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More than just a quilt book
on November 20, 2002
"Quilts from the Civil War" not only contains project for reproducing numerous quilts of the 1850s and 1860s, it also contains an excellent discussion of the role quilts played in people's lives. Barbara Brackman describes quilts made for freedom fairs, by the Sanitary Commission for use by soldiers, and quilts made to express patriotic fervor. Brackman goes beyond a mere discussion of quilts, however, to discuss the development of chemical dyes, women's involvement in the war effort in general, the effect of the blockade on southern textile production, the need to hide quilts from occupying Yankee forces, and even the relationships that developed between quiltmakers and soldiers who received the donated quilt.
Brackman also examines the argument that quilts were used as clues for slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad, and concludes that these tales likely were a myth. (Nevertheless, she includes a Jacob's Ladder-style quilt that honors the Underground Railroad.) In evaluating this theory, she discusses the history of the Log Cabin quilt.
Period photographs of women and children, engravings of Sanitary Fairs and other gatherings, photographs of original and reproduction quilts and original dresses beautifully illustrate this book. Excerpts from journals, letters and newspaper articles and reprints of ads calling for the production of items for soldiers add further interest.
Brackman provides a unique timeline that combines both traditional historic events, such as "March 4, 1864 - Grant becomes Commander-in-Chief of the Union Army" with social or women's history, such as "August 1864 - Ladies Christian Commission of San Francisco sponsors a Grand Fair" and "October 5, 1864 - Mary Jones of Georgia records paying $16 a yard for calico."
Footnotes provide directions for those interested in further research.
One drawback is that the projects contained in the book do not faithfully reproduce the historic quilts. Some are fairly easy to adapt to make more authentic, such as the Underground Railroad quilt, which adds 8-pointed stars to a Four Patch in a Strip pattern. Since the book contains a picture of the original, a quiltmaker can easily see that by leaving off the stars, she can make a quilt that's closer to the original. Other patterns will take a little more ingenuity to adapt, but again, pictures of the originals should help.
Those mostly interested in southern quilts would probably do better with "Southern Quils: Surviving Relics of the Civil War." Brackman concludes that few quilts were produced in the Confederacy due to blockade-caused shortages of fabric, needles, thread and other necessities.
For those interested in trying some of the projects contained in the book, the directions are clear and easy to follow. Brackman provides strip quilting directions for some of the quilts (such as the Underground Railroad) but not for others where this technique could speed production (such as the Log Fence). The appendix contains excellent information on batting, quilting styles, binding and other details to give quilts a more period look.
Overall, despite projects that are more inspired by historic quilts than faithful reproductions, "Quilts from the Civil War" is an excellent source of information about textile production during the 1850s and 1860s.