 4 Stars
Accuracy: High.  All original fabrics.  Discussion includes information about characteristic fading of fabrics.
Difficulty: N/A
Strongest Impression: Although apparently intended for quilt-dating, this book is also an excellent resource for the reenactor looking for information on period-appropriate prints for reproduction quilts and clothing.  It gives a better over-view of period textile printing and dying technology than other books I've encountered.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book Review: The Civil War Diary Quilt

The Civil War Diary Quilt by Rosemary Youngs follows a similar idea to Barbara Brackman's Civil War Sampler; both books explore women's history of the American Civil War period through quilting.  In both cases, stories from the time are paired with modern quilt blocks which the reader can sew, ultimately making a quilt.

The Civil War Diary Quilt contains 121 quilt squares, each of which is presented opposite an original diary entry from one of ten women.  Each diary author has a one-page biography and a page of pictures at the start of her section. Also included is an applique doll label/block (with a non-diary story, the subject being a 3-year-old), 9 different quilt project using various blocks, and a short gallery showing the full 11 x 11 quilt made up four different ways.

The strength of this book lies in its pretty patchwork designs.  The diary entries are all primary sources, so the history is spot on.  Compared to Brackman's book, you do get more quotations from each woman featured, which I think helps their voices come through more clearly.

On the flip side, the designs are all modern, so this book doesn't function well as a source for historic quilting information.  The limited commentary on the individual diary entries also puts it into a sort of awkward middle ground: if I'm looking for a period diary for my own reading, I'd opt for a 'whole' published diary, rather than a dozen selected entries.  On the other hand, if I was trying to introduce someone to primary sources without intimidating them, I'd probably try one of Brackman's titles, as they incorporate the diary excerpts into a straightforward narrative.

The block instructions here are a bit terse; there are instructions at the beginning for copying out each block and sewing it together, but the individual blocks are presented on their own, diagram only, without specific instructions for cutting and piecing.  Seam allowances need to be added. For a knowledgeable quilter, this does get the information across succinctly, without wasting time and space repeating what one already knows (and leave more space for blocks).  The beginning quilter could possibly make use of this book, but would likely benefit from something with more explicit explanations.

Stars: 3 Stars
Accuracy: Period diary entries are fully cited; quilt blocks are modern.
Difficulty: Intermediate.  Instructions are clear, but concise (a little sparse for the beginner).
Strongest Impression: Many lovely designs, but unfortunately  little of the quilting material is useful for historic recreation.  The diary entries are interesting, of course.  It fills the same niche as Barbara Brackman's Civil War Sampler, but I prefer Ms. Brackman's instructions and templates.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nineteenth Century Schoolbooks Online

Collating free period primary sources.  This time, it's school and text-books.  Fair warning: there's a ton more out there.  I'm primarily focusing on American (then English) works.

Swinton's Primer and First Reader (1883)
The First Reader (Minnesota Series, 1889)
The Normal Course in Reading: First Reader (1892), Second Reader(Alternate) Third, Fourth
The First Reader of the School and Family Series (1861), Second ReaderThirdFourthFifth
Second Lessons in Reading and Grammar (1831) and Third Lessons

Cobb's Spelling Book (1842)
The Spelling Book Superceded (1860, 66th ed.)
Spelling and Language Book (1887)
The Student's Spelling-book (1853, 11th ed.)
First Lessons in Composition (1868)

Theory of Spencerian Penmanship (1874)
The Science of Practical Penmanship (1850)
A Text-book on Penmanship (1862)

First Lessons in Arithmetic (1848)
Another First Lessons in Arithmetic (1853)
Arithmetic: Being a Sequel to First Lessons in Arithmetic (1824--note, this is not the same author or sequence as the two above)
Second Lessons in Arithmetic (1888)
The Standard Arithmetical Copy Book (parts 7 and 8 of 9) (1803?)
Euclid Arranged for Examinations or The Geometry Copy Book (1860)
A Text-book of Deductive Logic (1886)
Marks' First Lessons in Geometry: Objectively Presented (1869)

The First Book in French (1855)
First Lessons in French (1898)
First Lessons in German (1898)
Ollendorff's New Method of Learning to Read, Write, and Speak The German Language (1859)
First Lessons in Latin (1874)
A Series of First Lessons in Greek (1876)

