Making a Living Making Quilts: A Historical Perspective

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Professional Quilters in Colonial Annapolis


"Quilting work of all kinds performed at the subscriber's house in Annapolis, in the best and newest Manner, as cheap as in London; by a Person from England brought up in the said Business."
Ad from Symon Duff,  May 24, 1745, Maryland Gazette

Quilted silk petticoat
1750-1799
Metropolitan Museum of Art

"Advertizes at this time that he has a person at his house who can do quilting."

Simon himself was a house builder, but he advertised that someone in his home was a quilter, who
performed one step in the process of making a bedquilt, the quilting. In Duff's day it was likely that the professional quilter did fancywork for petticoats and underskirts, vests and waistcoats and for furnishings like bed hangings and valences.

Toile valence or pelmet


Quilted items are recorded in earlier Maryland inventories. Henrietta Maria Lloyd of Talbot County died in 1697. Her inventory itemized one "mourning [morning] gown and quilted petticoat" and in her lodging room "1 bed and its furniture and vallences and a large quilt."

In the 1930s Melita Hoffman painted this watercolor of a gown
and quilted petticoat in the Metropolitan Museum's collection.

Quilted clothing and bedquilts were so fashionable in Annapolis in the 1740s that several professionals advertised their services. 
"Quilting, Plain or Figur'd, coarse or fine, perform'd by the Subscriber...Anne Griffith." December 27, 1749.

"Quilting of all Kinds, whether fine or coarse, such as Bed-Quilts, Gowns, Petticoats, &c. performed in the best and neatest Manner, by the Subscriber, at her House in Annapolis, as well as in England, and much cheaper."
Sarah Monro, July 26, 1745. Maryland Gazette.
Sarah seems to have had the services of an English quilter who had been sent to Maryland as a convict, an indentured servant. Said servant was apparently unhappy with that situation for in April, 1746 Sarah placed an advertisement for a runaway: 

"English convict Servant Woman named Elizabeth Crowder, by Trade a Quilter." 

Elizabeth was tall, if round shouldered, about 40 with gray hair. She seems to have recently cut her hair and might be wearing "a Tower," possibly artificial hair. She absconded in a "blue quilted Coat, "perhaps of her own making. 

Detail of a painting about 1750 
The New Song by Jan Jozef Horemans II
in the Netherlands

About 18 months later Elizabeth was working for herself and advertising quilting services under her own name.
"Elizabeth Crowder, Quilter (Who lately liv'd with Mrs. Carter)....performs all sorts of Quilting in the best Manner, and at the most reasonable Rates: Good Petticoats for Eight and Ten Shillings a Piece, and coarse Petticoats for Six Shillings."


I found much of this information in the MESDA (Museum of Southern Decorative Arts) Craftsman Database, searching for words like quilting and quilter.

A coarse petticoat?

They have digitized an index card file on early American craftspeople.




Detail of a bedquilt in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution

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