Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Cather-Robinson Quilt, d. 1848

The Cather-Robinson Quilt, dated 1848, is one of several Signature Album Quilts made and inscribed by mid-nineteenth-century Quakers who resided in the Back Creek Valley district of Winchester, Virginia. The quilt first came to the attention of contemporary Cather and quilt scholars in 1997, when it was brought to the Seventh International Willa Cather Seminar in Winchester, Virginia, by a descendant of the quilt's makers. Owned for many years by the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University, its ownership is in the process of being transferred to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.
Cather-Robinson Quilt, dated 1848. Photographed May 2017.
Measuring 101.5 x 88 inches, the quilt has thirty-six blocks and is set en point. Many of the blocks are inscribed with still-decipherable names and dates in ink, stamps, or embroidery. Significantly, the quilt is tied to the famous American author, Willa Cather, through the inscribed identities of her grandparents' cousins, as well as by her fictional depiction of the real community in which the quilt was made. Cather was born in Frederick County, Virginia, where she lived as a child for nine years before her family migrated west to Nebraska.
Frederick County, Virginia, birthplace of Willa Cather, photographed June 2017.
Willa Cather is famous for novels such as, O Pioneers! and My Antonia, but she set her twelfth and last novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl, in the exact, nineteenth-century locale where residents made the Cather-Robinson Quilt. It is said that she based her last novel on tales she most likely heard at the knee of a former family-owned slave, Matilda Jefferson. Jefferson became the prototype for the novel's character, "Aunt Till." There is a great deal of such fascinating research and analysis published in the Willa Cather Scholarly Edition of Sapphira and the Slave Girl, with Historical Essay and Explanatory Notes by Ann Romines. (Romines 313).

As with all Signature Album Quilts, every inscription provides an opportunity to explore the lives of historical quilt makers and inscribed identities. Sometimes, signatures can be attributed to the writer through comparison to other documents that contain signatures. At other times, it is less clear if a name is an autograph or an allograph (defined by the British as a signature written by someone on behalf of another). Either way, when explored in context of time and place, a mere name can lead to interesting stories.

One such name to appear on the Cather-Robinson Quilt is "Andrew A. Robinson," which is stamped inside of a stenciled cartouche. Like other Friends, Andrew A. Robinson held pacifist ideals. A noncombatant during the Civil War, he took a Union stance, and he spent time in a prisoner of war camp. (Cartmell 473).

Cather-Robinson Quilt, detail of block stamped, "Andrew A. Robinson."

The block below is initialed, "A.J.C.," in embroidered cross-stitches. Following extensive research, our best speculation is that the initials represented Adaline Jemima Cather (married name, Purcell).
Cather-Robinson Quilt, detail.
There is a wonderful photograph of Adaline with her sister, Sidney S. Cather (married name, Gore) in the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives of Handley Regional Library that you can see here:

The photograph has an estimated date of c. 1848, which is the date found inscribed on the Cather-Robinson Quilt.  We also know that Sidney made quilts. Excitingly, this shows what the makers of mid-nineteenth-century Virginia quilts looked like, how they wore their hair, and what they wore.

Yet another block is inscribed, "Sarah Ann Fenton." Her name appears on a list of students who attended Samuel M. Janney's Springdale Boarding School for Girls in Loudoun County, Virginia. Samul M. Janney is well known to Quaker historians for many things, including his strong anti-slavery stance. Perhaps most relevant to Sarah Ann's participation in a quilt project: needlework was part of the Springdale's curriculum. Sarah Ann Fenton (1832-1873) married Joseph Robinson (1825-1901). They had four children.
Sarah Ann Fenton, (1832-1873), Photograph courtesy of Barbara Harner Suhay. 
Back of Sarah Ann Fenton photograph. Courtesy of Barbara Harner Suhay. 

