Quilts at Arlington House in Birmingham, by Beverly Hicks Burch

Last week I had the pleasure of going on an outing with my mom and one of our dearest friends, Betty Wittmeier. Mom has been really sick lately, so the chance for her to get out for a pleasure excursion was really great. Betty and I like to sneak off whenever we can and get into what ever trouble we can Smile

A few weeks ago Betty alerted me to the fact there was a special quilt exhibit at the Arlington House here in the Birmingham area. The quilt exhibit is running at Arlington until the end of August and if you go on Thursday like we did you can make a reservation for the luncheon served at 12 noon and at 1:00 PM.

The yummy menu for our luncheon was a marinated vegetable salad, seared beef tenderloin over hoe cakes, braised cabbage and choice of Oreo cheesecake or vanilla ice cream with praline sauce. Can you guess which one I picked? A hint? Well, I’m Southern and it was hot as Hades outside! Yes, nice cold yummy vanilla ice cream and that heavenly praline sauce. Chef Jason was gracious and came out and visited each table as the luncheon was winding down.

Arlington House is the only Antebellum house in the Birmingham area and is now part of the Birmingham Museum system. The house was built before the Civil War (1845 – 1850) by Judge William S. Mudd one of the founding fathers of the Birmingham area. At the time of its building the area was called Elyton. Arlington House is all that is left of that area now because Birmingham grew up around Elyton and absorbed it as part of Birmingham.

Arlington itself has a colorful history including a period of occupation by Union troops who used it as a headquarters as they made plans to burn the University of Alabama (oh, no they didn’t, but oh, yes they did!). Union General James Wilson entered the Elyton area and met Judge Mudd at his home in the Mudd Sitting Room. Since they were both Masons, Gen. Wilson spared Arlington, but using it for quarters, his troops did destroy Confederate barracks at the University in Tuscaloosa and in nearby Irondale, Tannehill and the Selma furnaces.

After the war Judge Mudd sold the house in 1884 to Henry F. DeBardeleben for $10,000, but the new owner never lived in the house choosing instead to live near the iron furnace he owned in West Birmingham. He sold the house two years later to Franklin H Whitney for $36,000. Whitney, a former Union soldier who never lived in the house used it as a boarding house. Whitney then sold the house in 1902 for about $12,ooo to Continental Gin president Robert S Munger who took the run down home and repaired and updated it.

The home is furnished with wonderful, beautiful period furniture and antiques. It’s two stories with four large bedrooms upstairs. The day we visited it was stifling hot with a heat index close to 100 degrees. It was a reminder that back in the “good old days” there was no such thing as air conditioning! There were lovely Birmingham Belles serving as hostesses and I couldn’t help but feel for them in their beautiful hoop skirted dresses. I was dressed in jeans, lightweight summer top and fashionable sandals…and I was drenched to the bone. I can only imagine had I lived in the era of Scarlett, I might have been a rebel of a different kind…

Even with the heat, the house was packed with visitors and our luncheon was sold out. Everyone really seemed to be enjoying themselves…that is except for some visitors from up North who went from room to room and very loudly and pointedly in  Northern accent made sure everyone else knew…”this is all just fiction…it never happened…” I’m sure Judge Mudd would be quite relieved to know those Yankee soldiers never commandeered his home and wrecked havoc on the area. It was kind of like that dream Pam Ewing had, don’t you know? Oh, yeah and the house those “informed” visitors from up North was standing in…it was just a figment of your imagination…

Well, one thing is for certain…the quilts are very real, so lets take a look at some of them…I made a really big boo boo and forgot to load up my SD card in my camera so I wasn’t able to get as many pictures as I would have liked…

Traditional Log cabin at Arlington

This is a traditional log cabin quilt set in the Barn Raising design. It is seen in the Mudd Sitting Room where Union General Wilson didn’t took over the Arlington House.

Pineapple Log Cabin at Arlington

Here we see another type of log cabin quilt. This setting is call the Pineapple Log Cabin. This piece is made with silk, velvet and embellished with embroidery feather stitching. The quilt doesn’t have batting. It would almost qualify as a “crazy quilt”. It’s also on display in the Mudd Sitting Room.

Soke quilts at Arlington

You may be unable to see the date on these quilts, but they date from the 1930s…about 1936. The pattern is called “Spokes” and it’s a type of album block/quilt. Album quilts are usually made up of blocks that are signed and dated by the makers. These types of quilts were used for fundraisers and people would pay a nickel or dime for their block and their spot in the quilt. Album quilts were also used for commemorative occasions. The quilts see here are displayed in the dining room.

Lone Star at Arlington

This was probably my favorite quilt. A large Lone Star with exquisite workmanship. With a closer look you can see the narrow stripe border, something you don’t normally associated from this time period. The stripe border fabric was imported from India and was a rarity for it’s time. The colors, the piecing, the hand quilting, the unexpected corner checked blocks…everything about this quilt is pure delight. It is truly a work of art.

Sewing Machine at Arlington

And, we’ll end our tour with a delightful discovery! Can you guess what this is? Yes, it is an early sewing machine! Look closely at the very bottom and you can see the pedals. There are two shaped like the bottom of shoes. There has long been a misconception our ancestors hand pieced and sewed everything. Wrong!!

