An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

The Save All Quilt [ca. 1880]

 

"Made by Mary Louisa Snoddy. Called 'The Save All,' for no waste in material. The two borders were of her dresses Mother had but tore up to make quilt."

The statement "Made by Mary Louisa Snoddy" does more than just identify the maker. Mary Kate abbreviated information elsewhere, but here she wrote out her mother's maiden name, revealing that Mary made this quilt before her marriage in 1889 and suggesting Mary's pride in her identity and family connections.

Laurel Horton, The Save All Quilt circa 1880

History:

Mary's "Save All" is an example of a family of patterns today called "Rob Peter to Pay Paul." These patterns became popular during the late-nineteenth century and were published under many names during the twentieth. The common element is the basic design unit of a square from which a quarter circle appears to have been removed and replaced with a contrasting fabric. The particular pattern name, "Save All," and the phrase "no waste in material" support one of the traditional values associated with quiltmaking: thrift.

The pattern name and the label suggest that thrift is the predominant value expressed by this quilt, but the construction and materials tell another story. The visual appearance of the pattern is deceiving: the convex piece cut from one fabric square looks like it might be used in another block, but this is not the case. The quilt maker must add quarter-inch seam allowances on all sides when cutting templates for a pattern. The addition of seam allowances to both the concave and convex parts of the quilt pattern results in two curved edges that no longer match. The maker could still place the templates relatively close together when cutting the fabric, but the claim of "no waste in material" is not entirely accurate.

Making a quilt can express thrift in a number of ways, but it is rarely the only factor. The cotton fabrics in Mary's quilt are all of good quality, with the weight and scale of the printed patterns typical of late-nineteenth-century fabrics manufactured in New England's textile mills and shipped to southern dry-goods stores. Spartanburg County did not develop into a major textile-production center until the end of the century; this quilt contains no local materials.

Construction:

That the dresses Mary reused for the "Save All" were made of cotton is consistent with what is known about her personal philosophy. During the 1880s, silk was the preferred fabric for women's dresses for those who could afford it. The Snoddy family was wealthy by local standards, but Mary took seriously the virtues of modesty and humility prescribed by her upcountry Presbyterian faith. She wore a brown silk dress for her wedding, but as a young woman, she chose to wear cotton dresses instead of more fashionable silk gowns.

The "Save All" is carefully constructed, indicating that Mary was an accomplished seamstress. The curved seams are pieced by hand with precision and match perfectly. The placement of the blocks, however, suggests that Mary made decisions to expedite the completion of her quilt. The twelve pieced blocks are separated by five-inch-wide strips of the inner-border fabric. She could have made more blocks, twenty perhaps, and joined them with narrower strips to produce a quilt of similar size. Instead, she used more of the dress fabric and fewer small fabric remnants. She seems to have negotiated a balance among various expressions of thrift in regard to available materials and time.

The "Save All" quilt is over 125 years old, but there are no signs of wear to indicate that it was used regularly. In fact, none of the quilts in the Black family collection show evidence of serving what is generally thought to be their primary function. These quilts can be understood as a stockpile, a cache of household goods reserved against future need. They also represent a family archive, or even a repository of personal capital, representing the commerce of women's mutual obligations and relationships.

Mary's "Save All" quilt is the result of an interplay of values and choices. Its theme — starting with sufficient resources and using them efficiently and effectively without waste and ostentation — is emblematic of its maker's orientation to life.

Published: 19 May 2006

© 2006 Laurel Horton and Southern Spaces