Detroit’s Biggest QUILTING PARTY

November 5, 1933
Detroit News Quilt History Project; Michigan State University Museum; Susan Salser
Detroit, Michigan, United States
A full page article promoting The Detroit News Quilt Club show.
Detroit’s Biggest QUILTING PARTY

THIS is your invitation to the biggest quilting party ever held in Detroit.

The party, given in honor of The Detroit News Quilt Club, will begin on Friday, Nov. 17 at the Naval Armory, on Jefferson avenue east near Belle Isle Bridge, and will last for three days, morning, afternoon and evening. Your invitation reads “Come and bring your friends, admission is free.”

But why quilts? Why the tedious work of cutting fabrics into tiny pieces and sewing these pieces together again?

Today it cannot be for the sake of economy, since machine-made coverlets are attractive and cheap; nor is it because in (words unclear) time hangs heavily on the home of modern women.

The answer is deeper than that.

The revival of home quilting may well be woman’s answer to the leveling monotony of the machine age—her inborn desire for personal creative expression.

For every quilt, simple or elaborate, is indeed a work of art, an expression of the creative instinct, a revolt against the dead level of machine-made products—quantity production.

Quiltmakers will find in this big show a feast of beauty and hundreds of suggestions for improving their designs. They are invited to come and see what their fellow-workers have done, get new quilt patterns and, if they choose, bring their patches and stay as long as they wish in the sewing circles which will be formed at the show.

But even if you are not a quilter you will want to see the grand flower garden of beautiful designs which awaits you.

In fact, even if you are a man who has never used a needle, this invitation is for you.

Unlike Aunt Dina’s quilting party, where the men-folks were only invited to spend the evening and walk home with the ladies afterward, this party is for men and women. Because every man who has ever worked a problem in geometry or used a T-square or slide-rule will find in these intricate geometrical designs much to interest and delight him.

In fact, many of the finest old quilts which have come down to us were designed by men.

Many a young architect has made an intricate design for the quilt of his betrothed, and that quilt, made with tireless patience and consummate skill, occupied the place of honor in her dowry chest.

And so men as well as women will enjoy seeing those intricate and beautiful designs.

TODAY a thousand needles are flying, getting ready for this party at which more than 1,500 quilts, old and new, will be shown.

When it was first planned by the Beauty in the Home Department of The Detroit News, Miss Edith Crumb, director of the department, set 1,000 quilts as the goal for the club’s big show. Three weeks ago the club had gone over the top with 300 quilts to spare and more have been entered each day since that time.

Quilt club members have been enrolled from more than 150 towns and cities in Michigan, from nine states in the union and from two cities in Canada, and from England.

A little girl nine years old is making a quilt for the show, a woman 84 years old has promised another, a class of girls in England has sent for The Detroit News Quilt Club patterns and here in Michigan countless groups of women are working together on quilts.

The old friendship quilt has been revived and members of the club have exchanged blocks through the agency of the quilt club members after the manner of sociable quilt-making neighbors of long ago, while every day the demand for patterns and still more patterns continues to grow.

On one day The News mailed 800 patterns to quilt club members while in the past eight months more than 100,000 quilt patterns have been given out.

For quilting is an art that has never died; has never in fact changed in the slightest particular. The quilt of today, step by step, is made exactly as the quilt of 200 years ago.

FROM these old quilts charming patterns have come down to us, passed on from mother to daughter, still preserved in the quilts themselves and in books about quilts.

Even the picturesque old names endure. We still see the Wheel of Fortune, the Falling Star, or Stepping Stones. Nor have we forgotten the quilt named Robbing Peter to Pay Paul, Princess Feather or Dove in the Window.

In fact, a special section in the show has been reserved for old quilts made 50 or more years ago.

No money prizes will be given to the owners of these choice old heirlooms, but they will be singled out for excellence with honorable mentions and ribbons. But for the members of The Detroit news Quilt Club who have fashioned quilts from News patterns, $500 is waiting in the cash prizes with a top prize of $100 for the best quilt in the show.

Not only has the art of quilt making never been lost, but the process has never changed. It is one of the few household processes which is done today exactly as it was hundreds of years ago.

Today as yesterday the bright colored prints or plain fabrics are cut into shapes of a given pattern and neatly joined by tiny stitches put in by hand until a single motif or block has been completed.

These blocks are then joined to make the top. The top, backed by thin padding and with a plain lining or back, is held fast by countless lines of fine running stitch marked in elaborate patterns called quilting.

This is the method that has been used for centuries in the humblest cottages exactly as it was in the palaces of queens; an art that, with the advent of machinery, was neglect for about 50 years, but that never has been wholly forgotten.

THREE THOUSAND years ago, in Egypt, women plying their needles stitched skillfully, fashioned patches of cloth on cloth and created things of beauty. Figures representing great beasts and birds and human beings cut from cloth to make bed canopies or palace hangings.

Ever since that time the art of patchwork or applique has been practiced. In the gorgeous palaces of the Italian Renaissance period patches of silk and velvets were skillfully cut and embroidered onto sumptuous coverlets and cushion tops.

Later, in England, the ladies of the court plied their needles in the making exquisitely quilted and pieced coverlets while soon after the Pilgrim Fathers landed in America, the women saved scraps of cotton and woolen materials, almost worth their weight in gold in those days, and joined them together in odd patterns to make bed quilts so that not an inch of the material should be wasted.

But while the earliest patch work quilt made in this country might have been an expedient of economy, the making of pieced quilts soon became an art practiced partly for the sake of its utility and partly as a creative art expression.

In fact, the very work “art” is derived from an old Greek word meaning to join or put together, so that the first joiner was called an artisan. And if he joined skillfully and beautifully, whether the materials that he joined were wood or paint or stone, we came to call him an artist.

