Friday, December 5, 2014

Book Review: Civil War Sampler

Cover of Barbara Brackman's Civil War Sampler.

Barbara Brackman's Civil War Sampler by (of course) Barbara Brackman (2012).

All the usual strengths apply: good, cited research; pretty pictures; hands-on activities; easily read history lessons.  This book is a bit different, in that it's arranged into 50 short (two-page*) sections. Each consists of two pictures of the completed block (done by different persons, in different color schemes), a half-page story including pictures and quotations from original 1860s sources, and instructions for cutting out and making up the square.  These mini-sections are grouped together based on difficulty and general design features (4-patch, 9-patch, applique), with the simple blocks at the beginning and the trickier ones towards the end.  The blocks primarily relate to their stories through their names (eg, "Lincoln's Platform" is paired to a first-hand account of Abraham Lincoln's first inauguration), though many of these names date to the 1920s and 30s.

The one thing I find frustrating about this book is the lack of documentation attached to the blocks themselves.  A few are explicitly noted as being pre-war, or coming into popularity in the 1860s; "Courthouse Square", for instance, is given as being from the 1840s, but was 'named' in 1935.  I understand that quilt patterns aren't the easiest thing to date definitively, but this book would be utterly perfect it each pattern had a "documented as early as X year" or even just a tick box labelled "appropriate for pre-1865 reproductions". The author does mention in her introduction that few of the blocks are from the period itself.

That being said, this book does give you a lot of pretty blocks to work with, and once you've found your documentation for using one in a re-enacting quilt, this book will show you how to make it up. Cutting instructions are given for 8" and 12" square blocks.

In many ways, I think the real strength in this book comes from the friendly, un-intimidating way in which it presents stories from history with extracts from primary sources.  I think it's a great tool for exposing research-shy reenactors to original references, as well as showing a broad array of different stories which are all part of the larger one--these are stories from schoolgirls, nurses, spies, housewives, aid society volunteers, slaves, authors, actresses, rebels, unionists, refugees, and first ladies.  This is a great introduction to the diversity of people and events which make up American History 1861-1865.

Stars: 4 Stars
Accuracy: The stories are all well-documented, but most of the blocks should be researched further before being included in a reproduction quilt.
Difficulty: Easy and Up
Strongest Impression: An approachable primer on Civil War history (particularly women's history), which also features fun quilt blocks to make.  While I am not comfortable using it as a sole reference for historic quilting circa 1860 (too many of the blocks don't have definitive dates attached), this book would be a great introduction for someone interested in civilian/women's history 1860-1865.  In particular, the use of primary sources (quotations and images) is seamlessly worked in, making it a good introduction for those who are intimidated by primary sources and research.  This will be the second book added to my proselytizing efforts.

*Ok, there seem to be 4 single-page blocks.  Maybe 6 if I missed a pair.

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