The back of Sarah Ann's photograph is inscribed, "For Wm & P. Tate." William Tate was another Loudoun County Quaker known for his anti-slavery sentiments and activities. The inscribed name of his first wife, Priscilla (Fenton) Tate, also appears on one of the blocks of the Cather-Robinson Quilt.

Cather-Robinson Quilt, detail of block inscribed, "Priscilla Tate."
Through exploration of its inscribed identities, as well as in view of Willa Cather's last novel, this post just brushes the surface of the Cather-Robinson Quilt's representation of a fascinating mid-nineteenth-century Quaker community.

Notes and Sources:

All text and photographs on this site are by Mary Holton Robare unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved. ©Mary Holton Robare 2019.

Special thanks to John Jacobs, formerly of the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University; Nick Powers, Curator of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley; and Ann Romines for so generously sharing about this quilt. Thank you also to Barbara Harner Suhay for sharing the photograph of Sarah Ann Fenton.

Note: While Willa Cather had ancestors of various denominations, just a few of her ancestors were documented as members of the Religious Society of Friends.

Cartmell, Thomas Kemp. Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants: A History of Frederick County, Virginia. Winchester, Virginia: The Eddy Press Corporation, 1909.

Romines, Ann, ed. Willa Cather's Southern Connections: New Essays on Cather and the South. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2000.

____, Historical Essays and Explanatory Notes, Mignon, Charles W., Ronning, Karl A. and Link, Frederick M., Textual Essay and Editing. Willa Cather Scholarly Edition: Sapphira and the Slave Girl. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2009.

____, "Willa Cather: A Life with Quilts," in Stout, Janis P. Willa Cather & Material Culture. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 2005, pps. 15-36.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Patterning the APRS & a Fleur-de-Lys Medallion

 Hollingsworth Family Quilt, 1858, detail Collection of the 
Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.

In my blog post of January 19th, 2019, I wrote about an applique quilt block pattern known by various names including, an "Apple Pie Ridge Star" (which is what I will call it for the rest of this post). Much of that article was published by the American Quilt Study Group in their newsletter, Blanket Statements, as was a subsequent follow-up about the topic you are reading, here. My previous post focused on names for the pattern. Today, we will explore a technique for making it commonly referred to as Scherenschnitte, which is a folded paper technique

When thinking of a Fleur-de-Lys the motif at left may be what comes first to mind, but these are just three of many that are considered variations of a Fleur-de-Lys which means, simply, 'stylized lily.' It is the motif at right that can be used as a quarter-pattern to form the basis of an "Apple Pie Ridge Star." 

If you begin by placing it on a 135-degree angle on paper or fabric that is folded at the bottom and the left, the unfolded result will be a slim version of an "Apple Pie Ridge Star," Now, if you were to begin by drawing a new pattern more widely around the shape (or if you simply cut widely around it), it would become a version that, when unfolded, would produce a plumper "Apple Pie Ridge Star." (When cutting, be sure to leave some of the folded edges uncut so that your quarter-patterns stay connected.)

Pidgeon Family Quilt, c. 1850, detail. 
Collection of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Interestingly, I recently had the opportunity to examine the Cather-Robinson Quilt, dated 1848, which was inscribed with the names of Frederick County, Virginia, residents. I look forward to sharing much more about it, soon. Currently owned by the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University, it is in the process of being donated to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. This quilt has a lot of fascinating history but my attention was drawn to one particular block.

 Cather-Robinson Quilt, c. 1850. Collection of the Willa Cather Institute of Shenandoah University.

It was so familiar-looking that I tried cutting a pattern for it using a quarter-pattern of an "Apple Pie Ridge Star." However, instead of placing the quarter Fleur-de-Lys on paper that was folded at the left and bottom, I placed it with the folds of the paper at the right and bottom. I had to make different cuts along the bottom half of the pattern to exactly reproduce a pattern of the pictured block, but it was easy to make accurate patterns for both an "Apple Pie Ridge Star" AND a Fleur-de-Lys medallion using the same quarter pattern as a base. This is especially significant because the Cather-Robinson Quilt block shown here was made withing just ten years of several other quilt made and inscribed by residents of Frederick County, Virginia, that have "Apple Pie Ridge Star" blocks. 

