Posts Tagged ‘The Smuggler’s Secrets’

Caroline’s Quilt – Part 2

March 24, 2015

It took a long time to piece or appliqué a quilt in Caroline’s day.  In Traitor in the Shipyard, friends help Caroline and Rhonda complete a beautiful quilt top. In the new Caroline mystery, The Smuggler’s Secrets, Caroline presents the quilt top to her cousin Lydia:

“Oh, thank you, Caroline.” Lydia’s eyes were shining. “Sometimes this little cabin feels quite dreary. Now I have something cheerful to look at every single day.”

But the quilt itself was not complete. A quilt is like a sandwich, and the pieced quilt top was the top slice of bread.  Caroline and Lydia also needed a bottom slice of bread, which was often plain cloth.

In places with cold winters, the middle layer was usually made of wool. In the spring, farmers sheared their sheep.  It was a lot of work to clean the wool, pick out snarls, and comb out the fibers.

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This 1883 painting shows a girl combing wool to remove tangles and get all the fibers running in the same direction. (Girl Carding Wool, by Maria Wilk)

Once enough wool had been cleaned and combed, the layers of the quilt could be put together. Women spread the bottom layer on a big wooden frame, arranged the combed wool, and then carefully put the pretty quilt top in place.

Then the three layers needed to be stitched together. These are called quilting stitches.

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The women who made this quilt stitched straight lines through the blue and white blocks, but added a pretty quilted pattern in the open areas.

The frame was propped up at a height that was comfortable for women to sit and sew.

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A Quilting Party, by Enoch Wood Perry, 1876.

A lot of stitches were needed to hold the layers together. In Caroline’s day, girls and women often invited friends to quilting bees. The work went faster, and everyone enjoyed catching up on the news while they sewed.

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Quilting Bee, by Henry Mosler. It was painted about 1890, but shows an earlier time.

With luck and hard work, the quilting might be completed in a day. In the 1813 painting below, the woman on the left is removing a quilt from a quilting frame, and it looks as if a party is going to begin.

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The Quilting Frolic, by John Lewis Krimmel.

Quilting bees aren’t as common as they were two hundred years ago, but  they still sometimes take place. The photo below was taken at my house in 1983, when I worked at Old World Wisconsin. My friends and I had pieced a quilt top at the historic site, but the season ended before we had a chance to finish it. It was fun, and the finished quilt was beautiful.

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Whenever I see an old quilt, I wonder about the girls and/or women who made it. I know it took a lot of hours to complete, but I hope they also took joy in producing something both useful and beautiful.

Caroline’s Pocket

March 5, 2015

Did you know that pockets weren’t always sewn into clothes? Girls in Caroline’s day most likely used tie-on pockets.

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In this painting, the woman has pulled up her skirt so she can reach into her pocket, which is tied on over her petticoat. (Temptation: Fruit Stall, Victoria and Albert Museum.)

In The Smuggler’s Secrets, my new mystery, Caroline has a problem when she travels to Lydia’s farm:

Caroline climbed to the loft and dug through her valise. She had no trouble finding her handkerchief, but… “Oh, feathers!” she said, frustrated.

“What’s wrong?” Lydia called.

Caroline came back down. “I forgot to bring a pocket. I do wish that pockets were just sewn into our skirts!” That would be so much nicer. She had two pockets at home that she’d stitched of cotton and decorated with embroidery. She usually tied one around her waist so it hung over her petticoat, hidden under her skirt. A little slit in the seam of her skirt let her reach into the pocket.

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In this political cartoon, you can clearly see the big pockets two women are wearing on top of their aprons. (Scandal Refuted, or Billingsgate Virtue. Collection Guildhall Library, Artist C. Williams, 1818; Reference Number v9045412, Collage 18969)

Caroline usually wears her pocket beneath her skirt, but she chooses to wear one over her skirt during a quilting bee. Doing so let her keep thread, thimble, and needle case handy.

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In this painting, a girl has reached beneath her apron to get coins.

In The Smuggler’s Secrets, Caroline makes a new patchwork pocket using scraps of cloth. I was inspired by this original pocket, which is on display at the Genessee Country Village & Museum in New York.

pocket Genessee Country Village

If you’ve read The Smuggler’s Secrets, you know that a pocket like this one got Caroline into trouble!  (Susan Greene Historic Clothing Collection, Genessee Country Village & Museum.)

Next time you put something in your pocket for safekeeping, think how much more complicated it was to tuck things away in Caroline’s time!

Coming Attractions – 2015

January 3, 2015

Happy New Year! I hope you have lots of good things on the horizon. Here are some things I’m looking forward to in 2015:

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1.  New books! I have three titles being published this year.

First, due February 28, The Smuggler’s Secrets:  A Caroline Mystery from American Girl.

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The War of 1812 is still raging when Caroline goes to visit her cousin Lydia and Uncle Aaron’s farm deep in the woods. While there, she finds evidence that someone is smuggling precious supplies to the British. She can’t believe anyone would help the enemy during wartime! Even worse: could the traitor be her own uncle?

Writing this mystery let me explore some fascinating topics that didn’t fit into the original Caroline stories. I’ll have lots more to share about Caroline’s adventures here on Sites and Stories in the coming weeks, and on my website too.

Second, due in September, A Settler’s Year:  Pioneer Life through the Seasons, from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. This book features lots of first-hand accounts from Wisconsin’s early Yankee and European settlers, and is illustrated by gorgeous photos taken by Loyd Heath at Old World Wisconsin. The combination is, I think, quite evocative.  This will be my first nonfiction title in over a decade!

And third, the 6th Chloe Ellefson mystery, Death on the Prairie, will be published by Midnight Ink in October. I haven’t quite finished that one, so—more later.

2.  Connecting with readers!

I love meeting readers in person, and am currently scheduling library visits and other events for the coming year. You can always see what’s going on by visiting the calendar page of my website.

I also have some new ideas about connecting with readers online this year, here on Sites and Stories and on my Facebook page.

All details will be shared in my quarterly newsletters. Not on my mailing list?  Sign up here.

And, if you haven’t visited my website lately, you’re missing lots of enhanced features to help readers explore the world behind every book.

3.  Thanking readers!

Tradition of Deceit:  A Chloe Ellefson Mystery, published last fall, was my 30th title. I was too busy to celebrate, and to thank readers for making that benchmark possible. Within the next week or so I’ll post details of a very special giveaway.

I’ll also be sharing more behind-the-scenes glimpses of the stories that inspired Tradition of Deceit here in the coming weeks and months.

Tradition Of Deceit Cover

Thanks for staying connected, and happy reading!