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Carrie Hall: Co-author of “The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America”

As I do my background reading to write these posts, I usually find myself wishing I could meet the Honoree.  These women and men are always remarkable, and there’s often some twist that makes them real for me.  But that isn’t the case with this week’s subject, Carrie Hall; I had a hard time warming up to her.  But read on, and maybe we’ll find something interesting.

Let’s start with the quilt stuff. Carrie Hall lives on today on eBay, Amazon, AbeBooks and other sites through two things:  the book she wrote with Hall of Fame Honoree, Rose Kretsinger, titled The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America and for Bettina Havig’s book titled Carrie Hall Blocks.

Both books include photos of the hundreds of quilt blocks made by Hall between 1900 -1935.  She, like Hall of Fame Honoree Mary Barton discussed in an earlier blog, went on the lecture circuit during the “Colonial Revival” of quilting, and used actual blocks to punctuate her talk.  Here’s Carrie dressed for a performance/ lecture, followed by a few of her blocks with the names she gave them;  if you look at all of them on the site below, you’ll find that you may call some of the blocks by different names.  In some cases, Hall was a stickler for historical accuracy, but in others, she didn’t mind being creative or redundant. Makes me wonder what she said in those lectures, but I shouldn’t be too critical because glamorizing the past was a shortcoming of many early quilt history efforts.

I like to call the one on the left “Going to Chicago” (that’s where I’m from), and you may know it by one of its several other names.  Hall used the first recorded name from an 1884 publication—probably what she grew up with. Names are funny; the same source that named “New Four Patch” called it “World’s Fair” when they put it out again 55 years after the original.

She lived in Leavenworth Kansas while she was making these blocks, so maybe that accounts for the one on the left.  She is the only source cited by Brackman (Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns) to give a name to this pattern, and I guess she wanted to honor her home town.  As I said, sometimes she’s historically accurate, and sometimes she’s creative. 

And look; here are two very different blocks with the same name, and there are at least two other blocks also named “Rose of Sharon” in the Hall block collection:

Not only was Hall inconsistent and repetitive in naming, but she took great license with botany as well.  I’m not talking about the stylized, pieced, modern pansies, etc; no one expects those to be accurate.  But look at these two versions of the same plant:

A live poinsettia, in case you’ve forgotten how they actually look.

Am I getting a little waspish? Sorry; I told you I couldn’t warm up to her.  But I really do admire Hall’s work; some of the designs require more sewing skill than I can muster (I sure wasn’t piecing LeMoyne stars at age seven and winning first place at the county fair at age 15), and I can’t imagine making that many blocks.  With over 800 of them (1,057 by Brackman’s count), varying from 8 inch pieced blocks to 16 inch applique blocks, she could have made over a dozen quilts!  Wait, she did make quilts—many for charity, and probably few, if any, for the contests that captivated her contemporaries.  Here are two examples:

George Washington Bi-Centennial

I love this one for its blue and white border and for the red in the trees to represent cherries, and the axes masquerading as a frame.  I love the next one because it’s all blue/white and reminds me of the old ceramic tile patterns that used to be in the entries of 1930s drug stores and five-and-dimes (and old bathrooms).

Cross Patch

The block and quilt images are all taken from the website of the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas.  You can see more of the items donated by Carrie Hall at the link below.  Be warned: there are 92 pages and many of the blocks have no image available, but starting at about page 87, you’ll find quilts and clothing made by her co-author, Rose Kretsinger which are worth seeing too. 

Well, that’s the quilting aspect of Carrie Hall’s entre’ to the Hall of Fame.  She had another interesting career in the world of fashion.  And really, aren’t fashion and quilt fabrics related? That’s the topic of another post, but let’s see how Hall segued from one to the other and back again.

After a stint as a teacher (how many of us were teachers? I had 7th and 8th grade for science, religion and art—what a combo!) and later as superintendent, Hall turned to dressmaking.  Under the title “Madam Hall, modiste”, she developed a thriving couture business catering to local society ladies, and included General MacArthur’s mother among her clientele. In 1938, she wrote a book I think should be required reading in all college fashion design programs: From Hoopskirts to Nudity, calling it “A review of the follies and foibles of fashion, 1836-1936”.  The cover of the 1946 edition even emphasizes the silliness of her topic, showing two “fashion” figures on the teeter-totter of time.

        

                         

Having been in the fashion business, Madam Hall knew whereof she wrote. She gives detailed descriptions of designs and construction techniques, along with plenty of information about accessories. But throughout, she expresses an amused, almost disdainful attitude toward fashion.  She encourages her readers to develop their own style, to wear what is becoming to their own figure, and to choose what is most compatible with their own personalities.  She knows how fickle fashion can be!

