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Appliqué Medallion; Abigail Adams Applique; Broderie Perse
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Appliqué Medallion Quilt
Previously attributed to Abigail Adams (1744-1818)
Collection of Michigan State University Museum acc. #11396CW
Essay about this quilt.
The Appliqué Medallion Quilt, also known as the Abigail Adams Quilt, is a representation of a Medallion quilt, a style popularized in early American quiltmaking. Medallion quilts are characterized by a central motif surrounded by a number of borders. In this case, the center of the quilt was cut from a piece of printed cotton chintz, which was then appliquéd to a white cotton background. This technique is often called broderie perse, a French term for “Persian embroidery.” Motifs were cut from large printed panels, often imported from England, frequently originating from India or with an Indian influence. Clusters of floral sprays arranged in a wreath-like formation of concentric circles create the center medallion of the quilt. Bordering is a series of three chintz borders, which alternate with bands of white until ending with a fourth, and final chintz border. The quilt is bound with a commercial white tape. Quilting designs consist of tightly spaced cross-hatching throughout the quilt, with parallel diagonal lines quilted into the last border. The Chamberlain Memorial Museum, the quilts previous owner, for years displayed this piece folded and exposed to strong light. As a result, regrettably, a quarter of the quilt was badly damaged by sunlight.
The Michigan State University Museum acquired this quilt from the Chamberlain Memorial Museum of Three Oaks, Michigan in 1952. The story that accompanied the quilt attributed its making to Abigail Smith Adams, the wife of the second President of the United States, John Adams. Abigail Adams was alleged to have made the quilt for her sister, Blanch Smith of Weymouth, Massachusetts. Blanch was reported to be the wife of Reverend Jedediah Chapman.
Preliminary research disputes the story of the quilt’s provenance, pointing to some confusion in the accuracy of its reported history. Examining known historical facts and looking at primary sources such as letters and census records becomes an essential part of an investigation such as this. Abigail was a prolific letter writer, so many primary sources exist to search for clues regarding the people she encountered and the activities she engaged in. Although Abigail’s maiden name was Smith, she did not have a sister named Blanche. Her sister’s names were Mary and Elizabeth. Both sisters were married to ministers, a fact that corresponds with the quilt’s story. The Weymouth Vital Records contain no listing for Blanch Smith Chapman or Reverend Jedediah Chapman in births, marriages, or deaths. A search of Massachusetts’s census records from 1800 by Lynne Bassett, textile curator at Old Sturbridge Village, found six Jedediah Chapmans in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Ipswich is located to the north of Weymouth. None of them are listed as being a minister. One of the Jedediahs was married to a Mehitable Smith on December 3, 1767. This Smith is the closest surname match to Abigail that has so far been located. No connection has been established between Jedediah and Mehitable Smith Chapman and Abigail Adams.
Further distancing the quilt from Abigail Adams are observations on the date of the quilt made by quilt historian Merikay Waldvogel. Looking at the fabrics used in creating a quilt and the timeline of their availability is another important factor when investigating a quilt’s history. Waldvogel estimates that the chintz found in this quilt was printed no earlier that 1825, most probably dating between 1830-1840. Even the earliest of these dates falls after Abigail’s 1818 death.
Research is continuing on this mysterious quilt. Its connection to Abigail Adams remains fascinating and is still being examined. The quilt serves as a marvelous example of how to dissect a piece of material culture through a multiple methods of investigation.
-- Mary Worrall, Collections Assistant, MSU Museum [references: email communication with Merikay Waldvogel, 2001 and original catalogue cards]
Who documented this quilt?
Michigan Quilt Project; Michigan State University Museum Collection
Where are the records for this quilt housed?
Michigan State University Museum
Michigan Quilt Project Number:
If this quilt is owned by a museum, enter the accession number:
Owner's name for the quilt:
Abigail Adams Applique
Name(s) for quilt's pattern in common use:
Quilt top made by:
Attributed to Adams, Abigail
If you are the quilt owner, how did you acquire this quilt?
Received as a gift
Where the quilt was made, city:
Where the quilt was made, state:
Why was the quilt made?
Gift or presentation
Quilt is presently used as:
Quiltmaker's spouse's/spouse(s) occupation:
President of the United States
This is a:
How wide is the quilt?
How long is the quilt?
Shape of edge:
Describe the corners of the quilt:
What color(s) is the quilt?
Cream; Pink; Red
Overall color scheme:
Dirty; Discoloration or dyes ran; Disintegration of fabric; Fading; Fold marks or creases; Quilting thread broken or ties missing; Stains; Tears or holes; Wear to edge or binding
Notes on condition, damage, or repairs:
One rectangular area sun rotted chintz gone, rest in good condition, overall brown stains front, back, very fine quilting
Describe the quilt's layout:
Medallion or framed center
Number of borders:
Fiber type(s) used to make the quilt top:
Applique techniques used to make the quilt top:
Materials used to make the back:
Fabric structure of the binding?
How is the binding made?
What is the width of the binding (measure on the top only)?
less than a half inch
How wide is the binding (measure the top only)?
What kind of filling is used in the quilt?
Quilting techniques used:
Number of quilting stitches per inch, place 1:
Number of quilting stitches per inch, place 2:
Quilting designs used, overall motifs:
Features or notes about the quilt's appearance, materials, or construction:
There is much debate over whether the Abigail Adams connection is true. See MQP file for more research about this quilt. Appliqued medallion style quilt made by Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, second president of the United States. Made for Blanch Smith of Weymouth, Massachusetts, wife of Rev. Jedediah Chapman, and sister of Abigail Adams. Original # 70376. Donor: Mrs. E.K. Warren. The quilt was exhibited for years at the Chamberlain Memorial Museum, and was very badly damaged from sunlight. On one side a sun scorched mark appears where the fabric is dark brown, and the printed fabric is completely gone, with the cotton batting exposed. The quilt is bound with commercial tape, white.
Person filling out this form is:
Ownership of this quilt is:
Public- Michigan State University Museum
Quilt owner's name:
Michigan State University Museum
How was this quilt acquired?
Tell the story of how the quilt was obtained.
Made for Blanche Smith of Weymouth Massachusetts, wife of Rev. Jedidiah Chapman and sister to Abigail Adams. The quilt came to the Michigan State University Museum in 1952 after being displayed for years at the Chamberlain Warren Museum in Three Rivers, Michigan.
Describe anything about the history of the quilt that wasn't already recorded in a previous field.
There is much debate over whether the Abigail Adams connection is true. See MQP file for more research about this quilt.
Access and copyright information:
Who photographed this quilt?
MSU Board of Trustees
Cite this Quilt
Attributed to Adams, Abigai. Appliqué Medallion. 1800-1849. From Michigan State University Museum, Michigan Quilt Project; Michigan State University Museum Collection. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=12-8-5428. Accessed: 07/04/22
Printed Panels for Chintz Quilts: Thei...
Printed Panels for Chintz Quilts: Their Origin and Use
From Uncoverings 2013, Volume 34 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group
America's Earliest Quilts
America's Earliest Quilts
The women of the American colonies and the early United States stitched their quilts in a variety of styles. This essay looks at style from the mid-eighteenth century to 1815 or so.
Chintz Quilt Panels
Chintz Quilt Panels
Printed panels were a source of fabric for quiltmakers in England and America in the early 1800s.