I am now revisiting my research and discovering that several historical album quilts with "Apple Pie Ridge Stars" also have Fleur-de-Lys medallions, possibly cut from the same quarter-patterns. It is exciting to imagine mid-nineteenth-century quiltmakers experimenting with the patterns they shared!


All text and photographs on this site are by Mary Holton Robare unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved. ©Mary Holton Robare 2019.

Illustrations of patterns shown here were created on folded plastic transparencies by Christopher E. Robare.

Thank you to the American Quilt Study Group for encouraging, supporting and publishing my research. To learn more about this organization or to join visit:



Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Apple Pie Ridge & The Guadalupe Dance

 Hollingsworth Family Quilt, 1858, detail. Collection of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.

The name of this appliqué quilt block pattern, “Apple Pie Ridge Star,” appears to be a local name for a pattern observed elsewhere under different names. There are also published references to variations of the pattern as a “Fleur-de-Lis Medallion,” “Snowflake,” “True Lover's Knot,” “Conventional Scroll,” and a “Kansas Pattern.” Now, we can one more name to this list.

In October, I presented a Study Center about the pattern at the 2018 Seminar of the American Quilt Study Group (AQSG) in Bethesda, Maryland. This post contains large excerpts of the article that was published by AQSG in the Seminar 2018 edition of their newsletter, Blanket Statements.  

The earliest documented American example of a ‘slim’ version of this pattern appears on a Baltimore quilt dated 1844, but the first documentation of the name, “Apple Pie Ridge Star,” was not published until 1998. This unique block pattern name was discovered by my friend Janney Lupton when her cousin pointed to a block of the Hollingsworth Family Quilt dated 1858 and declared, “My Grandmother called that an Apple Pie Ridge Star.” The name, which makes reference to a nine-mile stretch of road in Frederick County, Virginia, has since appeared in numerous articles and books.

Quilt, est. c. 1850, detail, purchased in Maine.
The term “Apple Pie Ridge Star” was discovered by Janney Lupton in the 1990s when one of her Loudoun County, Virginia, cousins, a Mr. Wilson, invited her to see an old family quilt he had inherited. After entering his house and climbing the stairs to the second floor, Janney first spied the quilt about halfway down the hall, nailed to a bedroom door.

 Hollingsworth Family Quilt, 1858. Collection of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, 
Winchester, Virginia. Photograph by Barbara Tricarico.

The quilt was frankly in pitiful condition, but thanks to Janney Lupton’s studies and the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, where it is now preserved, it would end up yielding an incredible wealth of information.

As the cousins stood looking at the Signature Appliqué Album quilt, Mr. Wilson pointed to one of its corners and said, “My grandmother called that an ‘Apple Pie Ridge Star’.” Janney Lupton became the first person to document the name in an article she wrote about making her own reinterpretation of the Hollingsworth Family Quilt for the magazine “Traditional Quilter.” 

Excitingly, I am able to share a brand-new name for this old pattern! I discovered this new name when I was volunteering at a historic house tour. The home “Cherry Row,” was built in 1794 along Apple Pie Ridge in Frederick County, Virginia. It is now owned by David and Jenny Powers who have restored it to much of its original appearance. They occasionally offer tours to interested groups. 

At one of these tours, I was standing in my assigned room when a visitor on the tour pointed to the “Apple Pie Ridge Star”-patterned quilt on the bed and declared, “My Grandmother called that, ‘The Guadalupe Dance’!” In subsequent correspondence, the visitor explained that he had seen the pattern before on a batch of “old squares.” His grandmother had purchased them locally with the intention of using them in a quilt.

