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American History Through The Eye Of A Needle ~ Part IV

Aug 17, 2007
Only one form of American needlework is wholly American, without root or kin in the Old World; that is our pieced patchwork. Oh, patches are nothing new.

Ancient Egyptians sewed fabric to fabric, and in medieval Europe women applied cloth to cloth. Patches are as old as poverty. In rags and patches the first workers came to America. Patches belonged to workers, to the poor, low-class subjects of the ruling classes. Patchwork was always a task, not an art.

Poverty came across the ocean with the immigrants. Here on the farthest rim of the known world, it became direst need. The smallest scrap of cloth was precious to a woman who could have no more cloth until the trees were cut and burned, the land spaded and sown to flax or to grass for sheep, then next year the wool sheared, washed, combed, carded and spun, or the flax pulled and carefully rippled, retted, dried, beetled, scutched, heckled, spun, and at last the loom made, the warp threaded, the shuttles wound and the cloth woven.

In a wilderness thousands of miles from home, depending only upon themselves for their very lives, these poor immigrants learned the inescapable fact that a person is the only source of the only energy that preserves human life on this planet. With their minds and hands they made houses, they produced food, they wove cloth and built towns, and each ceased to think of himself as a bit of a class in a nation. They knew that each one was creating the neighborhood, the town, the colony.
To women who knew this, every precious scrap of cloth had a new meaning; they thought of what the small pieces, together, could make. And they began to make a pattern of them.

From this simple beginning, in the crazy quilt and the Log Cabin pattern. American women developed the whole vast treasure of American patchwork, pieced and appliqued, that we are still developing.

From scraps and bits they made the English Rose, the French Lily, the Dutch Tulip, the Irish Chain, the Indian Tree of Life, and with patches they recorded American history, all of it, from Bear's Paw and Tomahawk to California Poppy and Hawaiian Pineapple.
They quilted - and quilt - their patchwork in webs of tiny stitches; they added touches of embroidery and bits of lace. In originality, in beauty and meaning, nothing else in the whole world's needlework compares with American patchwork.

Yet for more than a hundred years American students of folk arts did not notice it; they were admiring the Old World's peasant crafts. Only recently have curators of American museums seen American needlework.
Yet in 1776 its spirit of freedom was nearly two centuries old.

For more than a year British ships had blockaded Boston and British troops had occupied the hungry city. Americans had fought and died at Lexington, at Concord, on Breed's Hill and at Charleston. The Green Mountain men had taken Ticonderoga. British armies were coming down the Hudson and a British war fleet with troopships was nearing New York harbor when at last, losing all hope of freedom with peace, the gentlemen of the Continental Congress soberly risked their lives, dipping a quill pen in an inkhorn and signing their Declaration.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain un-alienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness... We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America ... appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.".
About the Author
John Wigham has been a professional author and editor for 20 years and is a co-founder of Patterns Patch an online cross stitch club dedicated to counted cross stitch. The website has a small team of writers who are devoted to our cross stitch club and enjoy writing about their hobby.
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