Making a Living Making Quilts: A Historical Perspective

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Carrie Hall: Entrepreneur

Carrie Hackett Hall (1866-1955) in "Colonial" costume, 
dressed for a lecture about quilts.

Carrie Hall made a living through sewing all her long life. She began as a dressmaker in Leavenworth, Kansas, probably in the 1880s. 

Carrie Alma Hackett about the time she
arrived in Leavenworth

She was raised on a homestead farm near Smith Center, Kansas and after teaching at a rural school there she moved to Leavenworth. With a population of about 20,000 and home to an important Army base the city supported nearly 90 seamstresses in the first decade of the 20th century.

"Dress Making Parlors on Third Fall
Madam HALL and Miss MALLOY, Modistes"

Carrie elevated herself as "Madam Hall, Modiste." Married twice, she seems to have been employed through marriages, widowhood and separation.

Street cars in downtown Leavenworth, about 1910
That could well be Carrie climbing on the tolley on the right. I interviewed
people in Leavenworth who knew her. One told me she rode the cars to
work daily, reading the race track news.

During her career as a dressmaker she worked with at least two of Leavenworth's department stores and was probably nearly as successful as she liked to tell reporters. Her income went for a large house called Maplehurst, supporting two ill husbands (successively) and permitting her expensive hobbies such as book collections on Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln and fashion. She may also have had a gambling problem. With two prisons and an army base Leavenworth had a reputation as just the kind of place a dressmaker could find a bookie.

Ready-made dresses from the 1928 Sears, Roebuck & Company catalog

After World War I the dressmaking business declined as inexpensive, mass-produced clothing in more casual style became the norm. Small's Department Store closed in 1928. Services of dressmakers like Madam Hall may have been needed for lavish weddings and formal occasions, but fewer fancy events occurred as the Great Depression changed the social fabric of the country. By the time the stock market crashed she was 62 and in need of some income.

Carrie realized she could turn one of her hobbies into a new career. She'd been stitching quilt blocks in the late 1920s. Being an obsessive collector she aimed to make one in every pattern. 

Most of her blocks are in the Helen F. Spencer Museum of Art
at the University of Kansas

The periodical publishing world was flooded with quilt patterns from about 1926 to 1940. She later wrote she little realized "the magnitude of the undertaking," but she made more than 850 blocks before she abandoned the task in the mid-1930s.

The Tonganoxie Nine Patch
Tonganoxie is a town 20 miles from Leavenworth, Kansas

Madam Hall developed a lecture about the history of quilts illustrated with her blocks. During the Great Depression she drove to nearby Kansas towns with the quilt patches packed in a suitcase and wore a Colonial dress of her own design. Another marketing idea: Creating an original block named for the town where she was speaking.


As her knowledge of quilt patterns grew she found herself conversing on the subject frequently with friends who, perhaps exasperated with the topic, suggested she write a book. The suggestion lay dormant until she discussed the topic with another Kansas quiltmaker, Rose Kretsinger. They found they had each been considering such a project and decided to collaborate. 

Photography by Mary Ellen Everhard must have cost 
quite a bit.

The quilt book, Carrie's index to patterns with a history of quilting by Rose, may have been another money-making idea, but it was the Great Depression. Little money seems to have accumulated in anyone's accounts.

The deluxe first edition---maybe 10 printed.

I do think Carrie (and probably Rose) paid a printer to publish the first edition of The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America in 1935. The Caxton Printers in Caldwell, Idaho, seems to have done subsidized books at the time. To add to everyone's financial problems Caxton burned to the ground in 1937, probably destroying many books authors had paid for. And she had a serious house fire the following year.

Once the book was out Carrie donated the quilt blocks to the art museum at the University of Kansas.  By the time she sent the last group she was 71; she no longer needed them for quilt talks as she felt traveling the circuit was too tiring.

Ben Hur's Chariot Wheel

Her finances were in terrible shape at the end of the thirties. In 1941 Carrie Hall was forced to leave Leavenworth due to a financial scandal. She had long had difficulty handling money. She'd borrowed  from friends and from the accounts of the clubs of which she was treasurer. The organizations demanded repayment when losses were discovered. Carrie at 75 with no cash assets sold her book collections, her  house and rental property and moved to Rigby, Idaho, ostensibly to stay with a newly widowed sister for the summer. But she never returned to Leavenworth.

She soon asked the art museum for the temporary return of her quilt blocks as she intended to make "a few bright colored quilt patches" and give a few quilt talks to start off a quilt business for her sister in Rigby. Sister (probably Agnes) needed the money, she confided, and she knew making quilts would help her sister's morale. She did not mention her own finances. Money may have been a life-long difficulty but morale was never one of Carrie Hall's problems.

