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Quilt History Snippets - May 2024
By Kathleen (Kathy) L Moore
Posted: 2024-05-06T14:00:00Z

Quilt History Snippets for May, 2024…by Kathy Moore

 

What:      Review of Uncoverings 1992, Volume 13 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group, edited by Laurel Horton

Topic:       Quilting in Webster County, Nebraska 1880-1920

Author:     Kari Ronning

 

The author is a scholar and an acknowledged authority on the works of author Willa Cather, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, who, as a child and along with her family, moved from Virginia in 1883 to homestead in Red Cloud, Webster County, Nebraska. Cather’s books reflect memories and experiences of homesteading in undeveloped and rural Nebraska in the late nineteenth century. Cather became one of several resources for Ronning’s research, and in many ways validated what Ronning found in newspapers and personal papers from Webster County inhabitants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Readers of this review may want to read O! Pioneers or My Antonia, among other of Cather’s works, to get a more thorough understanding of this era in American history and better understand the context of Cather’s works, as well as Ronning’s commentary.

 

In her abstract, Ronning notes that she chose Webster County as the focus of her research and writing because, “it is one of the representative sites chosen by the Nebraska Quilt Project; [its] extensive primary sources such as newspapers of the period…; [and] unique literary materials… available since the area is depicted in many of Willa Cather’s novels.” Interestingly, it is the newspapers of the period that “record quilts, quiltmakers, quilting parties, charitable quilting activities, and county fair results…”. Ronning reports that these sources revealed “that Webster County followed the eastern, urban fashions in the 1880s when it was still a frontier community” yet it declined in evidence in the documentation into the early twentieth century when “quiltmaking was seen as an activity for older women, and quilts were little valued.” [p. 169] It is interesting to note that in Webster County the Cathers found “well-defined settlements of Czechs, Germans, French-Canadians, Norwegians, and Danes” nationalities we do not often find in American quilt history reporting. [p. 171]

 

What follows is a detailed recounting over a number of pages of Ronning’s findings and analysis with names of individuals, names of quilt patterns, dates, locations, editorial attitudes and influences, the occurrences of quilting parties and the changes in these practices over time. There are even prices for fabrics and batting, descriptions of practices of quilting versus tying, mentions of uses for comforters versus quilts, as well as the predominance of pieced quilts and embroidered quilts over appliqued quilts.

 

Finally, Ronning notes, “Without the newspapers, we should not have known about most of these women.” Furthermore, Ronning notes, “More work needs to be done by researchers in other localities to see how they compare with the patterns which Webster County records demonstrate.” In this article Ronning in given us a template for research and analysis that could still be used in many localities and eras.

 

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 any 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 kmoore81@austin.rr.com