Her writing is at times chatty, at times moralistic, and always peppered with literary references.  You won’t be surprised to learn that Shakespeare had a lot to say about dress, but would you have thought she could work in quotes from Confucius and the ancient Greeks? Within two pages, she cites Ben Johnson, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Carlyle. There’s also lots of doggerel too, just to keep it from getting too high brow. And in case you are wondering about the title, it’s appropriate: she not only reviews the “Flora Mc Flimsey” modes of the 1920s, she goes so far as to include a photo of a nudist colony. Daring! (And I’m not gonna cut and paste that; find it yourself.)

The ups and downs of fashion that she wrote about turned personal for Carrie Hall.  A combination of the ready-to-wear market and the Depression saw the end of her couture establishment. She re-invented herself in quilting, but that didn’t last either, as travelling for lectures became difficult and her finances declined. But Hall was a survivor; she had “braved it all” (grasshoppers, crop failures and more) as a child of Kansas homesteaders in the early 1870s, and the difficulties of her later life weren’t going to keep her down. Her final career was as a doll maker.

These weren’t common playthings.  Here are some excerpts from an article in the Kansas City Star, May 39, 1948 that record the subject-matter variety and detailed construction of the Hall dolls.

Also mentioned in the article were 50 dolls representing biblical figures (now in the collection of Nebraska Wesleyan University) and dolls made to order from old photographs.

Hall’s dolls are sought after by collectors today, and she’s occasionally written up in the antique doll magazines.  I’m not into dolls myself, but I couldn’t resist purchasing a five-page article about Hall’s fashion dolls on eBay. It should arrive in time for an update in next week’s blog. Below are some of her items sold on the RubyLane website.  Look at the fabulous detail and remember that these are not full or even half size—they’re doll clothes.

        

Well, I think Carrie Hall has turned out to be more interesting than I first found her.  And definitely more admirable. I’m glad I kept digging and was able to introduce myself and you to this skilled, creative, whimsical, resourceful Honoree.

Your quilting friend,

Anna

Bio info  https://quiltershalloffame.net/carrie-hall/

Blocks at Spencer Museum https://spencerartapps.ku.edu/collection-search#/search/works/Carrie%20A.%20Hall




“Hats Off to the Women Who Make It All Happen”.

Marie Webster Guild 10/21

Usually I write about a Hall of Fame Honoree, but today I want to talk about some women without whom there would be no Hall of Fame. The Marie Webster Quilt Guild of Marion Indiana is like most other guilds: they meet, have show and tell, and put on an annual quilt show.  But unlike other guilds, they have dedicated themselves to supporting the Quilters Hall of Fame.

Entry parlor at the Marie Webster House/The Quilters Hall of Fame Museum

Someone has to welcome visitors and cover the phone and attend to the gift shop every day that the Museum is open.  Sometimes that falls to the Executive Director or paid staff, but they have their own work to so, so it’s more likely to be done by volunteers from the Marie Webster Guild. And who do you think hangs displays at the Museum?

Guild members bringing in quilts
Guild members in front of quilts they just hung.

They also hang the entire show for Celebration every year.  That includes the Honoree’s quilts at the Library, and quilts that go along with the lectures and programs at the church. This is in addition to hanging their own quilts, organizing the Vendor Mall and operating the craft and book sale at the same time.

And if you’ve been to Celebration, you know that they put in countless hours of work for the fund-raising auctions. Can you imagine how much work it is to package all the fabric that’s donated for the silent auction?  Look how many tables of stuff they have; every bag has to be packaged with a bid sheet attached. And of course, someone has to store all the donations throughout the year.

And they help out with the live auction.  Anyone can donate to the live auction, but the Guild also makes items—a different theme is set each year. One year the challenge was “Black and White and a Color”.

Next year, the challenge will be to make an item using fabric designed by Marti Michell, the 2021 Honoree. (I could take us down a rabbit hole of wondering how many of the Hall of Fame Honorees have designed fabric, but that should wait for another day.)

 Here’s the fabric, and they still have a few yards left in case you want to pick up the gauntlet. I think I actually had some of that blue at one time, and enjoyed working with it.

What show is complete without raffle baskets? One of these has stuff I would have wanted—guess which one. (Yes, I’m a sucker for fabric, especially pre-cuts.)

My Guild puts on a quilt show every other year; I’m pretty sure we couldn’t do it annually. Thanks, Marie Webster Guild. You got a pass this year because of Covid—a well-earned break.  But I know you’ll be back for the next live Celebration.  In fact, you’re probably planning now. Or maybe not. Because this is the time of year that the Guild does a holiday craft market at the Hall of Fame. Guild members sell for their own account (free space at the Marie Webster house as a thank you for their hard work all year), but it’s also a great way to bring new people in to the Museum.  Here are some shots from past sales.

