What: Review of Uncoverings 1992, Volume 13 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group, Edited by Laurel Horton
Topic: Quilts on the Overland Trails
Author: Barbara Brackman
Interestingly, Brackman cites the chronicle, Platte River Road Narratives, written by Merrill J. Mattes and published in 1988, as one of her sources. That chronicle contains “over 2,000 narratives, of which 274 are women’s accounts.” That’s about fourteen percent of all the narratives listed and it is a number which speaks volumes about the availability of commentary on nineteenth century women’s experiences and activities.
Regarding documentation of quilting by immigrants on the trail west, Brackman states that she “found no first-hand accounts of sewing patchwork or quilting while in transit.” [p. 48] She did find references to sewing clothing and mending clothing but much of that was done while the migrants were temporarily stationary, wintering over somewhere. She speculates that there was little time to spend piecing blocks, the travelers lacked fabric and tools to do so (citing one of my most favorite articles by Rachel Maines on the need for abundance of materials for quiltmaking). Also, most travelers walked rather than rode in the wagon so as to lighten the burden on the animals pulling the wagon, and the ride, whether on horseback, in a wagon, or walking was too rough to enable sewing with needle and thread. Additionally, the light would have been very poor in a covered wagon even during full daylight. But knitting was likely easier to do under those conditions and was apparently done. [p. 49-51]
Interestingly, Brackman mentions there was another, and a logical, reason that quiltmaking was not a common practice on the trail. She notes, “there is ample written evidence that quilts were in good supply in the luggage of westering Americans.” [p. 54] Furthermore, she provides some interesting descriptions of how those quilts were used on the trail.
This report was a fun read and full of details on the lives of women who traveled (read walked) the Oregon trail in the last half of the nineteenth century.
If I have sparked your interest, read Rachel Maines, “Paradigms of Scarcity and Abundance: The Quilt as an Artifact of the Industrial Revolution,” from In the Hearth of Pennsylvania: Symposium Papers, ed. Jeannette Lasansky (Lewisburg: PA: Oral Traditions Project, 1986), 84-89.
If you do not have a copy of this, or any, edition of Uncoverings, check the publication list on the AQSG website to see if the particular volume is available…many still are. To access an online version of any issue of Uncoverings find the links at the AQSG website or the Quilt Index at www.quiltindex.org. As always, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.