Thus, the woman who joined her bright bits of indigo and turkey red or gayly sprigged calicoes and pure white muslins with beauty was and is, an artist indeed.

Calico was a dollar a yard in those days and had to be imported from England, and so it was small wonder that every piece that feel from the shears, when dresses and aprons were cut, was scrupulously saved and rolled up for the scrap bag, an institution that every well-ordered household boasted until the age of machinery, with its carloads of ready made clothing and factory-made bedding reduced it so
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nothingness or at best to a few odd pieces that could be kept in a small box on the closet shelf.

Naturally with the advent of machinery, when scraps were fewer and machines stitched bed spreads and coverlets, the art of quilt-making lagged for a few years. But it never died, and recently from one end of the land to the other it has been revived.

And women have turned to this old art, which calls for skilled craftsmanship and for originality of design. In the color patterns that every woman who makes a quilt designs for herself, each woman has an opportunity literally to paint with fabrics and her needle.

And so people who worry about the vanishing home, or even about the machine-made standardized home, need worry no longer. They will find their answer in the 200,000 quilt patterns which The Detroit News has given to readers who have asked for them and in the hundreds of quilts which will be shown at the Naval Armory on Nov. 17 every one of which represents some woman’s pride in the individuality and personality of her own home.

For quilt making offers a form of craftsmanship which may be so simple that a child may practice it, or so complicated and tedious that a skilled worker may devote years to its completion.

Most of the patterns distributed by The Detroit News have been sufficiently simple to suit the tempo of present day living, though any amount of intricate quilting may be added to suit the fancy of the individual worker.

These patterns have called for both the pieced blocks, or mosaics and the cut out designs that must be laid upon another fabric and stitched or appliqued.

Both styles of patchwork are traditional and both kinds of quilts will be seen in. The News show, as well as scores of historic old quilts whose colors have been softened by time and whose stitchery represents the tireless skill which our grandmothers devoted to their household affairs.

These designs have been chosen from hundreds of ancient designs evolved by our ancestors from the very warp and woof of their own lives.

In fact the whole fabric of life, love, religion, horticulture, homely wisdom and household economy was stitched into these old quilts.

Their very names spell the story of the everyday lives of these sturdy pioneer women whose busy hands made the early American homes so beautiful that we are turning to them today with a real homesickness for the past.

Humor too, had its place in these quilt names, as when one designer of a rather crooked pattern called it “Drunkard’s Path.”

The quilt makers paid their tribute to religion with such designs as Cross and Crown, Hosanna, a beautiful palm leaf design, Kind David’s Crown, the solemn phrase of the prayer book, “World Without End,” Crown of Thorns and even Golgotha.

Homely household objects and occupations were reflected in such titles as Chips and Whetstones, The Reel, The Anvil, The Tumbler and the Double Monkey Wrench.

Naturally the farm and garden were memorialized in endless ways, and the horticultural designs included almost a complete record of familiar growing things.

The rose, of course, was formalized under a score of different names, with The Rose of Sharon, the Ohio Rose, the Cactus Rose and a score of others, while pieced blocks were made to represent the tulip, tiger lily, the tea leaf, meadow lily and, of course, pine trees without number.

Sometimes the resemblance of the pattern to the title seems a little far fetched, but some quality of the abstract design of squares and triangles suggested to the woman who first made it the Barristers’ Block, the block called Robbing Peter to Pay Paul, The Chimney Sweep, The Wandering Foot, Indian Hatchet, Yankee Pride and The Road to California, a design in which small blocks are joined by tiny chains of little diamond shaped blocks scarcely more than half an inch across.

Often, of course, the same design enjoyed more than one name, as when the Bear’s Paw pattern of Ohio proves to be none other than the oft-repeated Duck’s Foot in the Mud of Long Island, or the well known Ship’s Wheel of Cape Cod, having migrated to the West where ships were less important in the life of the people, became Harvest Sun. WHILE women may have had the vote for less than 20 years, they stitched their politics in to their quilts more than 60 years ago. A charming star made of triangles of two sizes was called “The Free Trade Block,” while a star of another shape bore the militant name “Fifty-four Forty or Fight,” and another “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”

A truly glorious affair was the Freedom Quilt, with its patriotic emblems; while the Union Quilt, the Whig Rose, the Harrison Rose and the Little Giant, referring to Stephen A. Douglas, were other quilts made to reflect some phase of political life.

But the number and names of old quilts are legion. Homely, every-day incidents found their reflection in the old quilts. Flying Bats was a quilt made of a large square block with diagonal pieces, and Rocky Glen was made of large triangles with saw-tooth edges of small triangles. Spider Web, and Rolling Stone, Autumn Leaf and Indian Summer were among the other objects chosen for quilt motifs, while readers of Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” worked out a series of sawtooth blocks called “The Delectable Mountains.”

The old designs are endless in their variety and charming in their fancy, and reveal the imagination and whimsy of those sterling women who made them. Just to read the list of names reveals something of the many-sided interests of these women: “Caesar’s Crown,” “Wandering Foot,” “Beggars’ Blocks,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” “tree of Paradise”; a whole firmament of blazing stars, “Diamond Falling Star,” and scores of others, were among the fascinating patterns worked out by our ancestors.

All of these charming and intricate designs, and many more, were industriously pieced and patched together to make handsome quilts, until, about 60 years ago, when styles deteriorated and the advent of the machine discouraged quiltmakers, the art waned. Happily, the widespread interest in an early American furnishings, and the women’s inborn love of creating something with their hands, has brought the half-forgotten art back into favor, until today, while we may seldom see the crazy quilt of old, we are tempted to believe that half the world has gone quilt-crazy.

Courtesy of The Detroit News Archives.

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