She next turned to a new career using her knowledge of costume and sewing expertise. She began selling figures dressed in period costumes. The business, based in her last home in North Platte, Nebraska in the 1940s and '50s, prospered for several years.

See an article on Carrie's doll dresses by Laurie Baker in Doll Collector magazine:

Carrie, with her usual enthusiasm and craftsmanship, made hundreds of dolls. She remarked on working sixteen hours a day, but allowed that she no longer was chipper after a long work day. In late 1945, even after a serious illness, she talked of plans to enlarge and hire employees.

She died on January 5, 1955 at the age of eighty-eight of chronic heart disease. She was buried in the Smith Center cemetery near her family homestead.

Carrie Hall was an entrepreneur, an entertainer and a heck of a seamstress---many of us quilts professionals today have followed in her footsteps.

Without the embezzling----and no gambling. Both very bad ideas, Carrie.

Here is a link to the quilt block collection at the Spencer Museum:

Cardinal Points may have been one of Carrie's own designs.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Fancy Stores in Philadelphia

Advertising card from a Philadelphia shop for fancy goods
operated by Mrs. George M. Baker. 
Mrs. Baker seems to have sold paper goods.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a Fancy Repository in London in the 1850s.  There must have been women like Emma Wilcockson in the United States who ran needlework shops with sewing supplies and patterns for fancywork. But the words Fancy Repository seem to mean nothing on this side of the Atlantic.

What would such a shop have been called? I read the 1837 Philadelphia city directory looking for clues. I found many references to "Fancy Stores" and "Fancy Goods," about half of them linked to men and half to women.

"Fancy store" could refer to anything however. Fancy was a popular concept in the early 19th century. The Library Company of Philadelphia has many photos of mid-19th century businesses. The G.A. Schwarz Toy & Fancy Emporium (Wholesale & Retail) sold statuary, ceramics, toys---fancy stuff.

Fancy Goods & Novelties---again toys.

Photo by  Frederick DeBurgh Richards
Library Company of Philadelphia
Fouth Street & Chestnut, commercial neighborhood where many 
of the Philadelphia fancy shops were located

Women would have been more likely to have run shops that sold needlework so I picked out the woman-run businesses in Philadelphia.

Here is the list:
Amanda Pitcher Fancy Goods 67 Cedar
Eliza Gaffney fancy goods 148 S 11th
Mary Hoguet  fancy goods 80 s 4th
Mrs S Hart & Son fancy goods 120 Chestnut
                Hart & Brother, fancy goods 32 S 6th, h 120 Chestnut
Mrs. E Dean fancy goods NE 11th & Chestnut
Mary Fargundus fancy store 341 S 4th
Louisa Grant fancy goods 4 Arcade
Mary Laycock, fancy goods 59 Chestnut
Ann McGuigan fancy store 146 S 11th
Eunice A Taylor fancy store 151 Walnut
Corner of 2nd and South Streets

I chose one woman with an unusual name to see if I could find more about her and her goods. Mary Collins Hoguet was an American who married a French refugee. She was born January 15, 1797 in Philadelphia. Her husband Auguste Fran├žois Hoguet was 25 years older, born in Paris on August 1, 1771 before the French Revolution of 1789.

Hoguet clock labeled "Hoguet Le Jeune"
[Hoguet the younger]
who may have been Auguste's father.

His family were clockmakers, tradesmen to the aristocracy. France's ever changing politics dictated Auguste's emigration to Philadelphia some time after the birth of his last French child with wife Louise Angeligue LeProvost in 1810 (she lived until 1864 long after his marriage to Mary.)

Auguste Fran├žois Hoguet
Mary was his third wife

Mary Collins Hoguet's first child Augustus was born (and died) in 1817 so it's thought they were married about 1816 when she was about 20. Auguste was a jeweler and clockmaker in Philadelphia. He became an American citizen in 1821. Their six surviving children were born between 1818 and 1829.

Photograph of a Chestnut Street clock shop (at right) in 1843 by W. Mason,
Library Company of Philadelphia
Shop owners usually lived above the first floor store.

Hoguet financial affairs were obviously in disarray by 1837 when we find Mary operating her fancy goods store. Were Auguste (now aged 66) supporting her and their six children she would not have been working. The year 1837 was the beginning of a nationwide financial crisis known as the Panic of 1837 so the Hoguets (living together or apart) were certainly not alone in their distress. The directory does not list Auguste.

