Tradition holds that girls of the 19th century and earlier often created a collection of quilts prior to their marriage. The Archives at the BMA offers some evidence of this claim in the papers of early quilt scholar William Rush Dunton, Jr. Dunton’s notebooks include photographs and written records of quilts by Elizabeth Stouffer of Baltimore and her daughter Elizabeth Barbara Garrett, which seem to support the conclusion that this did occur in some instances. Quilts recently given to the Museum by members of the Garrett family offer material proof as well.
Elizabeth Stouffer of Baltimore (1791-1877) created this Tree of Life Chintz Appliqué Quilt, given to the BMA in 1980. This quilt combines several major stylistic trends in early American quilting. Within a central medallion format framed by several borders, Stouffer composed a flowering Tree of Life cut from various printed fabrics and appliquéd to the white cotton background. Such chintz appliquéd quilts were popular during the first half of the 19th century. Their designs recalled painted and printed cotton bedcovers from India called palampores, which were often decorated with a central flowering tree. In the background and borders, elaborate stuffed and corded work depicts oak leaves, exotic flowers, thistles, and pineapples. After making her quilt, Elizabeth Stouffer took the extra step of initialing and dating it on the reverse in cross-stitch, and added the number “7” indicating that it was the seventh in a series of quilts she had made.
In 1817, eight years after finishing her 7th quilt, Elizabeth married Robert Garrett, founder of the banking house of Robert Garrett and Sons. Among their four children was a single daughter, Elizabeth Barbara Garrett (1827-1917). This Diamond in Square on Point Quilt, donated to the Museum by Edith and James Garrett in 2012 bears her initials, the date 1835, and a “1” on the reverse, indicating that like her mother, Barbara Garrett acquired (and most likely made) a series of quilts. Although, she would have been only 8 years of age in 1835, it is likely that Barbara had a part in creating this quilt.
Young girls learned sewing and embroidery at a very early age in early 19th century America. Even an eight-year-old could cut the fabric sections and sew the straight lines required in piecing the simple Diamond in Star pattern. Examination shows that the quilting is very good at 14 stitches per inch (as opposed to 20 stitches per inch in the Tree of Life Quilt), but the quilted diagonal lines often go off course and are “corrected” by starting over again a short distance from the previous stitch. Likewise, the clamshell pattern quilting in the border becomes less regular as it continues and is finally abandoned in favor of an easier pattern of straight lines. Observations such as these may indicate a young, less experienced seamstress, supervised by someone with more skill. Even so, Barbara Garrett’s quilt was fashionable for her time, which preferred the block structure over the central medallion seen in her mother’s quilt. It also contained many beautiful fabrics, available to her due to the prominence of her family in Baltimore’s mercantile and banking businesses and the city’s thriving trade.
The Dunton collection in the Archives at the BMA records two more quilts by Elizabeth Barbara Garrett: a Nine Patch Variation Quilt with sashing and a glazed chintz border marked on the reverse with cross stitch, “EB.G/1836/2”1; and a Checkerboard quilt with 2-1/2″ blocks and a wide glazed chintz border marked on the reverse with cross stitch, “EB .G/1839/5”2.
These quilts have descended in the family until recently, when they were donated to the BMA from Garrett family members, thus providing a material record to match the archival evidence of a young Baltimore girl following a family tradition of industry and creativity in developing a cache of home-made quilts for use in her future household.
1 Recorded in Dunton, Vol.VI, pp. 66-67, illus.
2 Recorded in Dunton, Vol.VI, pp. 68-69.