Rosina’s Cabin

May 26, 2017

“The Old Roelke place” featured in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries is a fictional farm set near Palmyra, Wisconsin. The original cabin on the property plays a key role in the 7th mystery, A Memory of Muskets.

I based the cabin on the one built in the 1850s by a real German immigrant. Henry Gotten and his wife Barbara emigrated from Prussia in 1845.  A decade later, in 1855, the Gottens purchased 80 acres of land about one mile west of the town of Eagle.

Henry cut white oaks and to build a one-room cabin, probably skidding the logs from the woods with oxen.

The building style is traditional German log construction. Gotten chinked the space between the logs with a lime-based mortar.

The cabin site is on the edge of the Scuppernong Marsh, beside a fresh spring. Although the sandy soil was not ideal for farming, in 1860 the US Census indicated that Barbara and Henry and their three children had managed to clear 30 acres and were growing wheat, rye, corn, oats, and potatoes.

At some time after 1860, the Gotten family moved on. Other families lived on the property, but by the time the Department of Natural Resources acquired the property, the cabin was in bad shape.

Happily, the cabin has been restored and is still standing within the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

It was easy for me to imagine Rosina, the character from A Memory of Muskets, seeing this one-room cabin for the first time. When she moved in, the cabin had no windows. She dreaded being isolated in the dark cabin during the winter.

Gotten cabin, back view.

In good weather, she took solace from the open space behind the cabin.

View out the back door.

Over a century later, Chloe is enchanted with the cabin…until she steps inside. As it turns out, all kinds of memories linger there. Can the issues be resolved? Check out A Memory of Muskets to find out.

The Gotten Cabin is located on County Highway N, just north of State Highway 59. It’s a five-minute drive from Old World Wisconsin. On summer weekends you may be able to see the inside, and get your questions answered.

If you visit the cabin, I recommend stopping at the headquarters for the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Southern Unit, which is just a mile or so south on Highway 59. Displays help explain the historical and modern landscape. You can also get information about hiking trails in the area.  Enjoy!

Chloe’s Book Club: The First Four Years

May 15, 2017

The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder is a book I sort of wish I’d never read.

This book was not originally published as part of the Little House series. The manuscript, in penciled draft, was discovered after Laura’s death in 1957. Roger MacBride, a Laura scholar and close friend of Rose Wilder Lane, wrote:  “My own guess is that she wrote this in the late 1940s and that after Almanzo died, she lost interest in revising and completing it for publication.”

The cover art suggests a happy tale. The first paragraphs of the prologue are truly lovely:

The stars hung luminous and low over the prairie. Their light showed plainly the crests of the rises in the gently rolling land, but left the lower draw and hollows in deeper shadows. A light buggy drawn by a team of quick-stepping dark horses passed swiftly over the road which was only a dim trace across the grasslands.  …The night was sweet with the strong, dewey fragrance of the wild prairie roses that grew in masses beside the way. 

Laura and Almanzo are courting, and all is right with the world.

But in Chapter 1 we learn that Laura doesn’t want to marry a farmer:  A farm is such a hard place for a woman. There are so many chores for her to do, and harvest help and threshers to cook for. Besides a farmer never has any money.

Almanzo convinces Laura to give farming a try for three years.

This is how I wanted Laura and Almanzo’s story to end!

The three years (plus an extra) overflow with heartaches and disappointments. Hail storms ruin crops and debts rise. Rose is born, but in an unsettling scene, Mr. Boast (a wonderful character introduced in earlier books) asks the Wilders to give her up in exchange for a horse because the Boasts can’t have children.

Laura and Almanzo contract diphtheria, and when Almanzo disregards the doctor’s advice and gets up too soon (isn’t that just like hard-working Almanzo?), he suffers a setback and never fully recovers. Laura delivers a baby boy who dies before he receives a name.

And the family’s house burns down, with almost everything in it. In the end Laura agrees to continue farming not because it’s been successful, but largely because she sees no other option.

Laura does try to end the story on an optimistic note. It would be a fight to win out in this business of farming, but strangely she felt her spirit rising for the struggle. Still, this was not what I wanted for the young couple.

This dissonance between happy-ever-after and sober reality reflects a major conundrum most Laura fans confront, sooner or later. How much do you really want to know about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life?