First Lessons in Ancient History for Young People (1869)
Aunt Charlotte's Stories of English History (1873)
Aunt Charlotte's Stories of Bible History (1875)
Aunt Charlotte's Stories of Greek History (1876)
Aunt Charlotte's Stories of German History (1878)
Aunt Charlotte's Stories of Roman History (1881)
Aunt Charlotte's Stories of American History (1883)
Outlines of Medieval and Modern History: A Textbook for High Schools (1894)
The Student's Textbook of English and General History (1858)
Textbook of English History from the Earliest Times for Colleges and Schools (1898)
A Textbook of Indian History (1894, not this is India, not Amer-Indian history)

First Lessons in Human Physiology (1846)
Maxwell's General Geography (1869)
First Lessons in Geography (1878)
First Lessons in Geology (1881)
First Lessons in Zoology (1892)

Pedagogy and General School Information
School-Houses (1873) page 16, "Fig. 4. A Dilapidated School-House" says it all, really.
The Village School Improved (1815)
The Teacher's Hand-book (1874)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Review: Textile Designs

Textile Designs: Two Hundred Years of European and American Patterns Organized by Motif, Style, Color, Layout, and Period by Susan Meller and Joost Elffers

This is the encyclopedia of fabric prints.  Hug it and keep it close.


What you see on the cover is basically what you get: 450 pages of fabric patterns, ranging from the late eighteenth to twentieth centuries.  The patterns are divided into four general groups (floral, geometric, conversational, and ethnic) which are in turn subdivided by more specific types, each of which has a single or double page of examples.  The commentary is minimal--no more than a paragraph per type--with the bulk of the space given over to the images.  Dates, country of origin, any re-scaling information, and a fabric description*  are included for each sample.  To accommodate the scale of the patterns, differing sample sizes are used: the smallest repeats might get a single 1" x 1" square (allowing, for instance, 36 examples of diaper prints alongside the commentary), while the largest have an entire page (8" x 10.5" image size).

*Many of the examples are from industry pattern drawings (a "gouache") and are noted as such.  Those taken from surviving textiles are be labelled with the fiber content ("cotton", "silk", "linen" "wool challis", etc.), and some of them have notes on the printing technique used (block, copperplate, or roller printed).

The examples' arrangement by design element rather than by year makes it easy to look up a particular motif if you want to evaluate a  fabric for reproduction use, or to see how a style changed over time.  I've also heard of people testing their 'period eyes' by flipping to a page and trying to pick out which examples fit the desired time period (the information is given in small margin notes, so it's easy to look at a sample without automatically seeing the date).  You will have to do some searching if you just want to browse designs from a particular year.  My copy is full of color-coded sticky notes to facilitate that.  

Stars: 5 Stars
Accuracy: High--it's a compilation of primary sources.
Difficulty: N/A  Potentially overwhelming in magnitude, but a good reference.
Strongest Impression: A very complete reference book.  The trickiest bit is figuring out which types to check when investigating a particular design, but the alphabetical table of contents helps with that.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Review: Civil War Women

Civil War Women by Barbara Brackman stands out from her other selections in that it's explicitly aimed at reenactors.  As with Civil War Sampler and Facts & Fabrications, Civil War Women uses the device of quilts to explore women's lives during the Civil War.  Where this book differs is in the depth of each story and the historical provenance of the designs.

In another departure, instead of pairing each story to a block, these chapters each feature an entire quilt project (so you can't do one of each and end up with a sampler at the end).  Additionally, a sample reenacting activity is included with each chapter--so after you've read up on Confederate spies such as Lizzie Powell and Belle Edmondson, you can devise an impression smuggling goods and information.  The accompanying quilt to this chapter, of course, is a secessionist design inspired by the Confederate flag--one corner of which makes the cover illustration for this book.

With only nine chapters to cover, more room is allowed to each story and project; instead of half a page of history, you're getting four to six pages, and consequently more fun detail and period quotations (and images).  The projects are all based on originals, and come with the usual templates and instructions. Between the history and the patterns, there are a large number of beautiful original images included.

