Celebrating the Mother Block – 1857 Album Quilt Block 18


I have so many things to share with you that I decided to post a special block in honor of Mother's Day. It wasn't difficult deciding which block to use.

1857 quilt block 18


This block is simply signed - Mother

IMG_6915a I found this fantastic reproduction print to use for this block. It's an old Blue Hill Fabrics collection - Pomegranate by Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum Circa 1800-1850. If the dates are correct, "Mother" was saving her scraps.
1857 fancy block 1 (2)a
To be honest, I'm beginning to think that Laura and her Mother were not quilters as we think of quilters. I believe they knew how to sew and had some basic skills but if I were making a block for my daughter's wedding quilt I can't imagine it would be just four hearts and a cross. I would have gone bonkers like some of the other family members did and made a block filled with hearts, flowers and all things wonderful. With that being said, let's take a look at the quilting.......

The entire quilt is machine quilted in an allover, meandering design using cream color thread.

403_5 You can see the nice, even, tiny chain stitches on the top of the quilt.
There are nice even straight stitches on the back of the quilt. What? Wait a minute, that's backwards!

James Edward Allen Gibbs, patented the first practical and workable chain-stitch single-thread sewing machine on June 2, 1857. The machine shown above was made around 1860. They were beautiful and very popular. Isn't is neat the way the machine is shaped like the letter "G" after Mr. Gibbs?

willcox_&_gibbs_1870_glass_sewalot You can see all the working parts of the machine which used only one spool of thread but......... the stitches made by this machine had a straight stitch on the top and the chain was on the bottom. Clearly not what was used to quilt Laura's quilt.

cornely machine 2
cornely machine 3
The first successful industrial chain stitch machine was developed in the early 1860's by Antoine Bonnaz. The Bonnaz patent was then acquired by Ercole Cornely. Cornely developed a hook-shaped needle that could make a line of chain stitches. At first the machines produced were called Bonnaz machines, but within a short time they became known as Cornely embroidery machines.

The Singer 114w103 is the first chainstitch machine Singer made, starting around 1911. It was first used in a treadle table and often called a “Cornely Type”, modeled after Cornely of France’s design that went into production in 1865. It looks like there's a nice long arm on these machines with plenty of room for a quilt.

singer 114W103
singer 114W103 close
chain stitch embroidery

Cornely type chain stitch machines were different from the Wilcox and Gibbs machines. These single needle chain-stitch machines were used to stitch elaborate designs on Victorian clothing in addition to more simple things like sewing names onto garments, workshirts, handkerchiefs etc... but the best part..........the chain stitches are formed on the top and the straight stitched on the back. Eureka!!! That's the type of machine that quilted Laura's quilt! This type of stitching is quite amazing when you think the first Cornely type machines were operated using using the freehand crank below the machine, while directing your embroidery above, and controlling the speed with your feet. Not sure I could do that without some practice but I want one of those machines!

chain stitch embroidery on dress
chain stitch embroidery on scarf
Braiding and Chainstitch on a Cornelly or Singer 114W114E or Consew 104 a See that great meandering chain stitch vine. That's our quilting but think about this -

  • Laura's quilt top was made in 1857
  • It was quilted on a Cornely type chain stitch machine.
  • The first Cornely chain stitch machine was manufactured in 1865
  • Laura passed away in 1891
  • The Singer, Cornely type machine was first manufactured in 1911
  • The backing on Laura's quilt appears much newer than the top

Taking all of that into consideration, here are the questions -

  • Did Laura quilt the top herself?
  • Did she hire someone who was making her some embroidered clothing in the blossoming garment of New York to quilt it for her?
  • Was it quilted on a Cornely machine between 1865 and the time of her death in 1891?
  • Did one of her children quilt it (or have it quilted) on a Singer 114W103 after 1911?

A quilt finished by a quilter of that era should have had a traditional binding put on the quilt rather than the back being brought forward to the front. That makes me think that someone was paid to quilt the top and whoever finished the binding knew how to sew but wasn't a quilter. Dating the backing fabric may give us some clues. My gut tells me the backing is early 1900s fabric but I have no proof of that. It is pieced together from 33"-36" wide sections. Hopefully we can narrow down a date for the backing fabric to give us more clues into quilting before we finish our tops.

cornely machines room full of them

women sewing mattresses Perhaps someone at one of the bedding companies in New York finished the quilt. These ladies are at the O.D. Baker Company, now Charles H Beckley, Inc.

