1812 Quilt–A Letter to Catherine Macomb

IMG_5925Dear Catherine,

My name is Kerry. This will seem an odd letter to you, since I am writing across the years from 2014. I’m writing about the song you wrote, as you watched your husband, Sandy, fight in the War of 1812.

It’s nearly 200 years since you wrote your song, “The Banks of Champlain,” to express your feelings about the Battle of Plattsburgh. You may be surprised that I know your song but, in fact, it moved many people and your words live on.

It was published in a book in 1842 and people sang it and passed it on by word of mouth—it was that memorable.  Then, in the mid-1900s, more than 100 years after your death, a famous man recorded it.

What does that mean, “recorded it”? Well, it’s complicated; let’s just say this man, Pete Seeger, sang your song in a way that meant people could listen to it any time and anywhere they wished.

I like the song so much, I spent several weeks embroidering the words on a quilt that I am making to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Plattsburgh. In a way, I felt I got to know you very well during the time I spent stitching. I thought about some of the ways our lives are similar, and ways they’re very different.

I have so many questions I’d like to ask! Were you really in Plattsburgh, watching, as the battle was waged? How frightening that must’ve been. Where were your children? I know that you had twelve little ones, including an infant born just a couple of months before the battle. Were they with you? Where did you live? How did you manage?

As I sewed by the fire, I imagined you sewing by the fire. What did you turn your hands and thoughts to, while your husband and Thomas MacDonough made their plans? Did you make a small quilt that Sandy could carry with him, as he fought? Did you have a little cat who played in your lap and wanted to bat your thread? I did.

IMG_1309You wouldn’t recognize Plattsburgh now, although some of the houses would look familiar. There are streets and buildings with the names Macomb and MacDonough on them! Both men are considered heroes here.

Some things, though, haven’t changed at all. The lake and the mountains are still beautiful. Autumn is still glorious. The War of 1812 brought, eventually, a lasting friendship with the peoples of England and Canada.

Sadly, another thing that hasn’t changed is that we still go to war—men and even women, now. We haven’t fought on American soil since a civil war in the 1860s. I won’t tell you about that—it would break your heart.

No, now we seem to fight wars in far-off places. My husband fought in a place in Southeast Asia that you may never have heard of. Right now, even as I write this, Americans are fighting in wars.

We don’t stand and watch our loved ones fight now, as you did, but that doesn’t stop the worry and fear. And the death.

In fact, the same famous man who taught me your song wrote another song about war. In that song, he asked, “when will we ever learn?”

It’s a good question, isn’t it?

Sincerely,

Kerry

­March 3, 2014

Plattsburgh, New York

_________________________________________________________

 Notes on the embroidery

As mentioned in a previous post, I transferred the words of the song, in the font I chose, using the freezer paper method. I made the printing color quite faint and the embroidery stitches cover the printed words nicely.

I started the embroidery of the song on January 23, 2014, and experimented with different color threads and different stitches for a couple days. When I made the decisions about what I wanted to do, I set myself a stint of doing at least one of the 24 lines each day. I finished on February 25.

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33 thoughts on “1812 Quilt–A Letter to Catherine Macomb

    • Sure! The font is Edwardian Script in size 50, which meant the capital letters were about 5/8 inch tall. The stitch is very basic back stitch, with a French knot thrown in here and there.

  1. How wonderful you are to keep to your schedule ( with the invaluable assistance of one cat) and finish the words in one month. Bravo. Your letter to Catherine is delightful and very moving. Is there any way you could stitch it in to a pocket in the quilt? If not, have you thought about printing out a little booklet, based on your posts, to accompany the quilt? It would be wonderful for someone to find it there one day. By the way, I haven’t been able to listen to the song yet. It doesn’t seem to be on Youtube, or anywhere else on the internet for that matter.

  2. The quilt is coming along nicely.
    And your letter makes me think how much things have changed since 1812…and how much they haven’t!

  3. As long as people are ruled by their huge egos there will always be war. Sad, isn’t it?
    I love, love, love the embroidery! The font is gorgeous and your work impeccable!

    • Thanks, Duni! I have found doing the embroidery much more appealing than I expected to. After I finished the panels of the song, I kept wishing I had more embroidery to work on so . . . I added more to the quilt! I’ll show you if I ever get it done!

  4. Kerry,
    I enjoy the creative methods you use to preserve (and simultaneously teach us about) history.
    Nice approach, writing a letter back through time to the songwriter.

    “War is an evil thing; but to submit to the dictation of other states is worse. . . . Freedom, if we hold fast to it, will ultimately restore our losses, but submission will mean permanent loss of all that we value.”
    —Thucydides (460–c. 401 BC)

  5. Utterly beautiful in every way! A true labour of love. You should be proud in the part you have played in making sure the song and it’s message live on. Creativity at its best!!

    • Thank you so much! It’s true–I’ve sort of adopted this song and want more people to know it. Even locally, right where it was written and the battle was fought, very few people have ever heard of the song.

  6. This is beautiful. Both the quilt and the connection you have with the song and this woman from history. What an incredible project! I bet this is a quilt that will be treasured forever 🙂

    • I hope it will be beautiful. I love the part with the embroidered song but I’m not so sure about the part I’m working on now. Fingers crossed–you’ll be seeing more of it, I’m sure!

  7. I love love love this post! So often when I am quilting (or weaving or knitting..) I feel the connection to the women in the past who did this same craft, but I have not a certain individual in mind, just a “crowd of witnesses.” What a lovely way to honor her.

    • It has been a very moving experience for me. I’ve known that song for a long time because I’m very interested in folk music. And now, to find a way to put the song together with a quilt! Wow! And to have snippets of the history of the woman’s role–too cool.

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