In Death on the Prairie, the 6th Chloe Ellefson mystery, I let Chloe experience some of my own ambivalence. Towards the beginning someone asks Chloe if she’s a book person, a TV person, or a truther; and explains:

“Some people don’t want to hear about anything Laura didn’t include in the books.  Some people love the Little House TV series, and don’t want to hear about anything that Michael Landon didn’t include in a show.  And a few people want to know what Laura’s life was truly like.”

“That would be me,” Chloe said. “I’m a truther.” She was a curator, after all. A history professional.

However, Chloe learns a bit too much for her liking, and at the end of the book she’s come to a different conclusion: The scholarship was important, but Chloe wanted to keep Laura as the trusted childhood friend she remembered.

Obviously, a lot of Laura fans don’t agree.  The Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association holds a wonderful conference every two years. And interest in the Pioneer Girl project, including the annotated autobiography edited by Pamela Smith Hill and other scholarly publications, has been phenomenal.

I spent a year digging into Laura’s life while writing Death on the Prairie.  I loved it, but I also learned a few things I wish I’d never learned.

If, like me, you don’t want your foray into Laura Land to end on a distressing note, I recommend Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist: Writings From the Ozarks, edited by Stephen W. Hines. After a great deal of struggle, Laura and Almanzo did create a true home and productive farm in Missouri, Rocky Ridge Farm. It’s a great place to visit.

How about you? Do you want to hold on to the stories as portrayed in the books (or TV shows), or did you devour the autobiography?  Did The First Four Years leave you sad, or simply ready to learn more?

***

Note: I am a former curator and love research, but I am not a Laura Ingalls Wilder scholar. For more academic information, see titles by William Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, John E. Miller, and others. To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, please visit my website.

Chloe’s Book Club: These Happy Golden Years

April 10, 2017

The cover of Happy Golden Years reveals the ending, but the book doesn’t begin happily.  Instead, Pa is driving Laura across the prairie on a bitterly cold day.

Only yesterday she was a school girl; now she was a school teacher. This had happened so suddenly. I remember reading this book as a child and being astonished that a fifteen-year-old could become a school teacher.

The challenges of teaching are dwarfed by the challenge of boarding with a bitterly unhappy couple, the Brewsters. This episode reaches a frightening climax with one of the most memorable scenes in the series—Mrs. Brewster threatening her husband with a butcher knife. Can you imagine being trapped in an isolated shanty while this was going on?

Garth Williams illustration.

The wife was so disturbed that when writing the book, Laura used “Brewster” as a pseudonym for “Bouchie.” This scene is a prime example of why re-reading the Little House books as an adult provides new insights. Chloe’s reaction to this scene in Death on the Prairie mirrors my own:

That particular scene had horrified Chloe as a child. Now, she felt sorry for Mrs. Brewster. Maybe she had post-partum depression. Maybe she had too many children and not enough food. Maybe the lonely frozen prairie was simply too much.

I wonder how many settlers virtually alone on the endless prairie, with nothing to do and nowhere to go and relentless snow and cold, succumbed to despair. This was edgy material in the early 1940s, when the book was published.

However, the depth of misery Laura experiences at the Brewster home makes it all the more rewarding when Laura is rescued…by Almanzo! The author skillfully tantalizes readers with a liesurely description of his arrival:

The (school) shanty trembled in the wind that every moment howled louder around it. Then, …It seemed to (Laura) that the wind had a strangely silvery sound. …She did not know what to make of it. The sky was not changed; gray, low clouds were moving fast about the prairie covered with blowing snow. The strange sound grew clearer, almost like mice. Suddenly the whole air filled with a chiming of little bells. Sleigh bells!

Almanzo and his beautiful horses take Laura away for visits with her family on weekends, each time saving her from spending two wretched and endless days at the Brewster shanty. The weather is often brutal—minus forty degrees, on one trip. Almanzo’s willingness to come reveal his feelings for Laura, and his fortitude and skills suggest that he’d be a fine life partner.

Of course, all does not proceed smoothly between the two. Laura initially sees Almanzo only as a friend of Pa’s. Unsure of his intentions, she gets the courtship off to an awkward start by making it clear that she does not consider him a beau.

Garth Williams illustration.

