One of the people Adeline contacted in 1864 was Sarah Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, who, as well as providing her signature, also promptly wrote up “the very beautiful idea” in her magazine. Hale explains how it is not only the signed pieces which tell a story:
Each autograph is written, with common black ink, on a diamond shaped piece of white silk (placed over a diagram of white paper and basted at the edges), each piece the centre of a group of colored diamonds, formed in many instances, from “storied” fragments of dresses which were worn in the olden days of our country. For instance, there are pieces of a pink satin dress which flaunted at one of President Washington’s dinner parties; with other relics of those rich silks and stiff brocades so fashionable in the last century.
And, as Hale explains in her later Manners, Happy Homes and Good Society All the Year Round (1868), there was meaning in their arrangement too:
Then comes the intellectual part, the taste to assort colors and to make the appearance what it ought to be, where so many hundreds of shades are to be matched and suited to each other. After that we rise to the moral, when human deeds are to live in names, the consideration of the celebrities, who are to be placed each, the centre of his or her own circle! To do this well requires a knowledge of books and life, and an instinctive sense of the fitness of things, so as to assign each name its suitable place in this galaxy of stars or diamonds.
As for the process, conservator Elena Philips explains that, after examining the seams along the quilt top, it can be seen that “first she stitched the individual diamonds into blocks, then connected the blocks into columns, and finally seamed the columns together across the entire width. In total, she cut and stitched 1,840 individual silk pieces to create the quilt… [and used] more than one hundred and fifty different silk fabrics.”
This is just one example from the Metropolitan Museum’s superb collection of 151 American quilts and coverlets, more about which you can read in curator Amelia Peck’s American Quilts and Coverlets in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009). We are also selling a print of the “autograph quilt” in our online shop (though be aware that the signatures will likely be too small to be legible!).