An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

Paul's Crazy Quilt [ca 1875 and ca 1915]

 

"Paul's Crazy Quilt-center pieced by Rosa Benson Snoddy during Civil War. Auntie made the rest of it. Quilted by her, Cousin Mag & Auntie."

Laurel Horton, Paul's Crazy Quilt, circa 1875 and ca 1915

History:

One of Nannie's (Nancy Snoddy Coan's) crazy quilts incorporates a piece of unfinished patchwork made by her mother, according to the label, "during the Civil War." The center of the quilt is a large six-pointed star pieced by hand from small fabric diamonds, a pattern that certainly predates the Civil War. However, the dyes that produced the red-brown and blue-green pieces in Rosa's pieced star are among the most recognizable of the chemical dyes that became widely available during the 1870s. It is quite likely that Rosa Snoddy pieced the star, but she would have done so in the decade after the war. She may have used the same red and green fabrics from which her daughter Mary cut the pieces for her Tulip quilt during this time. A distinctive imitation-cross-stitch fabric used to fill in between the points of the star to make a circle also appears in both Rosa's Log Cabin and Nannie's Cross quilts [see Laurel Horton, Mary Black's Family Quilts]. The brown print that cradles this circle-in-a-square is a brown print that is similar, but not identical, to prints in several of the early quilts made by the three women. Rosa most likely pieced the star and framed it in the brown square during the 1870s before setting it aside unfinished.

Nannie Coan probably found the unfinished star patchwork after Rosa's death in 1908, when the children went through their parents' household belongings. The label indicates that Nannie made the eight large crazy-pieced blocks arranged around the central star. Starting in the center of each nineteen-inch foundation square, Nannie worked outward, adding pieces by hand, until the foundation was covered. This technique is similar to the sew-and-fold technique in Log Cabin patchwork. Two of the blocks incorporate geometric pieced blocks, probably left over from another quilt. In the other six blocks, the pieces were arranged with attention to an attractive distribution of lights and darks. Striped fabrics and red highlights provide additional visual interest.

Construction:

The eight crazy-pieced blocks themselves may have been left over from one or more of Nannie's (Nancy Snoddy Coan's) other quilts [see Laurel Horton, Mary Black's Family Quilts]. Had they been created with the intention of combining them with Rosa's star, it is likely that more attention would have been given to sizing them appropriately. Twelve blocks would have framed the center completely, and Nannie would likely have made this number if she had envisioned this project from the start. Finally, although red fabrics appear in both the star and the crazy blocks, there is no evidence of an attempt to coordinate the colors between the old and new parts of the quilt.

The eight blocks are arranged unevenly around the center star, and the spaces between them filled in with large pieces of the same striped red fabric as the backing and two borders of Cousin Mag's Churn Dash [see Laurel Horton, Mary Black's Family Quilts]. The large amount of this fabric used in these quilts suggests that someone in the extended family may have purchased an entire bolt and shared it with others. The quilt is backed with blue-and-brown Alamance plaid.

The label indicates that the quilting was done by Auntie (Nancy Snoddy Coan) and Cousin Mag (Mag Drummond). Working together, the two women quilted this top with close rows of stitches irregularly in "elbows," an angular variation of the more rounded "fan" quilting design. Fan quilting is one of the all-over designs that emerged during the late-nineteenth century to become the most common quilting design for Southern utility quilts during the early-twentieth century. The concentric arcs of the "fans" are comfortable for the quilter to perform, and the curved lines produce a pleasing counterpoint to geometric piecing.

The label identifies this piece as "Paul's Crazy Quilt," which suggests a more direct bequest than the other quilts whose labels name the recipient at the end. It is possible that Auntie Coan herself gave this quilt to Paul, perhaps as part of her Christmas gift-giving in 1914.

Published: 19 May 2006

© 2006 Laurel Horton and Southern Spaces