When she’s back in town with her family after the school term ends, she watches as many of her friends go for sleigh rides up and down the main street. Almanzo waits a while before showing up—cleverly, I think, choosing to give her time alone to think about whether or not she wants a beau.

She tried not to mind being forgotten and left out. She tried not to hear the sleigh bells and the laughter, but more and more she felt that she could not bear it. Her wistfulness as she watches her friends flash by once again makes his arrival that much sweeter.

Sleigh rides give way to buggy rides, and slowly, the two get to know one another. “You’re independent, aren’t you?” Almanzo asks at one point.  “Yes,” said Laura.

Garth Williams illustration.

I love the image of two shy people getting to know each other on long drives through the country. Laura didn’t provide much detail about their conversations, which is just fine.

On one of my visits to De Smet, a guide gave me directions to an area where Laura and Almanzo went for some of their long drives.

This book, originally intended to be the final book in the Little House series, begins to show us Laura the woman instead of Laura the girl.

Garth Williams illustration.

I have mixed feelings about the wedding scene. Part of me is delighted that Laura and Almanzo have reached the point of commitment. Part of me is sad because the child I had known through the first books is gone.

How about you? What did you like best (or least) about the book?

***

Note: I am a former curator and love research, but I am not a Laura Ingalls Wilder scholar. For more academic information, see titles by William Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, John E. Miller, and others. To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, please visit my website.

Next up for discussion:  The First Four Years.

Flax To Linen

March 15, 2017

I like to include folk art or craft in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, and A Memory of Muskets is no exception.

memory-of-muskets

Rosina, the main character in the historical thread, is a newly-arrived German immigrant with little time for purely decorative handwork, so I decided to feature the process of creating linen. The contemporary mystery features Old World Wisconsin’s Schulz Farm, and processing flax into linen is a major interpretive activity there.

The Schulz Farm.

Linen is made of fibers from flax plants, specifically Linum usitatissimum. Flax plants for use in cloth production are generally harvested before they are quite mature—just when the stem begins to turn yellow.

Flax in Schulz garden. Photo by Loyd Heath.

Flax in Schulz garden. (Photo by Loyd Heath)

Once plants have been pulled, and seeds removed, a process called retting starts to break down the hard inner core within the stem. Some families put their stalks in shallow water. If an appropriate stream or pool wasn’t available, they relied on dew-retting. It was essential to watch this closely and retrieve the plants at just the right moment.

Dew retting flax in France. (Wikipedia)

Dew-retting flax in France. (Wikipedia)

Once retted, a hard outer shell still surrounds the flax fibers. The woman pictured below is pounding stalks in a flax break, which crumbles the shell into bits.

LC-DIG-prokc-20587 (digital color composite from digital file from glass neg.) LC-DIG-prok-10587 (detail of digital file showing single frame from glass neg.) LC-DIG-prok-00587 (digital file from glass neg.)

(Library of Congress)

Handfuls of the broken flax are held against a scutching board (center in the photo below) and scraped with a wooden knife to remove as much of the hard bits as possible.

schulz-flax-demo

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

The flax is then cleaned by pulling it through hackles made with sharp iron teeth.

02-10-1410012-406

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

The tangled bits left in the hackle are called tow (as in, a tow-headed child) and saved to spin into twine.

dscf1737

Once clean, the long fibers resemble human hair (as in, a flaxen-haired beauty).

02-11-0605003-118

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

When enough flax had been cleaned, it was time to carefully spread fibers around the distaff on the spinning wheel. The photo below, labeled only “Germany,” shows women with flax wheels. The distaff is to the upper right above each wheel, with a wide band holding the flax fibers in place on each.

(Author’s collection)

Here’s the flax wheel at the Schulz Farm at Old World Wisconsin. The spinner draws fibers down from the distaff; the wheel twists them into thread and winds them on the bobbin.

dscf1742

The small bowl holds water. Spinning with wet fingers helps bind the individual fibers together.

A good spinner could make fine thread for delicate work, or something coarser, based on the fibers and need.

dscf1744

Once lots of thread has been spun, the wrap threads are measured (on a pegged warping board, just barely visible in the back of the photo below), then carefully put onto the loom. This process is known as dressing the loom, or warping the loom. Each individual thread must maintain an even tension.

An interpreter weaves on the loom at the Schulz (German) farm.

