Friday, February 24, 2006

What an incredible experience!

In a couple of earlier posts I've alluded to a class I signed up to take. It's because of this class that I had to iron the fabrics my dear husband gave me for Christmas, including the Jane Austen fabrics made in England. The first class was last night, so it's time to tell you all about it.

My instructor is Eileen Jahnke Trestain. Eileen is an internationally known textile expert and AQS certified quilt appraiser. She is the author of two books on dating fabrics. We are lucky enough to have her living in our town, where she serves as the textile expert for the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Currently she is directing the construction of new costumes for the dozens of volunteers at the park so they will be much more period correct as to colors and fabrics than they've been in the past. The class I'm taking is called "The Early American Medallion - Pre-1830 Reproduction. We will be meeting once a month for a year, and during this time we will each create a pre-1830 medallion quilt top for ourselves. Three of my friends in the North Star Quilt Guild took the class last year, and their quilt tops are spectacular.

Last night we became "close up and personal" with at least 6-8 quilts and quilt tops from this time period, as well as many authentic antique fabrics from Eileen's collection. I got to hold and examine a French toile de jouy made in the late 1700's. We got to examine "mosaic piecing" - blocks with a center hexagon and two rings of hexagons around the center that were pieced about 1810. These were constructed using English paper piecing, and the paper was still basted to the blocks. The most interesting thing about these blocks was the paper - it was made from linen. Making paper from wood pulp was invented later in the 1800's. Because it was linen the paper was as soft and flexible as the cloth. It was non-acidic so there was no deterioration of the fabrics. The stitches were so tiny it was truly unbelievable. I thought my stitches were tiny - anyone who looks at my applique comments on how very tiny my stitches are - but they would look huge compared to these stitches. I didn't have a ruler with me so I couldn't measure, but I estimate there were at least 30+ stitches to the inch. Their needles must have been really tiny! Another amazing thing about these fabrics is how bright and colorful they were! We tend to think of antique quilts as dull. These were anything but dull! Yes, the purple had faded to brown, and some pinks had faded to brown, and everywhere black dye occurred the fabric was disintegrating because the dye was caustic, but the reds, golds, yellows, and blues were very bright. We were so in awe of what we were seeing! Examining the construction techniques, the fabrics, the threads, the designs - what an incredible learning experience! We learned about various dying and printing techniques from the period - first block printing, then roller printing - about plant dyes like indigo and madder, about cochineal dye made from tiny mites, how fabrics were staked out in the sun to bleach for months, how designs were created using mordants and so much more. I had read about all this in her book before going to class, but hearing it again while actually examining the fabrics and quilts was an incredible experience.

At the end of the 3-hour class we each got our first "kit". These were wrapped in brown paper and tied with cotton string - much like packages might have been wrapped in that era - so no one could tell what they were getting as the kits were passed out. Every "kit" was different with different fabric. Each contained a letter from the person who is "sending" us the fabric. Mine is a four page letter from a husband to his wife, written in a flowing script. It was enclosed in a cream colored envelope sealed with red sealing wax that was stamped with a quill design. It begins "To My Beloved Wife". My "husband" has gone north to Boston to see some land near where my sister and her husband live. He relates the family news and talks about how much he likes the land and how much he hopes the owner will sell. He is unsure, however, because the owner has been "most unreliable" ever since his only son died at Valley Forge. He closes by telling me of his visit to the mercantile owned by a family friend, a Mr. Hobbs. There he saw some beautiful chintz which Mr. Hobbs sold him at a discount, though the cost was still "dear". He thought I could use it in the quilt I talked about making for our own bed. So he has sent the chintz along with the letter and another piece of fabric that I can use with the chintz.

Here is a picture of the contents of my "kit". Also included is a 9-page syllabus to get us started on our way. Next month our "kit" will include more reproduction fabrics - including more chintz - created from designs of that era. The two kits together will be used to make our center. We will receive several possible center designs - both pieced and appliqued, as well as a few templates to use if we decide to create a "tree of life" broiderie perse center. Between now and then I'm going to pour over the pictures in my quilt history and quilt search books to get ideas for my center. I'd like to piece and appliqué the entire quilt by hand, as the sewing machine - as we know it - wasn't invented until after 1840.

Here is an example of the style quilt we will be making. Ours will be 89" square without a final chintz border. If we decide to add a final border it will add about 14-16" in both width and length to the quilt. This picture is from "The American Quilt" by Roderick Kiracofe - a fabulous quilt history book that was hard to find for a long time but has recently been reprinted. This quilt, on page 54, is a circa 1800 quilt made with wood block and roller printed cottons. The center panel is from Hewson Printworks. The quilt is in the collection of America Hurrah.

I can hardly wait to get started!


Debra Dee said...

What an exciting adventure you are about to embark upon. Your meeting sounds wonderful and the kits are so cleaverly done. Keep us posted as you travel along in your quilt journey.

Tracey said...

I utterly JEALOUS! :oP What a fabulous class this sounds like!! So much time and thought put into it. And then having those wonderful antique examples right there to examine?!?! WOW Patti. What a wonderful experience this is for you. Make sure to keep us updated A LOT on this one! :oP

Cher said...

what a perfect quilt adventure for you Patti...sounds like you will enjoy the journey and end up with a real treasure at the end! yes, do keep us posted on your progress please.

Jeanne said...

Oh, this sounds like a dream class! I'd love to see those antique quilts. And the packages sound like GIFTS -- how very special!! Can't wait to hear more, and to see your quilt grow!

Pam said...

I must say after reading your post I am green with envy!! This sounds like it will be the experience of a lifetime.
It's hard to imagine all that tiny stitching done at that time was mostly done by candlelight. Maybe even all of it was done at night - after all the chores were done and the kids were in bed and a small candle was lit. Amazing really.

Cathi said...

I am so jealous! I have a book by Trestain and love antique quilts (hence my hand pieced Dear Jane quilt!!) Hey my parents are moving to Bend, Oregon in the summer. We'll be landing in Portland at Christmas, think she does any classes around that time? Will have to check out her website.

My parents are outside of Washington DC now, but am looking forward to July visits to Bend, right near Sisters!!!

JudyL said...

What fun! And, I feel like I was almost there after reading your blog. Thanks!! Please keep us posted of your progress.

Fabric dating is so interesting.

Judy L.

Passionate Quilter said...

What an awesome class. You are so lucky to be able to be part of it! Keep us posted on your progress.

Patty said...

how beautiful !!!!!