Monday, October 11, 2010

New Questions About an Old Favorite

The Wine Glass, c. 1925, found in Texas
Take a look at this quilt and ask yourself, "how does it make me feel?" Is the quilt fun? Humorous? Is it serious? Political?

I bought the quilt in January, 2004, from a quilt dealer in Texas. The price was reasonable, and I thought it was charming. It was called a "Goblet" quilt and described as a "cute, country quilt in rare pattern. Muted browns and cadet blues in plaids, stripes, checks and prints. Medium weight batting." 

The pattern appears to be Brackman # 945, The Wine Glass, published in the Oklahoma Farmer Stockman in 1920. It also resembles later patterns from the mid-to-late 1930's attributed to Hearth and Home by Wilma Smith and the KC Star. Names include Goblet, Water Glass, The Old Fashioned Goblet, and Tumbler.
When flipped, the goblets look like carafes or milk bottles.
When I first got the quilt, someone said you could flip it, and the goblets would become carafes, decanters or milk bottles. I didn't find any references to a carafe, decanter, or bottle pattern in Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. 

A recent online discussion among quilt historians raised other questions about the origins of the pattern, including a theoretical link to the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Apparently, women in the WCTU made quilts using the Goblet and the Drunkard's Path patterns, and to them, the quilts represented a condemning statement about the evils of alcohol consumption. 

The discussion was quite passionate, and included many points about origins, meaning, and intent. At first, the theories about the WCTU and these patterns seemed implausible to me. I think it's because I find so much humor in both patterns. To me, the iconography in both designs represents more of a glorification or lighthearted representation than a condemnation. 

I thought about it over the weekend, and citing the example of the massively misinterpreted song "Every Breath You Take" recorded by the Police in 1982, I realized something. The pop song, written by Sting, was adopted as a popular wedding song, but Sting called it a "sinister and ugly" song about a controlling character who is watching "every breath you take, every move you make." With this song, the public adopted it as something that was very far removed from the artist's intent. 

Could the Women's Christian Temperance Union have done the same thing with the Goblet and Drunkard's Path? Were the patterns invented elsewhere, and later adopted by the WCTU for what the icons meant to them? More importantly, did they bend the meaning into something it hadn't been originally? Did they miss the point by missing the humor?


  1. Very interesting post. When you asked what we thought this quilt pattern could mean. . . I thought it might have been made as a tribute quilt as though everyone was raising their glass in a toast for some occasion. A humerous side to this comment is that I like the WCTU am a non-drinker.

  2. Cool! It's always interesting to hear what others think about the block design. Particularly interesting to think of the quilt as a tribute quilt with glasses being raised. The iconic treatment of the goblet image seems somehow celebratory.

    When I think about this quilt in the general context of art history, particularly American art history, the repeat pattern and logo-like portrayal of the object is something you might expect from a pop artist like Andy Warhol. Yet, the quilt predates Warhol's work by about four decades.

    At first, the idea of a Goblet quilt as a strong political or social statement pushed me back. The maker of my quilt certainly infused a wonderful sense of whimsy, but I guess there were many reasons why people would make this type of quilt.

  3. I was in on the same discussion (as a listener). I think the same principle of inferring intent can apply to many objects of the past including the firescreens I just blogged about today. Short of holding a seance, we cannot infer why anyone made anything or what its intended use was.

    I love this quilt!

    Patricia Cummings

  4. Enjoyed your blog about the firescreens, and the folklore.

    Whenever I'm trying to size-up any artifact or object of art, I like to use a simple little formula. The idea was presented at Rhode Island School of Design during my freshman year by the great Art History professor, Dr. Barry Kirschenbaum. He said three things will tell the whole story - iconography, function, and style. I've always felt he was right in his approach. It focuses primarily on what is present in the object.

  5. My first thought when I saw the quilt was that the goblets were chalices, as in communion. I thought it might be a religious quilt.

  6. I followed the board discussion on the WTCU quilts also. I'm on the side of those who believe unless the maker left specifics about why they chose that pattern and those fabrics it is more or less a parlor game for those who second guess her/him.

    We all bring our own history to every quilt we look at...for you goblets my first reaction was a chalice but then when it was upside down I could only see a biscuit cutter. Perhaps I've been down south too long?

    ps. The first quilt I ever made was a drunkards path only Mrs. Lynch who was teaching me, called it a "Rocky Road to Dublin." Guess girl-scouts don't make drunkards paths....

  7. What if it is paying tribute to the quilters favorite pattern glass? I know that may be wacky, but by the late 19th century those types of footed goblets were parts of sets of pattern glass -- loved by the late 19th and early 20th century homemaker. It was really the first opportunity, I think, that a family could have a lovely set of glass. It was readily available, came in lots of colors and patterns, and was not expensive! Sounds nutty I know...

  8. All these ideas are possibilities.

    I agree with YankeeQuilter - if the maker left specifics, it is that. If not, it is what it is, which goes leads me back to the iconography, function, and style formula.

    Iconography is where we get tripped up most of the time, I think. Was the "goblet" shape meant to represent a chalice, water goblet, wine glass, tumbler, or, when upside-down, was it a milk bottle, carafe, decanter, or biscuit cutter? Each of those objects carries its own associations and meaning.

    Since the pattern had many names according to Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt patterns, I guess it's safe to say makers had a variety of ideas about the pattern and what it represented.

  9. I like this quilt upside down - as a vase or caraffe.

    Whicever way you look at it, it is beautiful - the colours, the fabrics and that quilting. The thing that draws me back to it is that quilting. She was one funky quilter - doesn't look like a teetotaller to me, or if she was, she looks like she knew how to have fun.

    Could be that she had some cotton reel blocks and economy patches, was bored to death with them and then she saw the goblet....and decided to have some fun.


  10. I like it both ways, and have sleeves attached to both top and bottom. The quilting is pretty wild, and suggests a lighter, less serious approach to things. I think you're right about the quilt maker wanting to have some fun.