Image from the What a Load of Scrap blog.
The Quilting Party.
The times of old — the good old times of frankness and honesty and lowness of heart! Their memories linger around us like sunshine upon rains, or like the incense of flowers whose beauty has been trampled beneath the feet of the spoiler. We fear that the glorious days of New England have gone by; that the characteristics of her children have departed; that the luxuries and the vices and the fashions of strangers have usurped the beautiful plainness and simplicity, the freedom, the generosity and bravery of New England. A false and evil spirit has gone over the land, undermining the foundations of her strength, and desoiling her real beauty; lopping away the noble oaks of her forests; the rough featured but useful products of her own sod, to give place to the graceful but worthless exotic. It has penetrated every where; from the thronged village to the isolated farm-house; and the plough has been exchanged for the insignia of professional life, and the spinning wheel for the piano.
‘Tis an evil change, and we fear there is no going back to our original ground. Strange that the young farmer, he whose association of life’s purest and dearest enjoyments are with the homesteads of his ancestors should so readily leave the beaten and proven track of honorable industry, for the uncertainty and danger and mortifications of more fashionable pursuits. Strange, that he can thus leave the hills and streams of his boyhood, the blue skies that bent like a blessing above his childhood, the sanctuary of his neighbors, the playmates of his infancy, the companions of his opening manhood, and the very graves of his fathers! Where will he again find the deep affection of the friends he is leaving? Where again will the eye of love beam so kindly on him, and where will the grasp of friendship be as warm and as cincere as his own loved birthplace? Does he hope to find them in the gay circle of fashionable folly? Miserable will be his disappointment. For him there will be vexation, and changing hope, and fear, slight, indignation, resentment and hate, confidence misplaced, and vows broken, and affection outraged. It is the solitude and awful beauty of nature, that heart answers to heart, thrilling with a passionate touch the mysterious cords of human sympathy, rather than the artificial beauty and the heated atmosphere of fashionable existence.
Reader! were you ever at a quilting party — an old fashioned quilting party? If not, you will do well to read our description, which of course falls far short of the reality; and this reality, as the thing is now nearly obsolete, you may never have the satisfaction of witnessing. ‘Tis one of the pleasantest things in the whole round of a country life to attend one of these gatherings-together of the young and light-hearted. Let it be understood in the first place that these quiltings are indispensable. The quilts, &c. must be made; the girls must have their “things ready” as the phrase is; or they will assuredly meet with no attention from the marriage-seeking young men. The preparation of the requisites of domestic life is a sort of implied declaration of readiness to receive the address of the lover, and to encounter the perils of matrimony, and is understood and acted upon accordingly.
When a quilting is to take place, the respectable young ladies of the neighborhood are all invited; there is no aristocracy; no singling out of favored individuals. They assemble early at the dwelling of their friend, and immediately fall to work, as if their very lives depend upon their exertions. They consider it absolutely necessary to forward their work in such a manner as to prevent any material encroachment upon the hilarity and mirth of the evening. The evening is looked forward to with a great deal of satisfaction, and many a fine eye glances impatiently as the slowly setting sun, whose tardiness seems to mock the feverish anticipations of the fair quilters.
Night at length comes; a New England winter night — for the quiltings are usually in the long evenings of the winter — with skins, clear, beautifully clear, in the dark coloring of the sky, moonlight resting like a smile upon the white lustre of the snow, streaming through the naked branches of the wild forest trees, and flushing like pale fires upon the distant icy hills. The merry sound of bells now rings upon the ears of the fair listeners within doors.
“The fellows are coming,” cries some eager voice, and a sudden smile steals like electricity around the apartment. There is a moment of rapid preparation, a hasty glance at the small mirror, a trembling adjustment of curls and combs — and then all are seated demurely at work. One after another the “fellows” arrive, until the apartment is literally crowded with as merry a company as ever laughed away an evening. The girls however, remain perseveringly at their work, their fair hands stooping almost to the outstretched quilt before them, now and then exchanging a sly glance, or a smart reply or a meaning nod, with the fine, healthy looking gentlemen around them. They are soon interrupted, and one complains of the loss of her thimble, another that her thread had been taken away, and another that the “fellows plague her so that she wont work nor touch to,” and in a few moments Babel-like confusion is effected, very much to the satisfaction of all parties.
The owner of the quilt now interferes, and carefully removes the quilting frame, blushing all the while at the good natured jokes of the young men relative to herself, her quilt, and lover, who — if she is so fortunate as to have one — is pretty sure to be present. The scene is now all life and gaiety. In one part of the room may be seen the student of the old village Doctor, amusing and astonishing by his quotations of Latin — and laughing at the amazement of his friends. Hard by the schoolmaster of the district, a privileged and favored personage, you may know him by his pale cheek and fair hands. He is leaning familiarly over the chair of a pretty girl, the fairest in the room. She is telling his fortune by the old and curious method of palmistry, tracing out with her own pretty fingers the lines of good and bad fortune which intersect the hand of the master. — There are strange blushes on her cheek, and they steal at times even to her neck, with a variable and beautiful play of coloring. — She knows that the eye of the general favorite is upon her, and her young heart thrilling with a new sense of joy. Nor will her pleasant dream be broken in upon by disappointment. There is honest love, but nothing of the deceitful and designing in the gaze of her lover.
Meanwhile the sports of the evening go on. The “Blind Man’s Bluff,” with its odd encounters and very ridiculous mishaps, play of “Pawn,” with its kindly pressure of fingers, the whirling of the pewter plate, in default of catching which before its revolution ceases, the delinquent, if a male, is doomed to kiss all the fair company, and vice versa if a female. Then, too, there is a mock marriage ceremony of leaping over the broomstick — a pretty certain precursor of that more imposing ceremony whose bonds are broken only by death.
Image from the Living Archives website.
But the evening passes away almost insensibly and the time for departure arrives. The sleighs are speedily laden with the merry company, and the tingle of bells, and the loud cheers from one vehicle to another, and the rich toned laugh of the fair travelers, break upon the calm cold air of midnight. There is nothing on earth like a sleigh-ride by moon-light, when the path is smoothly worn, and the horse springs onward as freely and lightly as if he were running wild in the desert and rejoicing in his untamed freedom.
We can duly appreciate the blessings of re?ned society; we know how much the rugged asperities of our natures are softened by an intercourse with those whose minds and feelings have received the polish of education. Our sole object in the above hasty sketch has been to convince those who from education and habit have learned to hold in contempt the simplest pastimes of our ancestors, that the pure thrill of pleasure may be awakened in the rustic farm house as well as in the gay halls of fashion, where the chastened and rich light lends a deeper bounty to the fair brow with it wreathing tresses, and adds a milder lustre to the laughing eye, and where music melts upon the ear, like a very dream of melody and love.
[New England paper.
Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Feb 14, 1849