If you can’t shop in person, fun things are available year round on the Hall of Fame website. Most of these items have been made by members of the Marie Webster Guild. https://shop.quiltershalloffame.net/products?page=1 Check out the face masks on the last page. 

Oh, and by the way, those lapel pins are designed each year by Marie Webster Guild member, art teacher and current Chairman of the Quilters Hall of Fame Board of Directors, Debi Shepler. 

But wait (as they say on late night TV); there’s more.  It’s almost time for holiday decorations. I know not many of us will get to Marion to see the house this year, so here are some photos from Christmases Past.

Before

After

There’s more that could be written about how the Guild was instrumental in the restoration of Marie’s house and the work they are doing and supporting on the train depot across the street.  But I think you get the idea. The ladies of the Marie Webster Quilt Guild may not be Honorees, but they certainly deserve recognition for all their work.  They aren’t in the Hall of Fame; they are the Hall of Fame.  And here they are.

Kudos and thanks to all Marie Webster Guild members.

Your quilting friend,

Anna




Mary McElwain: Road Trip!

Road trip!  Who wants to go to a lovely little quilt shop in Wisconsin? Well. at least virtually that is. 

But before we go, I’m sorry to report it, but I have Bloggers’ Block. I spent the time I should have been writing on Sunday in virtual study centers offered on Zoom by the American Quilt Study Group.  I learned a lot and got to see some old familiar faces, but now it’s hard to get down to work. So I’m going to reprise some information I have on hand about last year’s Heritage Honoree, Mary McElwain.  If you’ve been in one of my regional study groups and heard my Power Point already, or if you learned about Mary McElwain at Celebration 2019, then you can take a pass; but please come back next week.

So now let’s get on the bus and head to Walworth, Wisconsin, the site of the Mary McElwain Quilt Shop.  It’s just about an hour from Chicago going Northwest into an area of moraine hills, woods, and clear, deep lakes left by the last glaciers.  You would love this scenery even if it weren’t for the quilt shop. Nearby Lake Geneva has been a favorite tourist destination for Chicagoans since the wealthy travelled there to escape the 1871 Fire. In 1968, the late Hugh Hefner built his first Playboy resort at Lake Geneva, and there is still a resort on that site. On the left is a resort hotel from the days when Mary had her shop and on the right is the Lake today.

Mary opened her business in 1910 in a corner of her husband’s jewelry store on the town square in Walworth, but quilts soon took over. By 1933 (at the height of the Depression) the space was expanded with a double archway to access the shop next door. The expansion was marked with a two-day event where 500 people saw two new quilt designs, had tea, and were entertained by Miss Jean Radebough who sang old-fashioned songs to her own melodeon accompaniment. Here’s the shop in 1932 before the renovations and an interior view with some of the gift items offered in addition to the quilts.

It took a lot of work to develop the McElwain enterprise, and Mary was tireless in her efforts.  In the early days of her business, Mary would take quilts around to small towns in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, giving lectures and exhibiting her collection at local club shows, fairs and bazaars. She also took her show on the road to other cities such as Rochester, NY and St. Petersburg, FL. (I suspect she was combining business with pleasure; there are lots of McElwains in both areas, and maybe she was visiting family.) She promoted her business by writing an article for “Hobbies” magazine called “Heirlooms of Tomorrow”, and by speaking engagements, including one on WLS Radio. In March, 1933, Mary was invited to exhibit at Navy Pier for the Garden Club of Illinois, and later that year, she was one of the judges for the Sears contest at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Phew! Here’s Mary (on the right) with the other judges at the fair.

 Mary’s shop also became famous as a destination for groups as well as for individuals who enjoyed a drive in the country. She displayed quilts not only on the walls, but also had what may have been the original bed turnings. When she wasn’t having turnings, quilts were displayed on beds as well as on the walls of the shop. This is Mary and her husband, William, with a Daisy Chain quilt on a handsome spindle bed.  If you look carefully, you’ll see that there’s not much unused wall space. No wonder a trip to Mary’s shop was such a treat!

Some of Mary’s customers were society ladies who included the wife of an ex- governor of Illinois, a Rockefeller, the wife of the Norwegian Consul, and a visitor from Paris, France. But she also served the local women and shoppers who drove up from Illinois. Mary had connections with large department stores too. A store like Carson, Pirie & Scott in Chicago would have made her products available to the many Park District quilt clubs which were active in the 1930s and 1940s.

