Connections to History

Quilted petticoats.

Last Thursday, I posted a series of doors found on the building that houses the Connecticut Historical Society Museum and several of the artifacts on display in the museum. Several comments on that post were from people with memories of cast iron stoves, both wood-fired and electric. History comes alive when we have a personal connection. Personal connections abound in this museum, since it features an exhibit “Making Connecticut” that includes historic and modern references to companies and entire industries that began in Connecticut. The manufacture of bicycles, typewriters, handguns, machine tools, and metal toys; all have roots in my adopted state. The museum itself has roots in my old hometown.

The museum is housed in the former home of Curtis Veeder. The first room that I toured included a history of the Veeder home, and a little about Curtis. Curtis Veeder grew up in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. You won’t find that on a map, Allegheny was annexed by Pittsburgh in the early 1900s. The area is where the Mexican War Streets I featured in Thursday Doors back in 2018 are located. You’ve seen many photos from this area. Sitting across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh, it’s known simply as The North Side and it’s home to The North Shore (where the Pirates and Steelers have their stadiums).

Curtis Veeder was an imaginative child, a mechanical engineer and an inventor. He is most famous for the Bicycle Cyclometer, the first distance-measuring device for bicycles. Veeder went on to invent other precision measuring devices and eventually merged with Root Manufacturing of Bristol, CT. Veeder-Root is still in business, supplying measuring devices to the petroleum industry.

Of the items on display in the various exhibits, three resonated with me quilts, woodworking tools and metal toys.

Connecticut Quilts is a current exhibit at the museum and the connection to me is second-hand. My wife would enjoy it, and I think a couple of blog friends would as well. I’m talking about you Judy and you Stephanie, and a few others I can’t find a link to. I have to admit, I was walking through this exhibit to get to the “Making Connecticut” exhibit, but I was intrigued by a couple of fine points, as well as several beautiful quilts and items of clothing. Clothing? You ask. Yes. Apparently, the term ‘quilt’ in early New England referred to quilted petticoats. If you were referring to the quilt you used for warmth at night, you used the term ‘Bed Quilt’ – who knew? Also, the fact that many quilts and items of clothing were made from scraps of cloth left over from other projects or taken from worn items, reminded me of my paternal grandmother. She had numerous piles of fabric that had been gathered or saved and she often made things from that fabric.

That I enjoyed the woodworking display won’t surprise anyone visiting this page. The photo of the toolbox is interesting because the company referenced is the company that made those tools. A lot of Connecticut’s history is wrapped around companies that made tools other companies used to make things. The planes in the photo that sold, by the dozen, for between 75¢ and $2.58 in 1839, sell at antique woodworking shows today for upwards of $100, even though we have easier ways of cutting those profiles.

Similar to the way many Connecticut companies made tools that let other people make things, two CT companies made toys that let children make things. The one featured in the gallery was the “Stanlo Construction Set.” A construction toy designed to keep the Stanley Works (now Stanley Black & Decker) operating during the Great Depression. Children could build buildings and bridges and add lights and moving parts due to the inclusion of electricity and electric motors. Eventually, children could build bridges and trestles for their electric train sets – does it seem like one little boy was born too late?

While the Stanlo Construction Set never gained strong popularity, 30 miles south of New Britain, in New Haven, Connecticut, the Erector Set was born. The Erector Set had a much more diverse selection of parts, including motors and gears (in even the most basic sets) that let kids like me build things that moved and lifted and spun and, well, yes, caused some damage, but all while learning valuable skills. By the time I was 8 years old, I was building cranes to lift bundles of steel girders for the bridges I was building for my slot car track.

It’s February, and I’m getting anxious to be building something in my shop – I guess it shows.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy some of the pictures in today’s gallery.