This is the process Chloe agreed to take on in A Memory of Muskets. (Photo by Loyd Heath)

Finally, it’s time to weave. You can see the woven linen cloth wrapping around the lower beam in front of the interpreter.

Schulz House, Old World Wisconsin

Linen cloth is labor-intensive to make, but sturdy. The artifact monogrammed shirt below was the inspiration for the monogrammed shirt Rosina makes in A Memory of Muskets.

dscf1731

dscf1732

According to textile historians, flax has been used in garments for over 4,000 years. That boggles my mind, considering how involved the process is. I was introduced to the process when I worked at the Schulz Farm way back in the ’80s.

kae-spinning-at-schulz-web

Kathleen Ernst, Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

I’m glad I had a chance to spotlight it in a Chloe mystery.

Special thanks to my talented friend Loyd Heath for permission to use his photographs.  See more of his work HERE.

A Revolutionary Giveaway – Winners!

March 9, 2017

Congratulations to Chris Swoboda!  Chris’s name came out of the hat as a winner in my Revolutionary Giveaway.  The other six winners entered via my Facebook Author Page.

Chris, please contact me privately via my website form.

Thanks to all who entered!

For more information about Gunpowder and Tea Cakes:  My Journey With Felicity, click HERE.

For more information about Betrayal at Cross Creek, click HERE.

A Revolutionary Giveaway!

March 7, 2017

Did you know I’ve written two American Girl books set during the Revolutionary War? In addition to Gunpowder and Tea Cakes: My Journey With Felicity, I wrote a mystery called Betrayal at Cross Creek.

I’m celebrating by giving away seven sets of both books, signed and personalized. To enter, leave a comment below by midnight, Wednesday March 8. Winners will be announced on Thursday afternoon. Winners will be selected at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page.

Good luck!

Chloe’s Book Club: Little Town on the Prairie

February 28, 2017

Welcome back! I’m glad to be picking up the book club where we left off.

By chance, I attended a book signing at my local indie bookstore last week, and spotted this on the “Staff Picks” table:

img_4419

How about you? I hope you’ll share your reaction to the book in the comments section below.

As a child, this was not one of my favorites—probably because Laura was growing up faster than I was. I’ve found the book much more satisfying as an adult.

One of the most poignant moments for me comes on page two. When Pa introduces the idea of Laura getting a job in town, Ma reacts: “No, Charles, I won’t have Laura working out in a hotel among all kinds of strangers.”  Pa responds, “Who said such a thing? …No girl of ours’ll do that, not while I’m alive and kicking.”

I know now that Laura did work in a hotel, and at a much younger age, when the family went through hard times and ended up at the Masters Hotel in Iowa. It’s telling, I think, that Laura presented that topic as she did in this book.

That moment is followed in the next chapter by one of my favorite scenes in the entire series. While walking with her sister Mary, Laura reflects on their improved relationship. Mary had always been good. Sometimes she had been so good that Laura could hardly bear it. But now she seemed different.

Little House in the Big Woods Garth Williams

Our first glimpse of the girls in Little House in the Big Woods. (Garth Williams illustration.)

Laura has recently shared how annoying she used to find Mary’s behavior. Here’s Mary’s confession:

“I’m not really (good). …If you could see how rebellious and mean I feel sometimes, if you could see what I really am, inside, you wouldn’t want to be like me.  …I wasn’t really wanting to be good. I was showing off to myself, what a good little girl I was, and being vain and proud, and I deserved to be slapped for it.”

Laura is shocked by this confession, and so was I! Suddenly Mary, who’d been pretty one-dimensional in earlier books, jumps off the page as a complex and, to me, a more sympathetic character. To further the theme, later in the book Laura confronts the reality of Mary going off to college, and realizes how much she’ll miss her older sister.

A different “sisters moment” provides another of my absolute favorite scenes in the chapter titled “Sent Home From School.” When the vindictive teacher Miss Wilder orders young Carrie to rock her seat, which has come a little loose from the floor, Carrie is soon exhausted. Laura is so angry she takes over and soon is loudly thumping the seat back and forth.

school

Garth Williams captured the moment beautifully.

The girls were ultimately sent home from school, a punishment worse than whipping with a whip. Shocking! I think Ma and Pa handled it well.

Again, a little behind-the-scenes knowledge adds layers of complexity to this chapter.  Eliza Jane Wilder was destined to become Laura’s sister-in-law; Laura’s daughter Rose spent extended time with her. Still, Laura painted Eliza Jane as a petty tyrant who seems to torment Carrie in an effort to provoke Laura. That must have led to some interesting family conversations.

As in all the Little House books, the landscape is evoked in vivid detail, and becomes a complex character itself.  “The prairie looks so beautiful and gentle,” (Laura) said. “But I wonder what it will do next. Seems like we have to fight it all the time.”

Laura is just as skilled at describing the town itself, and her reaction reveals much about her:  The town was a sore on the beautiful, wild prairie. Old haystacks and manure piles were rotting around the stables, the backs of the stores’ false fronts were rough and ugly.  …The town smelled of staleness and dust and smoke and a fatty odor of cooking. A dank smell came from the saloons and a musty sourness from the ground by back doors where the dishwater was thrown out.

We’re getting toward the end of the series, and this is a transitional book.  Laura gets her first glimpse of Almanzo’s beautiful horses, her first job, her teaching certificate. She’s in her mid-teens, and her girlhood is fast slipping away.

Little Town on the Prairie

PS – I stayed at a B&B in De Smet while working on Death on the Prairie,  and the proprietor told me that bluish-gray cats are not uncommon in town today. Perhaps they’re descendants of the kitten Pa brought home?

# # #

Note: I am a former curator and love research, but I am not a Laura Ingalls Wilder scholar. For more academic information, see titles by William Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, John E. Miller, and others. To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, please visit my website.

DeathOnThePrairieCoverWeb

Next up for discussion:  These Happy Golden Years.

Colonial Girls At Work

February 23, 2017

While doing research for Gunpowder and Tea Cakes:  My Journey With Felicity, I discovered that a few girls in colonial Williamsburg may have been doing work I once thought was open only to boys.  Cool!

Certainly, girls were involved in traditional roles. I had the chance to ask interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg questions about cooking, for example.

The kitchen at Great Hopes Plantation.

The kitchen at Great Hopes Plantation.

And I saw several young women working in a dressmaker’s shop. Milliners specialized in making hats, and mantua-makers stitched gowns and accessories. Like all skilled trades, this work usually required an apprenticeship.

Version 2

An experienced seamstress would hire younger women, and teach them her skills.

Colonial Williamsburg has a modern program that allows men and women to become apprentices and learn a specific skill.  After learning the basics, apprentices graduate to journeywoman or journeyman status. The most skilled may one day become masters and run a shop.

img_3187

Hard at work.

 

img_3188

An example of the fashions produced in such a shop.

I also saw several women who were apprentices in nontraditional roles. The young woman below was in the 2nd year of a 7-year apprenticeship at a joinery.  Joiners produced things like window frames, doors, and shutters.

Version 2

Apprentices usually started at age 14. They had to be tall enough to work at the bench, and spent 12-hour days in the shop.

 

img_2482

A master craftsman would rule a shop like this. A journeyman, who had some skills but had not finished his or her apprenticeship, would help train the apprentices.

I discovered female apprentices learning to make wagon wheels,

img_2575

An apprentice watches as the master craftsman checks her saw.

 

Version 2

The final product.

and tinware.

Version 2

The man interpreting here told me that he’s not aware of official female tinsmith apprentices in the colonies, but he has seen women mentioned in records—probably all family members who learned the trade from their husband or father.

 

img_2628

Some of the finished products, ready for sale.

And this woman was helping a man make a saddle in the military artificer’s shop.  (An artificer, pronounced ar-TI-fi-cer, had the skills to make different items the army needed.)

img_2703

“There were women in almost all the trades, if help was needed and they could do the work,” one interpreter told me.

If you had lived in colonial times, would you have wanted to become an apprentice? What skill would you like to learn?

* * *

Gunpowder and Tea Cakes

To learn more about Gunpowder and Tea Cakes:  My Journey with Felicity, click here

 

Bringing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Stories to Life in Quilts – Part 2

February 21, 2017

DeathOnThePrairieCoverWebI’m proud to have talented quilt teacher, designer, and historian Linda Halpin visit Sites and Stories. Last time, Linda wrote about how she came to study the quilts referenced in the famous Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

She also helped me out when I decided that a quilt would be at the center of Death on the Prairie, the 6th Chloe Ellefson mystery.

 Here’s Linda’s story.

* * *

It turns out my connection to Laura wasn’t done. Many years after Quilting With Laura was published, I met Kathleen Ernst in one of my classes. Kathleen had written several books for the American Girl company. My daughter was a big fan of American Girl. It was a line of book characters and dolls that taught history through different eras. Their stories were rounded out by books on cooking, period clothing, and current events. The dolls encouraged imagination as they taught history.

Fast forward several years after that first encounter to when Kathleen contacted me about a new project she was working on. She had expanded her writing to include books for adults with a line of mystery books based on a woman named Chloe Ellefson. Chloe worked at a living history museum, and like the American Girl characters, she brought artifacts to life by studying what life was like when the artifacts were used, who used them, how they were used, what life was like at the time.  It was all the things I loved about Little House and American Girl, but this time geared towards adults.

Chloe Ellefson mysteries

I love Kathleen’s story telling style. She interweaves story lines back and forth from historical to present day as Chloe investigates her artifacts. Kathleen’s new project was a story in which Chloe is given a quilt said to have been made by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and she sets out to investigate if this could really be true. What Kathleen wanted from me was a quilt that could help tell Chloe’s story, one that incorporated the blocks Laura talked about in her books.

My prior investigation told me that there were only three patterns Laura mentions by name:  Nine Patch, Bear’s Track, and Doves in the Window. My quilt research taught me that at the time Laura was learning to quilt, patterns didn’t have specific names the way they do today. They were simply called ‘patchwork.’ It wasn’t until 1889 that patterns began to be identified by different names, mostly as a marketing tool for Ladies Art Company, a mail order catalog where people could order patterns.

Prior to that, patterns were spread person to person, or blocks were printed in women’ magazine of the day, such as Godey’s Ladies Magazine. Interestingly enough, sewing was so much a part of every day life that only an ink drawing of the blocks were given. No templates, no directions. Women were able to draft their own patterns and figure out the construction on their own just by looking at the pictures.

Goody's Lady's Book, 1840 (Wikimedia Commons)

Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1840 (Wikimedia Commons)

When Laura was learning to quilt in the 1860s and ’70s, patterns weren’t identified by specific names. By the time she sat down to write her stories in the 1930s and on, pattern names were widely used. What she called Doves in the Window in her stories could have been one of several different designs, as several different patterns share that name. When writing Quilting With Laura, the intrigue for me happened when I tried to determine just which Doves in the Window pattern Laura had used for her wedding quilt. There was no real quilt to look at. Very early on in their marriage, a house fire destroyed most of Laura and Almanzo’s belongings, including her wedding quilt.

At the time my book was published, I found what I thought for sure was the correct Doves in the Window pattern. It was one that, like Bear’s Track, had lots of bias edges. It’s the one I could see Caroline making Laura take out over and over again until she had it right. And it looks like doves. Surely that must be the pattern she was talking about.

Doves In The Window

Doves In The Window

Or, could it have been this one, also called Doves in the Window, but that was very similar to Bear’s Track?

Doves in the Window block.

Doves in the Window block.

 

Bear's Paw block.

Bear’s Track block.

That would certainly explain why she called it Bear’s Track in On The Banks of Plum Creek, but Doves in the Window in These Happy Golden Years.

But wait! Could it have been this one –

quilt block by Linda Halpin

– very similar to a block made by Laura on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum in Burr Oak, IA?

dscf3297

Quilt block on display in the Master Hotel, Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum, Burr Oak, IA.

In making Chloe’s Quilt for Kathleen, I had the opportunity to create a little mystery of my own. For the front of the quilt, I combined Nine Patch, the pattern both Laura and Mary made (and the pattern Mary continued to make even after she lost her eyesight), Bear’s Track, and the Doves in the Window that resembles the Bear’s Track.

I used reproduction fabrics that mimicked the fabrics Laura would have used as a child. I even used the construction technique seen so often in antique scrap quilts of piecing together tiny fragments of cloth until they were large enough to cut out the small pieces needed to make the block.

When I was done, I had created this quilt for Kathleen.

Linda (on the right) and I took the gorgeous quilt she made for me to the Ingalls family's dugout site on Plum Creek (small sign in the background marks actual spot). Just because.

Isn’t it beautiful?  Linda (on the right) and I took Chloe’s Quilt to the Ingalls family’s dugout site on Plum Creek. Just because.

But for my mystery, I couldn’t resist also including the Burr Oak Doves in the Window variation, as I felt it told a story of its own. The back of Kathleen’s quilt shows a variation of the Burr Oak block (lower left in photo below), as well as another Doves in the Window design. The Burr Oak block is very similar to a pattern I discovered in an old quilting book from 1929, where author Ruth Finley collected patterns and stories and recorded them in one of the first books written on quilting. In the Finley book, Doves in the Window appears as the block shown top right below.

Doves in the Window

Is it possible that this was the pattern Laura made? Was she trying to recreate it from memory, thereby making one so similar to the Finley block by making the Burr Oak block? We may never know, but it sure is fun to speculate!

Linda Halpin

* * *

Linda Halpin has been teaching quiltmaking across the United States and Canada for over 40 years. She is one of a handful of teachers certified by the Embroiderer’s Guild of America as a Quiltmaking Instructor. In addition to Quilting with Laura, which focuses on hand piecing, the way Laura would have done, she has also written several other quiltmaking books as well as The Little House Sampler pattern, which is geared toward today’s machine piecing techniques. She was invited both in 2015 and 2016 by Andover Fabrics of New York to make quilts for them using their Little House on the Prairie inspired lines of fabrics, available in quilt shops nationwide. To see more of Linda’s work, or to learn about the classes and lectures she offers, visit her website at www.lindahalpin.com.

DeathOnThePrairieCoverWeb

 

Learn more about Death on the Prairie, and all of the Chloe Ellefson Mysteries, on my website.

Gunpowder and Tea Cakes

February 15, 2017

Gunpowder and Tea Cakes is my first book about Felicity Merriman, the American Girl character who lives during the Revolutionary War. It also features a modern girl who travels back in time and meets Felicity in her home town of Williamsburg, Virginia.

ae_fbc64_fl_1

This was a special project.  I’ve been visiting Williamsburg for a long time!

That's me proudly wearing a tricorn hat in Williamsburg when I was about six years old.

That’s me proudly wearing a tricorn hat in Williamsburg when I was about six years old.

Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum—the largest in the world! Historians saved many old buildings there and restored them to look as they did in Felicity’s time. Interpreters wearing reproduction clothing help visitors understand what life was like for the people living there over two hundred years ago.

img_2877

Williamsburg was the capital of the Virginia colony. Some of the things that happened there led to the Revolutionary War between Great Britain and the American colonies. After American Girl invited me to write this book, I went back to Colonial Williamsburg to do research.

In this picture, a man who is ready to fight the British is arguing with a man who wants to try harder to work problems out peacefully.

A volunteer soldier who is ready to fight the British argues with a man who wants to work problems out peacefully. This type of program helps visitors understand the conflict.

I learned a lot about the Revolutionary War, but I also needed to know everyday things, such as how to describe the city…

img_2546

Two riders travel down the Duke of Gloucester Street in front of old homes and shops.

and Felicity’s father’s store.

img_2506

The items on the shelves all might have been sold in the Merrimans’ store.

I visited busy kitchens,

img_3081

An interpreter demonstrating cooking over an open fire.

and shops.

img_2517

The shoemaker at work.

 

img_2647

This lady is an expert wigmaker.

I especially wanted to learn what life was like for girls like Felicity in the 1770s.

Version 2

Flying a kite on the Duke of Gloucester Street.

 

img_2888

The type of doll Felicity might have played with.

I also paid attention to what kids visiting today were most interested in.

img_2653

A young visitor asks an interpreter a question at the apothecary.

 

img_2443

Two girls getting into the spirit of colonial life in their pretty hats!

As I explored Williamsburg, I started imagining scenes I wanted to write.  Since Gunpowder and Tea Cakes is a time-travel book, I also imagined how a modern girl might react to everything.

And I asked lots and lots of questions.  The interpreters I met were great!

img_2840

Before writing the book I did lots of other kinds of research too. But we’re lucky that Colonial Williamsburg exists as a living museum, to help provide just a glimpse of an important time in America’s history.

img_3227