Monday, April 4, 2011

Mama Dawson's Bow Tie Quilt

I'm well on my way to becoming a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It was my dad's idea; he got me started on the whole thing by talking to my Aunt Honey at a family reunion. 

My Aunt Honey is Regent of the Glover's Trace Chapter in Camden, Tennessee, and is very enthusiastic about the DAR. She told me that she believes being a member of the DAR is the greatest honor that woman can hold. After all, if not for our patriots in the Revolutionary War, we American ladies might not have many of the freedoms that today we take for granted: freedom of religion, voting rights, and the privacy that we have to criticize leadership. Yes, it's a very big deal, so I've been attending the meetings of our local chapter.

All of that being said, this month we had a little show-and-tell session with quilts, of all things. I was Ms. Prepared as usual, and waited until "the day of" to actually get my quilt, then scramble to come up with all kinds of interesting information about it. I briefly considered inventing a tale of bloodshed and treason in which my Great-Great-Grandmother's quilt figured largely, but decided against it in the end.

What I finally wrote was this...
This is a quilt that was hand-stitched by my Great-Great-Grandmother, Cora Dawson. We believe that she probably created it sometime in the 1930s while living in the hills of West Tennessee.  It was passed down through the generations to my grandfather, who gave it to my mother, who will probably give it to me.

The pattern is called “Bow Tie” and was supposedly invented around 1898, but might have been used earlier than that. There is a stiff controversy concerning the whether or not there was a "quilt code" used during the Civil War by members of the Underground Railroad to send secret messages to escaping slaves. Supposedly some common patterns were “Monkey Wrench”, “Star”, “Crossroads”, and “Wagon Wheel”. “Bow Tie” might have been a reminder that slaves should dress well so that they would blend in and avoid detection.  The appropriate quilt would be hung out to air (a common sight on a plantation) and the message was relayed.

This particular quilt would have been made out of various pieces of scrap fabric, perhaps left over from other sewing projects or cut out of a worn-out piece of clothing. I’ve identified 24 different fabrics in this quilt. It must have taken quite a lot of time and energy, but was very necessary to keep a poor farm family warm during a long, hard winter night. 

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