Saturday, March 19, 2016

Embroidered Signatures on Quilts

Palmer capital F.
riendship quilts or signature quilts are a quintessentially American objects.  In the nineteenth century the signatures would have made with indelible ink; later, the names were made more permanent and decorative with embroidery thread.  The finished quilts were often used by groups of women as gifts or fund-raisers.  

Signature quilt from Cyril, Oklahoma.  
The 1937 quilt I recently inherited and sent back to its hometown was made of pieced starbursts with a signature at the center of each.  The calligraphy of the signatures itself interests me, since the women who wrote them would have learned their penmanship at around the same time, and some of them possibly from the same teacher.  The letterforms they used were characteristic of Palmer Method, a teaching program popularized from 1900 to 1950.  At one time more than 3/4 of all students in the US learned their penmanship using this system. 

Although the demands of embroidery tend to simplify the line, you can still see Palmer's characteristic, archaic, sometimes peculiar letter forms in many of these names. 
Capital B and capital L, and small b, follow Palmer rules.  
Capital D is a Palmer Method capital.  

The capital N follows Palmer method
rules that make the first stroke of
capital M, N, and W much taller 
than the right half of the letter.

Capital I and capital G are distinctive Palmer Method
forms, as well as the small r. The capitals are supposed 
to be three times the height of the small letters.  

Quilts that incorporate letters are endlessly fascinating.  I hope to hear from other fans of this American art form.  

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