I wrote recently about a quilt I’ve started. I’m going to use this blog to chronicle my progress, mostly so I have all the details in one place. If you’d like to read along, I’d love your company, as well as any feedback you have!
I’m making the quilt as part of a challenge to design quilts to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The rules for the 1812 quilt challenge are basically that the finished quilt has to be 70 inches by 30 inches (the so-called cot-to-coffin size) and that it be made with an eye to the use of fabrics, techniques, and designs that might’ve been available to quilters in the early 1800s.
My own desire was to make something that featured hand quilting and that would let me incorporate the words of a song I love, which happens to be about the War of 1812. This song, “The Banks of Champlain,” is said to have been written by the wife of the commander of land forces in the Battle of Plattsburgh, as she watched the battle from shore.
Two men, Commodore Thomas MacDonough and Brigadier General Alexander Macomb, are given credit for the American victory in the Battle of Plattsburgh, which was fought on Lake Champlain and its shores. It was Macomb’s wife, Catherine, who apparently wrote the song. The song, as I learned it from a recording by Pete Seeger, has 6 verses. You can find the words at the end of this post.
My plan for this long and narrow quilt is use a large white-on-white quilt design at the top. The Great Seal of the United States was first used publicly in 1782 and, according to one of my quilt books, patriotic designs were popular in the early 1800s.
I found a simplified version of the Seal online and took the page to my local office supply store, to have it blown up to the size I want. I will put my off-white fabric panel over this and trace the design to be quilted.
The bottom half of the quilt will be composed of six panels, with the verses of the song hand-embroidered on them. I’ve been working on these and will show you more when they’re done in a few days! I used the freezer paper and printer method I wrote about earlier to print the song words on fabric.
Between the Great Seal on top and the song verses on the bottom, I’ll embroider, in larger letters, the title of the song. At this point, I’m experimenting with process pieces, to figure out how I want the embroidery to look. I have printed the words out in a large font and will, again, need to trace the shapes onto the fabric.
When the embroidery is finished and I’ve traced the Seal design on the fabric panel, I’ll piece these elements together, with fabric sashing and borders, to make the quilt top. I haven’t chosen the fabric for sashing and borders yet and suspect that may be the hardest part of the whole project for me. We do have a local quilt shop that sells reproduction historical fabrics so that should help!
This is where I am so far. I have everything sketched out on graph paper and have been holding myself to embroidering at least one line of the song each day. More soon!
The Banks of Champlain–attributed to Catherine Macomb
Twas Autumn and round me the leaves were descending
And naught but the drumming bird tapped on the tree
While thousands their freedom and rights were defending
The din of their arms sounded dismal to me.
For Sandy, my love, was engaged in the action,
Without him I value this world not a fraction,
His death would have ended my life in distraction
As mournful I strayed on the banks of Champlain.
Then turning to list’ to the cannons loud thunder,
My elbow I leaned on a rock near the shore.
The sound nearly parted my heartstrings asunder,
I thought I should meet my dear Sandy no more.
But soon an express all my sorrows suspended,
My thanks to the Father of mercies ascended,
My Sandy was safe and my country defended,
By freedom’s brave sons on the banks of Champlain
Oh the cannon ceased firing, the drums were still beating,
As far to the northward our foes were retreating.
My friends and my neighbors each other were greeting,
With songs of delight on the banks of Champlain.
New York, the Green Mountains, Macomb and MacDonough,
The farmer, the soldier, the sailor, the gunner,
Each party united had pledged their honor,
To conquer or die on the banks of Champlain.