Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ellen Emeline Webster (1867-1950)

I had the incredible pleasure of meeting Pat Cummings, quilt historian, at the Machine Quilter's Expo in New Hampshire this past April where I was teaching two classes based on the book Fuse It and Be Done with my co-author Barbara Campbell. What stands out from that brief half hour that Pat, Barbara and I spent together is how much we laughed and her mention of Ellen Webster.

Upon my return home I quickly ordered the CD of the eBook that Pat and her husband, James have produced. What a delight it has been stealing chunks of the day here and there to slowly savor each of Ellen Webster's charts

I wish everyone else interested in quilt history to have the same chance at such pleasure so I have asked Pat to introduce the book to UrbanAmishers.

In Pat Cummings own words:

When I came to the realization that I wanted to know more about Mrs. Webster, who had made some wonderful quilt charts, thereby “saving” antique quilt designs, I looked online for more information. There, I began to discover some of her other interests, that of an avid bird watcher, and that she was a writer who heavily contributed to writing her own (Hardy) family's massive genealogy. As thread led on to thread, I purchased obscure research materials, bugged Interlibrary Loan at the local library to borrow materials, and contacted historical societies across the country. Some quilt historians from the American Quilt Study Group, supplied tidbits of information that helped me to piece together even more details. However, a major breakthrough came when Ellen's two great nephews visited me, bringing me two family, Victorian crazy quilts to photograph, and old family photos, as well as Ellen's diaries and letters. I felt I had hit the jackpot, not that all the rest of the already uncovered information wasn't fascinating. It was!

Everything I learned about Ellen lent testimony to her loving soul. She cared a lot about people. She passionately gave quilt lectures, as well as talks about birds, and Bible studies. She was a model citizen, generous with her talents and time to her family and community. She was a pianist and organist, as well. Immediately, I felt such a connection with Mrs. Webster. She grew up on a farm, she was an educator who had taught school, including at the college level, and she loved quilts and the history of them, so she and I had all of those things in common, and more! I, too, love music and birds.

Her quilt charts could not have been done by just anyone. As a trained teacher of Mathematics, she brought special skills to the task. She made the charts to use as teaching tools in order to preserve the designs of antique quilts that she viewed in the 1930s. She was fully cognizant of the work of quilt designers and other quilt historians of her time, both emerging fields for women. She mentions them on the paper board charts, inscribing their names in pencilled notations. Each chart in the e-book is full-page size. The discovery of her total life, not just her quilt documentation work, was a joy. Her writings provide insight into the times in which she lived. The reader will gain insight into New Hampshire life when every family had a horse, and a sleigh to get around in winter, and a carriage to travel in summer. In the twentieth century, Mrs. Webster never drove a car, relying on public transportation, usually the train, to get to Massachusetts where she earned two college degrees.

The beauty with which Ellen Webster surrounded herself seemed to be in spite of her circumstances. She seems to have done most of her work as a quilt historian and educator, after her husband passed on, and also after, achieving a master's degree from Boston University in 1926. While Mrs. Webster may be remembered for the time-consuming, precisely-made, quilt charts she created, her physical beauty is memorable, as is her inner strength. She served as a role model for women then, and her life, as any life well-lived, is worthy of our attention, now. What an inspiring individual!

So! If you are as curious as I was here is how to get it:

Ellen Emeline Hardy Webster (1867-1950), Her Amazing Quilt Charts, Her Writings, and Her Life
by Patricia Lynne Grace Cummings, quilt historian and James Cummings, photographer

An e-book on CD: 355 pages, with 340 photos - plays on any computer.

Available at:

PS. Patricia Cummings writes a quilt history column regularly feautured in The Quilter Magazine.

Another PS. While nosing around the Quilter's Muse website I came upon Pat's tribute to Jose Martí. As a Cuban-American I was touched deeply by Pat's heartfelt tribute to my country's leading poet and visionary.

Detail of Pat's crazy quilt dedicated to Martí.

Therefore if you are curious about that, go to this page too: