Eastern Shore Quilt Study Group 

The Eastern Shore Quilt Study Group met last Wednesday in Dover, DE to see the quilts from the collections of the Delaware State Museums. From 10 in the morning until almost 4 p.m. the curator, Ann Horsey, evoked a constant chorus of Oh-h-hs and Ah-h-hs by producing one treasure after another from storage. We had decided on a chronological approach starting with the 18th century quilted petticoats; we packed it in at 1860. It was a day in "Quilt Nirvana." 

The first petticoat was a creamy Marseilles silk, part of a large collection of textiles donated by the Loockerman family. There is strong provenance for many of the items we saw. A second petticoat from the same family was seafoam green lined in brilliant watermelon pink tammy (defined by Florence Montgomery as lightweight, plain weave worsted, often glazed). The Quaker McKinley family petticoat (3rd quarter 28th century) was seafoam silk lined with indigo tammy. A salmon colored silk petticoat had a bright yellow lining. The silk petticoats all displayed elaborate botanical designs. Finally there was a late 19th century black silk quilted petticoat (vastly different from its exuberant ancestors). 

The first quilt we looked at, donated by the Lookerman family (c. 1870) was made from two seafoam silk petticoats; the back was pieced in indigo and pink tammy. It is quilted with silk thread and has a wool batt. It was fascinating to see how neatly the pocket openings were stitched together. A wholecloth copperplate toile (America Presenting at the Altar of Liberty, c. 1780) featuring heroes of the American Revolution is a local favorite because it includes a portrait of John Dickinson whose plantation is one of the "must see" locations around Dover. Dickinson represented Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1776, but did not vote for or sign the Declaration of Independence. 

An amazing quilt from the Quaker Richardson family is pieced of 6" squares of various pale silks (ecru, gray, green, ivory) and contains quilted motifs of animals: beaver, rat, birds, cows, fish. It is a beautifully sophisticated piece. At the other end of the spectrum but, perhaps, even more fascinating is a homespun/woven coverlet c. 1800. It is patched of many different fabrics from which the ordinary clothes of the day were made and roughly quilted. The 18th century loom on which the fabrics were woven in Petersburg, DE is now in use at the Dickinson Plantation; the docent who demonstrates on that loom was part of our group. The first patchwork quilt we looked at was a Star signed and dated in cross stitch Catharine Collins 1806. A surprising number of the quits were signed. 

One of the great thing about seeing lots of quilts from a single area (keep in mind that Delaware is a VERY small state, only three counties) is that you can look for stylistic similarities. It would seem that Delaware women often chose not to border their quilts; they favored on point sets often without sashing. A Sunflower quilt made by the mother of DE governor Jason Ponder is signed 1822. A Compass from Camden, DE dated 1840 has many elaborate initials in stuffed quilting; it is pieced in a single turkey red with a sample swag border and great quilting. 

A glorious Delectable Mountains made in 1845 by Mary Carpenter of Lewes contains an incredible variety of prints in brown, buff and ombre blues. 6" Lemoyne Stars (pink, brown, pistachio green, fondue blue, plaids) alternate with a red and blue floral motif on a striped buff background on Mary Loffland's 1843 quilt. A Nine-Patch variation made c. 1840 by Angelica Cowgill appears to have been quilted from the back. A Turkey Tracks signature quilt from Felton has the pattern done in white (with the corners of the design appliquéd rather than pieced) on a variety of backgrounds (a kind of negative image--very effective). 

There was more, but I have promises to keep. The group was in rare form that day. There were spirited arguments and good natured disputes. I learned a lot; I always have a good time when we challenge each other. I wish you all could have been with us.


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