Mary's shop is also listed in the directory for 1839 so she must have had some success to persist in a difficult time. Auguste is back in Paris in 1845, perhaps divorced from Mary, says his biography. The 1860 city directory lists Mary Hoguet as the widow of Augustus F., living at 110 Jacoby. Son Francis is in the furniture business. He served as a First Lieutenant with the 110th Pennsylvania Infantry during the Civil War. Son Louis was a successful druggist in Bucks County and Joseph a boiler maker in Philadelphia according to the 1863 directory. Her sons must have contributed to Mary's support as that directory lists her as a "gentlewoman" living at 1212 Buttonwood.

Chestnut & 4th in the 1890s

She died in Philadelphia on February 10, 1866 at 69. Mary and several of her children are buried in Woodlands Cemetery there with no reference to their French father.

I found little about Mary's business. What I found about her personal life seems to be consistent with what we can assume about women-run businesses. She worked because she had no support from a husband, women's most reliable economic base at the time.

I didn't find any Philadelphia shops that sound like the repositories in London. Philadelphia was not London (as many visitors at the time would be glad to tell you) and it just may be that Philadelphians could not support such specialty stores. There must have been a demand for patterns and supplies but perhaps one bought them in general stores or dry goods shops or from women who operated business from their homes.

Fancy goods is an awfully broad category. 
Here it refers to glassware and china.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Selling Patchwork Patterns: A Fancy Repository

Women selling needlework in the New Jersey booth at an 1864 
fundraising fair in New York City

Some questions this blog hopes to answer:

1. How long have people been selling patchwork patterns?
2. How long have people been selling quilt kits?
3. How long have women been making a living supplying needleworkers?

The answers are probably all the same: As long as people have been stitching patchwork and quilts.

A reference to buying a paper quilt pattern in 1835 from a Delaware woman:

Phoebe bought her pattern card at a charity bazaaar, a typical place (then and now)
for women to exchange needlework.

The Empty Purse by James Collinson, about 1850. 
Tate Museum Collection.
Painting with a moral of an English woman at a church fair at St. Bride's Church in Lonodn.

St. Bride's

Being a Pre-Rafaelite, Collinson painted everything
in great detail. Notice the ball pincushion.

It's hard to figure out Collinson's moral but we get a view of the kinds of needlework and paper items available at charity fairs on either side of the Atlantic. 

Patterns also were available from commercial establishments in London. One entrepreneur was  Emma Elizabeth Keytes Wilcockson (1829-1871) who operated a Fancy Repository with her husband Herbert near Tottenham Court Road in the 1850s &  '60s. Her primary business seems to have been marking for embroidery. By 1856 she noted: " I have issued from my establishment upwards of 60,000 square yards of traced and perforated muslin for embroidery.” 

Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine April, 1865
Dagmar Star (perhaps named for Princess 
Alexandra's sister who
married the heir to the Russian throne in 1866)

Mrs. Wilcockson also sold patterns for patchwork.  
A feature in an 1865 ladies' magazine showing the Dagmar Star advised readers:
"Mrs. pieces of patchwork arranged in this pattern, as well as pieces of stiff paper or cardboard ready cut, and silk for completing the work. The pieces may be obtained at her establishment."

You could buy a pre-cut kit for the star or paper templates with silk to cut yourself.

The neighborhood on Tottenham Court Road. 
The shop was at 44 Goodge Street and later 46, both buildings gone.

If you could not drop by Emma would "send you the pattern for a trifle."

Emma and Herbert Wilcockson's Fancy Repository was an all-purpose needlework shop selling fabric, thread, marked patterns for embroidery, kits for making what-nots and  knicknacks ("smoking caps with the leaves cut out and gummed on the cloth ready for working")

An 1860 advertisement for a free catalog.
She featured "Initial Letters in Twenty Different Styles" to embroider here.

Typical published embroidery pattern

Emma explained how to use her paper patterns:
"Trace your pattern on tissue paper. Ink over the design, and when dry tack the paper on the material ...when finished tear the paper away. "
Husband Herbert (1827-?) was a solicitor, a printer and a publisher. While working as a lawyer he was also proprietor of the Repository, although this may have been a legal nicety and Emma was the actual proprietor. In 1857 she published a book Embroidery: Its History, Beauty, and Utility: With plain instructions to learners (Darton & Company, Holborn Hill)I haven't been able to find a digital copy of this book or her catalogs.

1861 ad in Mrs. Beeton's magazine on household management.

Emma Wilcockson was skillful at using print to promote her pattern business. She had regular features in the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine and advertisements (hard to distinguish between the two) in other periodicals.
"Ladies and the Trade supplied with the Newest Designs. Better Materials than any other House, at Mrs. Wilcockson's, 44, Goodge-street, Tottenham-Court-road, London"
Emma and Herbert had five children to support. Annie, Frank (born about 1856) and Ernest are three of them.