The activities suggestions are also a welcome addition.  We civilians are often overlooked in mainstream reenactment planning, so ideas of accurate activities in which to engage while attending existing events is helpful.  The proposals require varying levels of preparation, participation, and sanction--from sewing a tobacco pouch for your sweetheart to running a charity bazaar.  Considering the book's focus, it is not surprising that 5/9ths of them involve sewing in some capacity, but there are also ideas for speech-making, writing and more.  [Break From Review: For additional ideas on civilian reenactment activities, see Liz Clark's site]

Stars: 5 Stars
Accuracy: High. Researched, cited, & full of period illustrations.  All the quilts in this book are period appropriate (but mind which side you're meant to represent).
Difficulty: Varies from simple ("Kansas Troubles", "Free State Album") to complex ("Rocky Mountain"/"Crown of Thorns").  An advanced beginner could certainly make some (but not all) of the designs, but an absolute quilting novice would likely struggle.
Strongest Impression: A well-researched and well-cited book.  This would be a great introduction to reenacting for the quilter, and a valuable resource to the reenactor who's looking to incorporate quilting into her impression.  As with Civil War Sampler and Facts and Fabrications, the seamless inclusion of original images and quotations makes this book a good introduction to those intimidated by primary sources.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: Facts & Fabrications

Barbara Brackman's Facts & Fabrications: Unraveling the History of Quilts & Slavery.

Facts & Fabrications is very similar in design and aim to Civil War Sampler; both books use evocatively-named quilt blocks to introduce historic persons and events. The stories are a bit longer in this book (having only 20 blocks to cover instead of 50), with all the primary sources and beautiful quilt pictures one expects from Ms. Brackman's books.  Instead of focusing on women's stories, this book focuses on the experiences of slaves--as the thematic element is quilting, many of persons featured or quoted are women with a connection to the 'peculiar institution': slaves, escaped slaves, freed slaves, plantation owners, abolitionists, and so forth.  As in Civil War Sampler, the blocks featured are not necessarily appropriate to the 1860s and so should not be used for reenactments (though there is a pretty picture of an original Jacob's Ladder quilt dated to the period).

The first two chapters set up the historical context for quilts associated with slavery; the author offers a basic explanation of historic documentation (to the end that 'underground railroad signal quilts' make for good stories, but do not have supporting primary sources), and gives information from period diaries and memoirs about of slaves making quilts.  The included "Poetic License" to make your own quilts as meaningful and symbolic as you like--without assuming Victorian quilters necessarily used the same symbols--is a cute addition.

The projects start in Chapter 3, with a sampler several different setting options which use the featured blocks.  Chapter 4, which accounts for over 2/3 of the book, actually gives the twenty different blocks with their stories.  For each, there are 1-3 pages of history, a page of block construction information, and (where appropriate) a page of templates.  Some of the blocks have additional projects associated with them, such as a fun pieced/applique combination built around 5 "Jacob's Ladder" blocks, or an interesting combination top which alternates "North Star" and "Catch Me If You Can" blocks for beautiful visual effect.  Each block is also rated for difficulty--beginning, moderate or skilled--to help the reader to select projects suitable to their level of experience and comfort.  The beginning blocks exclusively feature squares and rectangles joined with straight seams; the skilled blocks have trickier requirements such as Y-seams.

Chapter 5 offers activities and advice for teaching children through quilts, including sample discussion questions and a child's project based on the "Underground Railroad" block.

Where Facts & Fabrications really stands out from Ms. Brackman's other books is the quantity of example projects and the educational focus.  You get to see several different quilts made up with the given blocks.  The final chapter offers some good advice and project ideas for working with children using quilts as a teaching tool.  It could be a valuable resource for teachers, camp directors, or scout leaders looking to introduce children to history through quilting.  

Stars: 4 Stars
Accuracy: Well-documented stories; most blocks are post-Civil War and not suitable for reenacting.
Difficulty: Easy and Up.  It is mentioned several times that this is a history book rather than a technique book, so additional titles are recommended for the novice quilter looking for extra help.
Strongest Impression: As with Civil War Sampler, this is a fun project book which teaches history through quilting and offers fun projects for history-minded quilters.  The blocks themselves are not all appropriate for reenacting purposes, but the stories offer good starting points for one's own research and the projects are beautiful.