Crazy Quilts and Stevengraphs

In keeping with my recent crazy quilt post, I’d like to relate a story about a crazy quilt of my own:

In 2002 I had the privilege of purchasing a wonderful Crazy Quilt, circa 1885, from a dear lady in Illinois.

1885 Crazy Quilt

The owner was a woman named Vee and she related this history of the quilt to me: “It was found in an attic in the bungalow of Julius and Harriet (Lyons) Reed in Three Bridges, NJ after Etta (Harriet) had passed away in the 1970’s. Etta was Vees husband’s Aunt. They were originally from Davenport, IA. Julius was a soldier during the Spanish American war and he fought in Cuba. When he returned he went to New York and met Etta at church. They fell in love and lived in NY until Julius was drawn to a piece of property in New Jersey. Julius was a floor worker at Wanamaker’s Department Store in NY and they were quite poor, but he wanted this piece of property so badly that, as the family story goes, he met some Italians and did something for them – no one knows what – and they gave him enough money to buy the land. Julius then built the bungalow completely by hand. Etta was very good at decorating on a shoestring. Julius preceded Etta in death and after she passed away Vee and her husband went through the home and found little of value except for this crazy quilt which was in a box in the attic. They knew nothing else about the quilt, but Vee did mention that Julius did have very wealthy relatives in New York named Wentworth.”

Don’t you just love family stories and the unique details which are remembered?

Well, the quilt was stored well for all of it’s life, obviously never seeing the light of day for any length of time, so I wanted to get it appraised right away. While doing the appraisal, my friend Carol Butzke, commented that my quilt included a Stevengraph.

Crazy Quilt Stevengraph

I’d never heard of a Stevengraph and set out to learn more. In searching the internet I ran across a collector in England. I sent him the picture, and here is a portion of his response:

“Chris
Thank you for sending the image of your silk. It has come across very well, and I can confirm it is indeed a Stevengraph. When originally mounted, the title printed on the card mount was “The First Point”.
This is of course a scene of two hounds chasing a hare. The rider on horseback is the judge, and the person in red at the edge of the crowd is the person who has just released the hounds, called a ‘slipper’.
It is impossible to date your actual silk, as they were made continuously right up to the destruction of the factory in 1940.
Thomas Stevens, of Coventry, Great Britain created the word Stevengraph to describe his silk pictures. It has now been extended to include all such woven silk pictures, and even the bookmarks as well.
All silks fade very badly in day light, and deteriorate with light and dust. From the image you have sent me, if your actual silk is as bright coloured as the image, yours is in remarkably good condition. There is no fading, and no apparant damage. As an item of beauty, it now needs always to be part of the quilt of which it has become an intregal part.
I hope this gives you a flavour of your Stevengraph. Do take care of it and the rest of the quilt. Keep the silk out of as much light as you can and away from dust, and who knows, maybe it will last another 100 years.

Regards
Peter Daws”

I was thrilled to have this information!

Currently the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts in Cedarburg is hosting an exhibit of Stevengraphs!

WMQFA stevengraph

This is a portion of some additional information the Museum emailed concerning the exhibit:

Museum Stevengraph

“In 1862, Thomas Stevens, working in Coventry, England, had produced nine fascinating silk pictures of different designs and patented the word “Stevengraph” to refer to the pictures. They were an instant success. By the late 1880s, Stevens had produced 900 different designs on aspects of Victorian life.
Using another Stevens invention at the York Exhibition in 1879 – the portable loom, people attending saw their picture being woven before their eyes. The pictures sold in the thousands and over the years Stevens was awarded over 30 medals and diplomas for the pictures.
Stevengraphs vary in size from 1 1/4 by 4 inches for bookmarks to 7 1/2 by 13 inches for mounted pictures. Once sold for as little as 50 cents, they are prized today by collectors.
The heavy German bombings on Coventry in 1940 leveled his buildings and business. But appreciation of Stevengraphs lives on through collectors and exhibits like ours at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Fiber Arts.”

 

I haven’t seen the exhibit yet, but I’m looking forward to visiting the museum soon!

WMQFA

Do you own any Stevengraphs, or have you any stories to tell?

***************

And one more thing! While in Paducah, Wendy mentioned that there was a large display wall at Frank’s Sewing Center in Waukesha, WI (the shop where she’s the assistant manager), and they were considering featuring quilts by a “Customer of the Month” there. I told her I thought it was a great idea, and she responded “Good, you can be first!”

fiber art at Franks Sewing Center in Waukesha, WIsconsin

So I’ve put up a display of my Parallelism and Concentricity quilts for the month of May. My book “Where Do I Start With Fiber Art” is available there also. It includes the techniques I’ve used in the quilts displayed.

I hope you have a chance to stop by!


3 Opinions

  • Arleen Morgantini said:

    Very interesting, Chris! I learned something new from you today!

    Reply
  • Louise said:

    I saw the exhibit at the museum. Very interesting and very tiny! They do give you a magnifying piece to see them!

    Reply
  • Arlene admin

    Thank you for the May blog, it is the most interesting quilt story I have ever read about a quilt. You did a great job researching and then telling us about it. Thanks.

    Reply

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