71 comments

  1. A friend of mine does some fantastic quilts. Funny thing is, I never would have guessed, growing up with her like a cousin, that she’d ever be interested in it! I was more the wood burning type.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. …and made by hand – mostly – very few women had/could afford a sewing machine (after they were invented)….most quilted fabrics (for bedcovers or clothes) were all stitched by hand: scraps first stitched together and then layered with ‘batting’ and back fabric and then all layers held together, in place by “quilting” by hand…all the tiny, tiny stitches that create the design you see, for example, the solid ecru fabric under the green dress in the top right of your collage. THIS very kind of tedious WOMEN’S WORK is under appreciated by most people because they don’t pay attention to the details and reflect upon just how much time (when candles and oil lamps or fire places were the only light in the room) this took especially when all the other chores were done and, hopefully, the kids were asleep. Sewing circles were a time to socialize and have extra hands to finish projects; small reprieve from the otherwise lonely, tedium. Thanks for this post and photos.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. My wife sews/has sewn enough for me to understand how much work is involved. Both my grandmothers always had a sewing/knitting project next to them in the evenings or on days when they weren’t doing something else. It really is amazing work.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. It is…I am sew glad (LOL) I have a machine and my sister has the humongous machine that actually does the top stitching for quilts (if I ever finish one of my sewing projects, I’m shipping it right to her to use her machine…wait, that would be a great reason to visit her – to top quilt!)
            Anyway…I appreciated your post.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. I might have to ask my brother to scoot over there with me sometime. It’s a 3 hour drive, but he might be up for it. Maybe I can wrap it around a trip where I fly into Omaha. I love these places

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  2. Remember that TV show ‘Petticoat Junction?’ This made me think of that. I have been to several quilt exhibitions. My hat is off to those quilters–beautiful stitch work. I would not have the patience….

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    1. “…and there’s Uncle Joe, he’s a movin’ kinda slow at the junction — petticoat junction.” Yep, I think I remember :-)

      The quilts are amazing. The petticoats and other clothing items were even more impressive, considering the time period.

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  3. This place has no lack of interesting artifacts. The quilted clothing and the quilts are just amazing works of art. Incredible talent on display. I used to have an old Singer treadle sewing machine. Years ago I gave it to our local fabric store where the owner displayed it in the front window, using it to show off fabric and items she had made.
    🐾Ginger 🐾

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    1. Thanks Ginger. My wife still likes to sew on hers occasionally. She likes the motion. With all the attachments that were available, it’s amazing what a talented person could do on one of those machines. I love the mechanics of the attachments. They all run off the vertical motion of the needle bar. They are amazing little machines in and of themselves.

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  4. I grew up on a farm and when there was a special occasion, the area women would gather and create a quilt. I used to love sitting underneath the quilt while the women worked. The stories always intrigued me. Thank you for all these memories. :)

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    1. And thank you, Gwen. You reminded me of how my brother and I used to try to listen in on the card game that our dad periodically hosted. A (mostly family) bowling group would bowl, then play cards on Saturday nights. It rotated, but it was always fun when it was at our house.

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    1. I guess it would be heavy. Then again, those houses didn’t have central heat, so, maybe… Watching my grandmothers sew was fascinating. The both used to always have a sewing or knitting project next to them.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great historical flashbacks with wonderful photos, Dan, and fascinating information. Your final paragraph brought back memories, because we had several Erector sets in my family when I was growing up. I am sure they would be deemed a safety hazard, because I remember lots of sharp-edged metal pieces and small nuts and bolts that could be potentially swallowed.

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    1. Thanks Mike. You must be right about the swallowing hazard, not to mention the hazard after my dad stepped on one of those little screws ;) But, it was so much fun playing with those sets and building things that actually worked.

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  6. Fascinating New England history, and I say again – our ancestors were not only true craftsmen and women but also hearty and imaginative. I also learned something from your adventure because I did not know about the quilted petticoat. It really is amazing to just take a moment and think about how they made everything they used, and they made it to last. Applause to them all! I can hardly wait to see what’s on your woodworking to do list this first spring of your retirement. I’m even excited to see how you finish off your shop. Happy Monday, Dan.

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    1. I figured you would like this one, Judy. I thought of you right away as I entered. Seriously, making everything and, at least with the early tools, either making it by hand or powering the machines by hand. It’s simply amazing.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a museum I would greatly enjoy, too, Dan, so thanks for the peek and the information. I didn’t know about the quilt as clothing but it makes sense especially, as you say, because of the lack of good heat. I did some wood burning when I was growing up and some sewing, but never kept up with either. I had sewing guilt for years, because Mom made lots of my clothes but I never got good enough to enjoy it. I finally shed that guilt, along with a lot of unused material and patterns, when I realized that I wasn’t overspending on clothes. :-) It was a wonderful moment.

