I am a big reader and a lover of all things quilts. Plus, there is nothing that lights up my brain more than something new to learn. I have been pursuing slave quilts and sewing ever since I finished the book The Invention of Wings. Did you catch that post? It is what eventually led to this review of Stitched from the Soul - Slave Quilts from the Anbebellum South.
Gladys-Marie Fry set out to discover more about her Amanda, her great great grandmother, who was a seamstress, quilt maker and slave on a plantation in Arkansas. She had a limited oral tradition to give her information. Sadly but not unexpected. she discovered no written records at all.
This book is an homage to her Great Great Grandmother and all the women who sewed in the same conditions. As she states in the preface, "Denied the opportunity to read or write, slave women quilted their diaries, creating permnent but unwritten records of events large and small, of pain and loss, of triumph and tragedy in their lives." Viewed in this way, I think many quilts are emotional diaries and I loved learning about these.
The book tries to not only show and tell about quilts by women slaves but also put them in context. It shows clothing items these women would have made and where they would have lived. I particularly liked the background information to add to my accumulated knowledge from other books I've read.
I think my own picture in my head of a female slave was originally based on the movie Gone with the Wind. Many modern movies have showed me what a fantasy that view was. This picture of "Mammy Sally" is one of the women slaves who did all the sewing.
Obviously this was a special time and occasion and the picture reflects that. I did like seeing an actual person. Photographs are worth a thousand words.
There are sites which take exception to this book as Ms. Fry is not trained in textiles. I personally am very grateful that she tried to document the difficult to document, fragile quilts many of which disappeared in the using.
All of the photographs are pages of the book. I opened to pages that I particularly liked and snapped a picture. I then edited them. If this piques your interest, you will want to get your hands on a book yourself.
The cabin on the right is typical of a slave cabin, she even had some images from some existing ones. Again, documenting slave life was and is very difficult as they were listed as chattel, prohibited from reading or writing and no power or position in their times.
Some of the quilts which the slave women made were claimed by the mistress of the house. This quilt was made for the use of the masters of the plantation and survived in excellent shape.
Quilts that the slaves made for themselves were from scraps, used clothing or quilts which had fallen apart. Additionally, quilts were washed by being boiled and beaten. Not the best way to preserves textiles.
We are lucky any at all survived. Here is one slave quilt made for personal use and on her own time.
All the quilts, both for the masters and the slaves would be quilted on a quilt frame. Some slave seamstresses were able to buy their own freedom by selling what they made. An example of that was Mrs. Lincoln's seamstress, Elizabeth Keckley. I have a book about her on my night stand!
If you've read the invention of wings you will likely feel a little tug at your heart looking at this quilt frame. When not in use, they hung from the rafters.
Isn't it terrific that as quilters there are so many types of quilts to make, sewing projects to tackle. Plus there are new things to learn, books to read and parts of history to understand.
How am I supposed to fit in naps and snack time?
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If you enjoyed this post, you might also like last week's on Stitching Stars.