The Sandringham Patchwork Pattern,
published by the Domestic Magazine in 1863.
Sandringham was the home of the Prince of Wales &
Alexandra who married in 1863.

 20th-century Pennsylvania version of 
Sandringham in velvet from Stella Rubin's shop

Many of you readers know how hard it is to run a needlework business and the Wilcocksons had financial difficulties. Herbert declared bankruptcy (twice as far as I can tell, in 1862 and 1867---or the process dragged on for five years.)

"Herbert Wilcockson...Printer, Manager of the business of a Printer, and
Dealer in Berlin Wool and Fancy Goods...has been adjudged bankrupt."

Unfulfilled orders had been piling up. 

In 1866 the Domestic Magazine announced they were severing their connection with Emma Wilcockson due to "numerous complaints."

Like the Wilcocksons,  Domestic Magazine publishers Samuel & 
Isabella Beeton were a husband/wife publishing team, but far more successful. 
Their Domestic Magazine published patterns for clothing and
 fancy work from 1856 to 1879.

Emma is found in the 1871 British census. She apparently died that year at 42. I'd like to know more about her and her Fancy Repository. And: 
Were there similar establishments in the U.S. in the 1860s? 

A Fancy Repository in Durham, England about 1905.
Needlework in the right hand window.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Quilt Marking for Hire

Stuffed work quilting, mid-19th century

We can break down quiltmaking tasks into many steps - the basic two are patchwork and quilting. Within each are subcategories such as quilt marking.

Wholecloth quilt, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Wool on one side, cotton on the other.

Marking the quilting design is particularly important in wholecloth quilts in which the quilting is the major decorative technique. These quilts are marked with the all-over designs before they are basted and put in the quilt frame.
Esther Wheat's wholecloth quilt in the collection of the 
Smithsonian Institution

Wholecloth quilt 1790-1810, New England,
Collection of the  International Quilt Study Center & Museum

The quilting designs are difficult to photograph.

Linda Baumgarten's drawing of quilt 

But Linda Baumgarten has been drawing the patterns in wholecloth quilts using a computer-assisted-drawing program, revealing the complexity of the designs.

Quilt marking was also a drawing skill. And as we shall see in this blog every part of quiltmaking had a commercial value. 

In 1822 Sarah Snell "Went to Mrs. Briggses to draw a feather on a bed quilt."
She may have drawn feathers as a favor or in trade but it is also
possible she was paid for her art.

Wholecloth wool quilt date inscribed 1833. One of the
latest of these popular New England style bedcovers that I have seen.

Mrs. Littleford would "draw for work in the most elegant patterns"
in Lexington in 1817. She'd mark a bed quilt (coverlet) or a toilette.

Early 19th century Toilette from Stella Rubins's shop

We might call a toilette a quilted dresser scarf.
These were quite the fashion in the first quarter of the 19th century.

Whitework bedquilts survive with dates throughout the 19th century
(and into our own times). 

Wholecloth white cotton quilt date-inscribed 1849 by Elspeth Duigan.
Collection of the Smithsonian Institution

Elspeth's quilt is charming but not what one might term skillfully drawn. She probably marked it herself or with the help of friends and they might have marked it in the frame as they quilted it.

Recent Mennonite whole-cloth quilt from Ephrata, Pennsylvania

When we worked on the Kansas Quilt Project in the 1980s we learned much about quilt marking as a marketable skill. Sara Reimer Farley's chapter in our book Kansas Quilts & Quilters describes a family of Mennonite quiltmakers who worked together on wholecloth quilts, which were sold.

Helena Peters Ewert (1881-1962) lived in Hillsboro, Kansas. With an ill husband she quilted about 100 wholecloth plain-colored quilts for diversion and for sale. She quilted by herself. "Since she was being paid she was obligated to provide a consistently fine piece of work." Stepdaughter Marie Ewers Regier (1899-1982) who was only about ten years younger than Helena was the quilt marker in the partnership.

Sara Farley described Marie's marking process. She made a homemade light table by opening her dining room table and putting a piece of glass where the table leaf would go. A lamp under the table provided the tracing light. "Working in her spare time, Marie could mark a full size quilt in two weeks."

Anna Calem was another woman in the Hillsboro partnership. She hemstitched the quilt edges before Maria Peters added a crocheted edge treatment, a finish usually done for crib quilts.

Mennonites were not the only quilt markers working well into the 20th century. We heard stories in northern Kansas of women who were well known in their quilting communities for their drawing skills. Whether they were well-paid is a different story.