Wow. I am chin-deep in knitted bedspreads. And not in the good way that means I’m getting to go to sleep soon. In the other good way that means my research is starting to snowball, I’m getting to pull seldom-used books from my shelf (thus justifying my long-standing habit of hoarding books), and I have more to work with than I need.
1. People really liked making those bedspreads. Or else they liked to read about making them and pretend they would eventually make a whole one, enough that other people thought that they were serious. There exists a whole body of literature that goes on about the marvel that is knitted bedspreads. Some of that is pattern-writer enthusiasm. Some is not.
2. I have seen no evidence–and this is corroborated by the author of the Piecework article from January–that these patterns even existed in the Revolutionary era. They seem to have been invented in about 1850.
3. Rose Wilder Lane tells a very florid and complex story about a woman from Maine who went to an unspecified location in the west in the late 1860s or thereabouts and brought back the pattern for a knitted bedspread and pillow shams remarkably like Jacqueline Fee’s example from last winter’s Knitting Traditions. What anyone west of the Mississippi in the 1860s wanted with a fussy white bedspread that kept no warmth and would be dirty in a trice is anyone’s guess. This is not a frontierwoman’s bedspread. Her mother never had one. I virtually guarantee it. Nellie Oleson? Maaaaaybe.
The Maine woman, though, is real. I found her with The Google.
What we have here seems to be the Victorian equivalent of a 1970s Colonial Revival coffee table. People loved to make them right through about the 1920s–or at least pretend/claim that they did–and claim that it was their grandmother’s/great-grandmother’s/grandmother’s grandmother’s/Martha Washington’s counterpane pattern. The fad was helped along by Grace Coolidge, who did a lot of needlework, actually did knit one of these, and also designed and crocheted a custom spread for the Lincoln bedroom when her husband was President. Grace Coolidge was not exactly the Martha Stewart of her age, but she was definitely a tastemaker. She was popular and friendly and people definitely wanted to know what she was doing/wearing/enjoying.
I still have not finished the one square of the Penhallow bedspread. Once I got going on the other research tasks, the urge to actually knit the thing faded. Plus, compared to the Fee/Lane bedspread (they are nearly identical), it’s plain and not that interesting. Plus plus, I have a feeling I’m joining a lot of my foremothers–not in the taste for the bedspread, but the weariness with the task of knitting the thing. I just burned out sooner.
I cannot wait until this thesis is off my desk.