McElwain’s connections weren’t just local.  And her success in one tourist area led her to another.  In the late 1920s, St Petersburg, FL became a popular winter getaway, especially in 1929 when the city opened the “Million Dollar Pier”. Mary McElwain was right there with them, offering her goods in the McIntosh department store. The green benches on the sidewalk outside the store are still a tourist attraction. The upscale Wilson-Chase store also carried Mary’s products, but the chicest location for her line was the McElwain shop on Beach Drive.  It was located in the posh Ponce de Leon Hotel, just across from the yacht club. Here are some Florida shots—just to make this a real virtual road trip:

Million Dollar Pier. Mary’s shop is in the hotel to the left of the pier , just under the word “The” in “The Sunshine State”.

Green benches at McIntosh department store which carried Mary’s goods.

Ponce de Leon Hotel.  Mary’s shop occupied the street-level corner on the left side.

Yacht club directly across the street from Mary’s shop in St. Petersburg. I put this one in to give you a flavor of the trade she was catering to there.

So, what did Mary sell?  Mostly, other people’s products, but she did design one pattern called “Daisy Chain”. This may be her most-recognized pattern because it was on the cover of her catalog, which I’ll tell you about in a minute. “Daisy Chain” sold at 35 cents for a paper pattern, $12.50 for a stamped or cut kit, $25.00 for a basted top and $85.00 for a finished product.  The “Painted Daisy” crib quilt was available in pink or blue, stamped at $1.75 or finished at $7.50.

Other patterns and quilts sold by the McElwain shop were traditional designs like Drunkard’s Path, re-named “Gypsy Tears”. Mary wasn‘t shy about giving her own names to common blocks and settings; for example, what we know as Trip Around the World was sold as “American Tapestry”. Other patterns were based on old quilts in Mary’s collection, or came from well-known designers such as Marie Webster and Ruby Short McKim.

There is no evidence that McElwain took out ads for her patterns and kits, but the shop did provide little brochures of its offerings.  In 1934, Mary compiled a catalog-cum-commentary which she called “The Romance of the Village Quilts”. This 34 page booklet cost twenty five cents in the store. The catalog contained photos of finished quilts that could be purchased as a paper pattern, a kit which was either stamped or cut, a basted top, or a completed quilt.  Mixed in with these were a romantic essay on quilts written by Mary, a poem describing the bed turnings (written as a tribute to McElwain), interior shots of the shop, and an Edgar A. Guest poem in praise of the afghan. 

Mary used quality products for the finished quilts she sold and offered those same products through the catalog for those who were making the quilts themselves.  She carried fabric, rulers, stencils, batting and bias binding.

The quilt patterns and kits that McElwain sold were mostly traditional, but she had something for other tastes as well. Here’s a “Modern Rose” on the left (made by next year’s Heritage Honoree, Mary Gasperik) and a “Pines and Wreaths” on the right made by Esther Swingle Weter, who stored it with a note saying, “Pattern and material from the McElwain shop in Walworth, Wisconsin.”

McElwain not only sold directly, she also distributed her patterns indirectly through other companies.  Rock River batting from nearby Janesville, WI, was carried in the shop and catalog, and was used in the finished quilts that Mary sold; in exchange for this placement, she arranged for a McElwain pattern to be included on the batting wrapper. Rock River Cotton Company also purchased patterns from Mary, which they printed on tissue paper and sold as a set of eleven. Here’s a photo of a Rock River batting wrapper and the listing for the batting in the McElwain catalog.

 McElwain’s patterns were distributed on Mountain Mist labels as well, but there is no indication that their batting was sold by McElwain.  Mary also had a working relationship with the Boag Company of River Forest, IL.  Mary would sell Boag’s quilt and pillow kits at her store and through her catalog, and in return, Boag would slap a McElwain label on his Julia Fischer Force catalog.

This is from the inside of a Boag/ JFF catalog, and below is the cover with the McElwain label.  Look closely and you’ll see the glue outline from the original Boag label around McElwain’s name.

How’s that for marketing?

As you can imagine, the McElwain enterprise took a lot of workers.  Mary began with her own work and items made by local women; her husband helped with the accounts, and her daughter, DeEtte, was a mainstay.  Eventually, McElwain teamed with a Women’s Exchange of nearly 60 workers who made the completed quilts.  Mary’s granddaughter delivered projects to their homes and was paid a nickel per item (even if 3 items went to same house).  The local girls who helped with the large bed turnings were friends of the family and they were “paid” with a soda (or do you say pop?). One of Mary’s pattern designers, Lillian Walker, became famous in her own right.

Well, I’ve taken you on a virtual road trip and introduced you to a quilt entrepreneur of the highest order. Sadly, you can’t take a real trip to the McElwain Quilt Shop because it closed in 1960.  But the Walworth Historical Society has a permanent exhibit displaying quilts and giving information about the shop.  Not all of these items are McElwain’s, but I think I see a Webster kit which she would have sold in the first picture, and some of the patterns from her catalog in the second. Who knows what else they have?

That’s it for now.  I promise to be back on track next week.

Your quilting friend,

Anna