Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Two Quilters: Four Quilts in Three Weeks & Two Days

On November 5, 1847, Anna Bentley wrote,
[Alice] took in 5 bed quilts to quilt.  In 3 weeks and 2 days we quilted 4 (which amounts to 7 dollars), have another ready to put in tomorrow which is to have considerable work on it.  It will be 3 dollars more.  Another she has to peice [sic] and quilt will be 3 more.  And she has 6 ready to quilt for herself.  She owes 3 dollars on her bureau, but the remainder will help get some little articles needful, and she has a fine cow worth 12 dollars which she expects to sell.

This quote comes from American Grit:  A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier, a collection of letters Anna Briggs Bentley wrote beginning in 1826 after her move from Maryland to the Ohio frontier.  Anna's daughter, Alice, was preparing to marry and was earning and saving money.  I can only guess that these were bed-sized quilts, not little crib or doll quilts.

I think I'm a slower quilter than many.  It takes me three or four months (or more) to hand quilt a twin-size quilt.  Granted, I don't spend all day every day quilting (my fingers couldn't handle it) but even if I spent more time quilting I know I could not quilt as fast as Anna and her daughter, Alice did.

In the 40 or more years' worth of bright and lively letters Anna penned, she detailed many of her daily activities.  But she wrote of quilting only several times, almost in passing, while mending clothes and knitting socks are oft-mentioned topics.  How I wish Anna had written more about quilting and had given a description of the quilts they quilted. 

I mentioned Anna in a previous post where she requested that her mother and sisters send her needles.

What about you?  Could you and a friend hand quilt four quilts in 3 weeks and 2 days, along with your other 1840s-era chores and responsibilities?

--Nancy.
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17 comments:

  1. A friend and I couldn't finish a quilt in 3 months and 2 weeks!!
    My back doesn't allow me to hand quilt for long periods at a time, and my patience is even shorter. I have a bed quilt in my hoop that has been there over a year, and I rarely touch it. I need life to mellow out a bit.
    Fascinating letters!

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    1. LOL. You and me, both (not in 3 months and 2 weeks)! Yes, there are lots of considerations about hand quilting -- backs, patience, sore fingers, time. I hope your life mellows soon, Janet. You've had one thing after another for too many months, it seems to me.

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  2. Nope...that is incredible, considering no electrics lights and all the responsibilities of life back then!

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    1. Hi, Julie. After reading Anna's letters I had a much clearer picture of how frontier women spent their time. She was sometimes writing letters at midnight after everyone else was in bed. She wrote about so many of the other things she had to do. I can't imagine it, either.

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  3. What an interesting post. I love learning about the daily habits of our quilting forbears. My own grandmothers far back along the line could have been doing this exact thing! Thank you so much for the post.

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    1. Hi, Jayne. Thank you. I love learning about how women managed their lives, responsibilities, and families generations ago, too. I don't have any documentation that any of my female ancestors quilted (except my mom, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother) -- and how I wish I did. You're welcome for the post.

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  4. I have a hard time imagining what the callouses must have been like for these ladies. Like you, it sometimes takes me 3 months to get a top hand quilted. My grandmother made quilt tops but she always sent them out to the ladies of the Methodist Church for hand quilting.

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    1. Oh, yes, I hadn't thought about the quilting callouses, Robin. And then there would have been the other callouses from their other responsibilities. I would consider sending some of my quilts to be hand-quilted -- if the cost weren't prohibitive. I suppose the Methodist ladies didn't charge as much as it would cost today. My aunt told me not long ago that my grandmother, who was a Methodist, quilted at church with a group of women. It never occurred to me that they quilted for others and received payment.

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  5. I looked this up: "$1 in the year 1840 is equivalent to $27.00 in 2017" So the two of them made 189.oo in our dollars! If each quilted 4 hours a day, for what I estimate as 20 working days [prob didn t work on Sunday] that's 160 hours, so the ladies made $1.18 an hour in 2017 inflated dollars! No wonder women's work wasn't valued. [interesting! my math might be wrong...]

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  6. Hi, Lizzie. I didn't go so far as to calculate their hourly wage, maybe because I wasn't sure how many hours they spent quilting.

    And if they quilted more than 4 hours/day, it would have been even less.

    I didn't include the sentence or two before this quote in which she said, "My time and labour is in my power and that I most freely bestow, and she and I have worked early and late."

    I have to admire those frontier women who persevered and succeeded.

    Thanks for calculating and leading me to think about this aspect of their lives, too.

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  7. Wow! Uh, no - I think you'd have to go to the quilting circles in the Amish or Mennonite communities to find quilters that fast! I can finish that many quilts in that time on the longarm if I have good chunks of time dedicated. . .

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    1. That's what I thought, too, Lynette!

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  8. I just love to read about these women and their daily pursuits. What stamina and dedication...grit is a good word for it. Quilt making was a necessity with my grandmothers I know and they did not have much time for embellishing. Though they always embroidered pillow cases and table cloths. I really wish they had recorded more about their lives and esp. their cooking.
    Anyway, thanks for this and taking me down memory lane this morning, Nancy.

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  9. I think I am a pretty fast hand quilter, but by no means could I do that many in 3 weeks tie. Of course I do work full time, so maybe... nah, I couldn't do it. Thanks for posting!

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    1. Hi, Wendy. Well, we never know who much we might accomplish if other obligations didn't interfere with our time and we put our minds to it. But truly, I know I could never quilt as fast as these two women did. But you -- I can imagine you probably could do it.

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  10. I love reading old letters like this. I love genealogy and transcribe old newspapers from a small town where my paternal ancestors settled. There are lots of articles about daily living that are so interesting. They really help fill in the family tree.

    And 3 weeks and four days for four bed quilts seems like record speed; not my speed. It's interesting that quilting on the four quilts amounted to $7 but the fifth one needing more work would net $3.

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    1. Hi, Cathy.
      What town and what years are the newspapers you're transcribing? I love reading old newspapers, too, but wish I could find more specifically about my ancestors. (Family history is my primary effort, quilting next.) Even when I don't, knowing what other men and women of the same locality help me have an idea what their lives might have been like.
      Wish there were photographs or written details about the quilts Anna wrote about in these letters. Details. I want details! (Ha ha.)

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I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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