Instructions for a Confederate Gunboat Quilt

The cause is a noble one, the effort is sublime, and the moral effect will reach far beyond the deadly projectiles which the contemplated gunboat can send. If the women take it up with a will, there is no word as fail. *
from the "Mobile Register & Advertiser, 1862"

By 1862 it was obvious that the South direly needed more gunboats costing about $80,000 each. Women raised enough to buy three of these ships during that year. These were sometimes jokingly referred to as "petticoat gunboats" having been bought by the earnings of women.

gunboat CSS Fredericksburg

Pictured to the left is the CSS Fredericksburg, an ironclad gunboat. Various fundraising efforts raised money for gunboats like this one. Elegant quilts made by Confederate women were auctioned and raffled off to help build this and two other boats.

As the war progressed these boats were less effective due to the Union blockade of southern ports. Women turned to earning money for soldier's hospitals and other more urgent needs.

Preparing for this Project

vase floral quiltThese instructions will get you started on creating your own gunboat quilt. You will be doing most of the designing and deciding on the methods. Because the objects on these quilts were made by cutting out flowers and other motifs from large prints on chintz fabrics each of your quilts will be unique. You will have to imagine the quilts pictured on this page were made of such cut outs.

Your first task will be to find some fabric that will work well for this project. Hopefully you can find some at your local quilt shop but if that isn't possible you can find it online.

fabric for broderie perseTo the left are a couple of examples of the sort of fabric that would work well for your project. You want a very large floral print as you will be sewing each flower down individually. This technique is now called broderie perse.

Appliqueing the Floral Motifs

This may sound like an overwhelming task without using modern fusible methods. But using them may not be so far from the old ways as you think. It seems that paste was sometimes used to adhere the floral motifs to the background fabric before stitching each of them down. So go ahead and fuse, knowing you aren't too far from doing it the old way.

ring floral quilt

Perhaps some of these quilts were done by fine needle turn applique but I've examined broderie perse and found the maker had whip stitched the raw edges down with stitches so fine I needed a magnifying glass to see them. I don't expect you to do yours that way but it makes doing some machine stitching around the raw edges a reasonable modern adoption. If the quilt won't be handled much you might even fuse and leave it at that.

Arranging the Broderie Perse Elements

layout You could make this quilt on a single square of fabric or you could do it in sections as shown here. Sections would be better if you do decide to machine or hand applique as you could work with smaller pieces. If you are just fusing one wholecloth background would work fine.

The two quilt illustrations on this page give you a couple of options, one of a vase with a floral arrangement in the center and another with a circular floral wreath. You can use my PDF for the vase applique pattern but it may not be the right size or shape so you might want to fold a piece of paper in half and try drawing and cutting one out your own.

Sometimes piecing was used as I did in the top illustration but other quilts were done completely in applique. So their are many choices for you.

Because of the nature of this project I'm not giving any measurements. You can work that out depending on your design. I designed my examples to be about one square yard as a wall hanging. They could be made larger by adding borders, appliqued or pieced. You could also make the elements larger and space them out more.

Border and Edging Options

The inner border used in the top example is called the Seminole or Harlequin border. You will find instructions for it at The Quilter's Cache Borders.

A very thin turned binding would be typical, quilters prided on their narrow bindings. Another option would be to apply a fringed edging as this was also seen on fancy quilts of the time. (Imagine the tan strip around the second illustration is a fringed edge.)

2008 Judy Anne Breneman (For your personal use only. Please write to me for permission before you copy this for others.)

Questions? Contact Judy Anne

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* p 98, "Alabama Gunboats" by Byrding Adams Quiltmaking in America: Beyond the Myths

Thank you to quilt historian, Kimberly Wulfert, for information about the use of paste and go to Chintz Applique: The Art of Broderie Perse to learn more.

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