    Going through some of the things I’ve saved from childhood, I’ve found a Tinker Toy set and of course, we’ve got lots of Duplos and Legos from when the girls grew up. Great toys for creativity!

    janet

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed this, Janet. We have lots of Faith’s legos/duplos. I ahd to laugh when I read about the Stanlo being used to make trestles for toy trains – that’s exactly what Faith used the Duplos for once she had moved onto Legos. We bought her the Lego train, and she used the Duplos for supports. This was fun that really nurtured creativity.

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  8. Interesting Dan. I did not know petticoats were quilted. I thought women just wore lots of layers back then…or maybe that’s my perception from watching too many old westerns. The CHS has lots of great historical information, which doesn’t surprise me. I would expect your area of the country to be rich with it.

    My brother and I had an erector set, although I don’t remember building anything that moved, let alone a crane. I must have been too busy playing with Lincoln logs and barbie dolls.

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    1. I did not know about quilted petticoats. I guess that’s why I like going to these exhibits, there’s always something to learn.

      I had Lincoln logs. In fact, although it wouldn’t have been historically accurate, I remember using my Erector Set crane to lift the roof boards up onto the top of the house. I think the Erector Set had a long-term effect on me ;-)

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  9. This was fun. I would feel sorry for any woman having to wear those corsets though. The quilted fabric for petticoats was warming for women back then, thank heavens! Though beautiful, I’m still glad I live in a different century.

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    1. I am looking forward to getting the workshop modifications made and things set up so I can work more easily out there. The way this winter is going, it might not be too much longer, although, it’s going down to 5°f (-15°c) Friday night. I don’t imagine I’ll be in the shop on Saturday ;-)

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  10. Enjoyed seeing these patterns and colors and tools of history. I also have good memories of my grandmother hand sewing a quilt with others, while I played in the same room. Your post reminded me of two favorite books, “Johnny Tremain” (apprentice) and “Gone with the Wind” (using curtains to make a dress).

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  11. This was lots of fun. I did not know that about “bed quilts”!
    On IG one fo the things I follow now is the hashtags involving the slowstiching movement: #slowstitch, #visiblemending, #mendingmatters. There is a return to using up scrap again, and some of it is quite beautiful and inventive.
    I know you are not on IG a lot, but I am tagging you with some people you might enjoy looking at — people who fix things mechanically, conservators and just cool fixit peeps. Also the @mpfconservation (which Mitchell monitors even though I post IG for us) will follow you, and tag you when he finds cool peeps who are doing things with woodworking tools.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kate. I keep meaning to start paying attention to IG, but I’m worried about having to find time for it. I appreciate your mentioning this. I don’t know much about IG, I didn’t know there were groups and stuff. I do like following makers, and I haven’t found a good place. I love the mpfconservation blog.

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  12. Dan you did a beautiful job with this post. I’m sorry that I can’t seem to keep up. And I’m happy that I didn’t miss this one. I love quilts. My granny made (only very simple ones) them but always from scraps. She never went out and bought fabric for them. The scraps meant that there were so very many stories in a quilt. I made a few, many years ago. I donated them when I relocated. Anyhow, nice work. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Teagan. I’m glad you enjoyed this. I think the comments like yours is why I wrote this post. Artifacts like this bring back memories of people and stories we like to remember. I didn’t know you made quilts. I think the simple ones like your granny made are the kind we remember. The women who turned dresses into quilts and back again. I’ll be sharing a funny story about that, tomorrow.

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  13. I had to read this post twice because there is so much good stuff and important things. Yes, history comes alive when we have a personal connection. How interesting that the exhibit follows Connecticut industries and companies, then and now. That piece of history must have been wonderful to see. I didn’t know tools were a big industry in Connecticut. You must have been in seventh heaven. And the Erector Set, hubby still has his. Of course I wish Milly were alive to see the quilt exhibit. Bed quilt, dress quilt- it’s fascinating. Thanks so much for this great post, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I know what you mean. When hubby dragged me to the Vermont Marble Museum I was surprised how much I enjoyed it and how much I learned. I think there’s a lesson somewhere in all of this for both of us.

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  14. Thank you for taking us. I want to go there now! Marveling at the quilts. One in particular is absolutely amazing — the one on the right of the caption “not this large or vibrant” really captured my admiration. I spend a lot of time with quilts, but I seldom work on them anymore.
    Fleece or flannel lined trousers may be the modern version of quilted petticoats. I would have been happy to have either last Friday when it was so cold.

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