Several years ago I did research on that very topic and was surprised myself to learn that just like us, our ancestors were glad to find tools of efficiency and economy. Just because they lived generations ago, doesn’t mean our ancestors were stupid! They weren’t that different from us in many ways.Our grandmothers had a lot on their list of “household chores” to do and if they could find anything that gave them a few more minutes of time, or a better way of doing something, they were open to it. It was the evolution of life from the pre-industrial era to the modern era where people began to have what is known as leisure time. Without that evolution many of us today would be minus many of our hobbies and would be chained to tedious tasks.

The other surprise was the discovery of machine piecing on antique Amish quilts that were on exhibit in a museum. Of course the machines used by Amish were human peddle powered since the Amish avoid use of electricity.

Another factor that played into our ancestors use of sewing machines to makes their quilts was the “status” factor. You see if you could afford to own a sewing machine there was a certain cache in that and you wanted to be able to show that off. Hence the growing use of sewing machines in quilting. (Look at sewing machines as the iPhones, iPads or tablets of their day and then asked yourself: “Would I deny myself the use of these tools and just use a rotary dial phone because that’s what my grandmother used?”)

Somewhere down the line the fable that all good worthy quilts are totally hand made came into being. Many times I found it was held more by uneducated non-quilters than by quilters. But, when I started quilting in 1986 I will admit there were still many quilters who hand pieced and they tended to look down on quilters who machine pieced. That gradually began to change and I personally saw the change accelerate after a machine pieced and machine quilted quilt won Best of Show at the AQS show in Paducah, KY. Now, that conversion seems upside down and the majority seems to be everything is done mostly by machine. Myself? Well, I am almost a dinosaur because I machine piece, hand applique and hand quilt although I will say there is a growing interest in my house towards machine quilting…especially since Tall & Handsome has taken up quilting.

So, if you use a machine for any part of your quilting, you really do have great-granny and her new fangled contraption like the one above to thank!

© 2012 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved


4 thoughts on “Quilts at Arlington House in Birmingham, by Beverly Hicks Burch

  1. I loved this post! Thanks for sharing your day with us. I love to tour Antebellum homes. We’re “northerners” (not know it alls, though!) so we don’t have many opportunities. This was a beautiful place for a quilt show. Darn! I wish you had remembered your SD card so we could see more quilts!

    We visited the McLean house in Appomattox last month and they had a sewing machine just like that one. I tried to imagine quilting a quilt under that needle. Gave me a headache! 🙂 Even to sew those voluminous dresses on that machine…. We’ve come a long way…….

    • Candy,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post about Arlington and the quilts! They were beautiful and the furniture was just grand! Lovely, beautiful antiques.

      As far as Northerners…I’m going to let you in on a little secret here (well, I’ve actually shared it with my readers in a chapter of The BamaSteelMagnolia Diaries. This is a joint writing/textile art project I’m working on and it was inspired by Mimi Dietrich’s book on the Diary Quilt concept. In a diary quilt you make blocks that tell the story of you life. I decided to take it a step further and write about each block (I’ve always been told I needed to write a book about my life and thought this would be a good start 🙂 ) Chapter 2 is titled: A House Divided Against Itself Will Fall…or Southern Belle and Yankee Puzzle blocks.

      You may have noticed Chapter 2 is represented by two blocks and that wasn’t a mistake. For, you see, I am as Southern as they come. Born and raised in the South, most of my ancestors were Southern for about as far back as I have been able to trace so far (at least before the Civil War and before). The majority of my ancestry hale from East Tennessee around the Smoky Mountains.What a lot of people across this great nation don’t realize is that part of Tennessee was sorely divided…families against families…brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor. Some fought for the Confederacy, some fought for the Union,

      So, when this Southern belle started doing her genealogy I discovered a fact I had to learn how to wrap my head around and eventually grew to appreciate…many, many, many of my kin folk fought for the UNION ARMY! If you’d like to read that particular chapter you can find it here: https://aroundtheblockwithbamasteelmagnolia.wordpress.com/2009/02/07/the-bamasteelmagnoliatm-diaries-chapter-2-southern-belle-and-yankee-puzzleor-a-house-divided-will-fall/

      As far as that sewing machine! I say a hearty AMEN, sister! My mind has spent many hours trying to decode the techniques needed to use that contraption, which was high tech for its day. Like you I can’t imagine HOW a dress let along a quilt could possibly be constructed on that machine without a lot of sweat and toil. I’m thankful for our Berninas, Pfaffs, and other fantastic new machines AND for long arm quilting machines!

      Candy, if you’re ever in Birmingham, stop by and tour the Arlington House. This fall they will be doing dinners (or supper as we say down here in the South). I’m not sure if the luncheons will still be served during fall, too.

      Candy, thanks for stopping by…and next time, I’ll load up that SD card in the camera 😉


  2. I am definitely going to check out that chapter when I get home from work today. My husband and I share a strong interest in Civil War history. You can bet if we get to Birmingham, we’ll be at Arlington House!

    • Candy,

      I do hope you get a chance to visit Birmingham and visit the Arlington House. Remember in the fall they have a dinner program much like the luncheon we attended and they also have Christmas at Arlington. It’s much cooler in her the fall and winter and the house will be pleasant to visit and tour.

      Have a great time and again thanks so much for stopping by Around the Block!


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