I know some questions will never be answered but it's fun to think about all this as I work on a block, wondering what life was like in New York city during the 1800s, living in one of the wealthiest parts of town. From the age of 17 Laura never worked a day in her life. Her profession was listed as Housekeeper on every census I've found.

She should have taken a quilting class!!!

yli-silk There has been some discussion on threads and problems with thread while doing hand applique in the Facebook Group. I hope some of this information might help someone who's having trouble. Here's a quick rundown of what I do and what I use -

  • Needles: The needles I use for applique are Hemming Milliners #10. They are long, strong and have a large eye for easy threading.
  • Thread: I use cotton and silk. For cotton I like Mettler 60 wt. cotton. It comes in almost every color you can imagine, is easy to find and doesn't knot up on you if you've threaded your needle correctly. Thread the needle with the end you cut - NOT the end as it comes off the spool.
    There are many times I switch to YLI #100 Silk thread. It sinks down in the fabric beautifully. I only have 4 colors in my sewing basket and they seem to work for every fabric I've ever wanted to use them on. Again, you need to thread the silk with the end you cut and not as it comes off the spool. It's very slippery so work with a length of about 24 inches and tie it onto you needle. Yes, tie it on with a knot! You won't even know it's there when you're stitching and it'll save you lots of frustration.
    I've tried the pretty bobbins of thread in a wheel with all the colors. I keep trying them because they're so pretty but no matter how I thread my needle, the thread tangles up on me and I don't have the time to struggle with that so they just look pretty in my sewing room in between my attempts to make them work.
  • My rule for threading the needle: If the thread is American made, thread it as it comes off the spool. If it's not, thread the end you cut.

Happy Mother's Day

1857 Album Quilt - Block 18 - Click Here

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11 Responses to “Celebrating the Mother Block – 1857 Album Quilt Block 18”

  1. Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow May 7, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

    Happy Mother’s Day! 🙂

  2. Deb May 7, 2016 at 4:03 pm #

    Thank you! Happy Mother’s day.

  3. Elaine Frey May 7, 2016 at 4:13 pm #

    Thanks Gay for the thorough information on the quilting. I was surprised when I first noticed it was machine quilted. Didn’t know they had sewing machines like that way back when. A nice surprise when I opened email after I can in the house after working in the yard all day. Have a wonderful Mother’s day.

  4. Nancy May 7, 2016 at 5:35 pm #

    Thanks for the extra block and for all the history about the quilt.
    Happy Mothers Day!

  5. Mary Ann Cecarelli May 8, 2016 at 2:33 am #

    Happy Mother’s Day. Thank you for sharing this interesting information with us. So many things to ponder as we stitch this lovely block.

  6. Barbara Brannon May 8, 2016 at 3:03 am #

    Good Morning – Happy Mothers Day to you! I just wanted to take a quick moment and thank you for all you do for us and for this extra block. The history behind this block and all the research you do is SO interesting and am just loving it!
    Thank you again!
    Barbara in TN

  7. MarilynH May 8, 2016 at 4:18 pm #

    From the first picture, before I even read what you had written, I thought “This quilt was sent out to get that chain stitch done.” It’s entirely too professional-looking compared to the rest of the quilt.

  8. Shasta May 10, 2016 at 10:46 am #

    Happy Mother’s Day. Thank you for another great pattern. When I first saw the quilting, I assumed that this quilt was quilted much later than the piecing. I didn’t even think that the quilting could be pretty old too, although it still looks later than the applique.

  9. Lynda May 29, 2016 at 9:43 am #

    One of the things that came to my mind was that the preparation for quilting included outlining each applique with a contrasting thread. In this way the quilt could be stitched from the backside and because of the outlines the designs could be avoided. This would allow the chain stitch to be on top and straight stitch on the back. Maybe???

  10. Leanne June 2, 2016 at 1:07 am #

    some more fabulous blocks – love the heart block by Mother and the embroidery on the floral block. You have amazing info and tips and tricks – thanks so much for sharing 🙂

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