Why would a nineteenth-century resident of the Shenandoah Valley assign such a name to a quilt block pattern? Perhaps it had something to do with the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821), when the revolutionary leader Miguel Hidalgo used the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on a banner at the beginning of the revolt that he led to end Spain’s rule over Mexico. 

                           Deed, detail, dated 1853. The Town of White Hall in Frederick County,
Virginia, was, “formerly called Guadaloupe [sic].”

There is a tiny town at crossroads along Apple Pie Ridge, (where the ancestors of the house tour guest lived), now known as “White Hall.” According to an early nineteenth-century deed, this crossroads was once called “Guadalupe!” The area was officially renamed "White Hall" in 1818 when a post office was established there but various nicknames for the area persisted such as, “Got-A-Loop,” “God’s Loop,” and “The Loop,” before the name “Guadalupe” was completely relegated to the distant past. Thanks to pure happenstance, the name was brought it to my attention in connection to a pattern named (twice!) for a small area along Apple Pie Ridge in Frederick County, Virginia.

Notes and Sources:

All text and photographs on this site are by Mary Holton Robare unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved. ©Mary Holton Robare 2018.

To learn more about the American Quilt Study Group please visit:

Barbara Brackman. Encyclopedia of Applique: An Illustrated, Numerical Index to Traditional and Modern Patterns. Mclean, VA: EPM Publications, Inc., 1993, 127.
Deed of Sale from Martin and Elizabeth Ann Fries to James and Richard Griffith, 18 August 1853. Frederick County, Virginia Deed Book 80, p. 442. County Recorder’s office, Winchester, Virginia.

James V. Hutton Jr., In and Around the Loop (Northern Frederick County, Virginia). (Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing Co., 1998).

Janney Lupton, “Hollingsworth Revisited: A Labor of Love.” In Traditional Quilter, Newton, NJ: All American Crafts, Inc., November 1998, 50-51.
For previous publications that mention the “Apple Pie Ridge Star” quilt block pattern see: Virginia Consortium of Quilters, Quilts of Virginia 1607-1899: The Birth of America Through the Eye of a Needle, (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2006), 81; Mary Holton Robare, "The Apple Pie Ridge Star," in Blanket Statements, 88, edited by Gaye Ingram. Lincoln, NE: American Quilt Study Group, 2007, 10-11; Robare, “Threads of Quaker History: Sarah Pidgeon, Family and Friends.” In Journal Volume XIX. Winchester, VA: Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, 2007, 24-43; Barbara Brackman, “#7 Pattern Names: Names in the Oral Tradition & A Curious Scroll Design,” in “The Quilt Detective: Clues In Pattern,” in A Digital Newsletter for 2007, 13 May 2007; Karen Biedler Alexander, “Apple Pie Ridge Star quilt pattern,” blog online, “Quilt History Reports.”; Accessed 23 May 2015; Hazel Carter, “Apple Pie Ridge Star Quilts,” In Blanket Statements, 100, edited by Paula Pahl, Lincoln, NE: American Quilt Study Group, 2010, 14-16; Linda Baumgarten and Kimberly Smith Ivey, Four Centuries of Quilts: The Colonial Williamsburg Collection. (Williamsburg, VA: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2014), 182; and Alden O’Brien with Virginia.

Mary Holton Robare, "The Apple Pie Ridge Star," in Blanket Statements, 88, edited by Gaye Ingram.  Lincoln, NE: American Quilt Study Group, 2007, 10-11 and "The Apple Pie Ridge Star: New Findings," in Blanket Statements, 136, edited by Jill Wilson, Lincoln, NE: American Quilt Study Group, 2018, 7-9. Also see: “Threads of Quaker History: Sarah Pidgeon, Family and Friends.” In Journal Volume XIX. Winchester, VA: Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, 2007, 24-43.

The Cather-Robinson Quilt, d. 1848

The Cather-Robinson Quilt, dated 1848, is one of several Signature Album Quilts made and inscribed by mid-nineteenth-century Quakers who re...