Monday, September 20, 2021

Cloth Book

 Cloth books are a great favorite for babies.  Although they were sold for decades in the 20th century, it's only recently that quilters could buy panels to assemble their own.  I love one that I found that appears to have been made in the late 1950s or during the 1960s. Kudos to this enterprising maker who used embroidery transfers!

Have a safe and happy day!

Friday, September 17, 2021

Flower Friday: September 17, 2021

 It's the middle of September already!  It doesn't seem possible!  If the winter flies by the way this month has, I'll be happy and spring gardening soon!

Alice has a lovely dahlia blooming!

She said where she is, the leaves are beginning to fall...see the oak leaves at the base of the plant?

Betsy sent these lovelies:


Autumn Crocus

Honore Jorbert anemones

In my garden, the moonflowers continue to bloom:

And the mums are beginning to show color.  
My white ones are always the first to bloom!
The white flowers on the left are the chrysanthemums.  To the right are little fever flowers which are in the mum family and even the foliage smells like mums!

Have a safe and happy weekend!

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Story Time Stitches: Bertha Corbett Melcher, Part 2

In 1976, Spinning Wheel Antiques and Early Crafts Magazine published an article called "Sunbonnet Babies Encore".  The article explained how to distinguish various sunbonnet babies by illustrator.  There was even a design with the various styles of sunbonnets and who made them.  It sounds ludicrous, doesn't it?

Bertha Corbett Melcher is a great example of what happened to a lot of illustrators.  Whenever an illustrator became successful, there were always folks who tried to capitalize on the success of the original work.  

Some just followed the example and created similar characters like Dorothy Dixon who did a series of illustrated postcards that were popular in the early 20th century:

Sunbonnets were internationally famous and in England, Dean's Rag Books published Sunbonnet Babies in 1905.  

The cloth book featured characters almost exactly like Bertha's, but doing things that British children could relate to like having tea:

Or playing cricket 😂:

But probably the most brazen imitator was Bernhardt Wall, not because he copied her idea but because he insisted he invented the sunbonnets.  Bertha self published in 1900.  His postcard illustrations were published a few years later than Bertha's.  Wall was nicknamed "The King of the Postcards" and his sunbonnets have a very specific look to them.  The background was usually dark, the color of the bonnet a vivid white, and the child was usually dressed in a red dress:

He even had published books and used the pseudonym "Uncle Milton".

Bertha countered by calling herself "The Mother of the Sunbonnet Babies" which was picked up by publications everywhere.  But here is another interesting aspect:  the original sunbonnet babies had names--Molly and May. 

Most researchers attribute Walls' Susie Sunbonnet to the nickname "Sunbonnet Sue". 

If all that wasn't enough, a 1908 Broadway play called School Days featured a song called "Sunbonnet Sue" and the name seems to have stuck:

I could go on and on about imitators, but I'm sure you are beginning to get the idea.  The diversity of the sunbonnets was translated into our quilts.  At first there were embroidery patterns created:

Featuring Bertha's Sunbonnet Babies:

The two above were made by children in the early 1920s; 
I made the one below in 2018:

Bernhardt Wall:

In 1912, quiltmaker Marie Webster's "Sunbonnet Lassies" was featured in Ladies Home Journal and applique patterns were introduced:

At this point, the sunbonnet craze hit quilt companies and designers and all kinds of sunbonnet variations were marketed.  The reason was simple.  The patterns made charming quilts for children and the bonnet obscured the face.  Faces are hard enough to draw, even more difficult to embroider:

Days of the Week pattern and
Romber Baby offered by Rainbow Quilt Block Company.

By the 1920s, grown women were depicted as part of the Sunbonnet family.  Yes there were a lot of awful patterns.  But there were some charming ones too like these:

Out of all the illustrators we have and will study, none had as big of an impact on quilting as Bertha Corbett Melcher's sunbonnets.  Even in the 1950s and 1960s when quilting experienced a lull, sunbonnet baby quilts were made for children.  In fact as I tell my audiences when I lecture about this pattern, I challenge you to find a quilt pattern with more variations than the sunbonnets.

Tomorrow is Flower Friday so if you have images to share, please email me at

Have a safe and happy day!

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Story Time Stiches: Bertha Corbett Melcher, Part 1


Bertha Corbett Melcher (1872-1950)

Bertha Corbett was born in Denver, Colorado but grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Her father was a sign painter and Bertha showed an aptitude for art and studied at the Minneapolis School of Art and spent a year studying with Howard Pyle at the Drexel Institute.

Bertha set up a studio when she returned from her studies and like many illustrators began to establish her career by illustrating cards and stationary.  Her greatest and most well known work are the Sunbonnet Babies.  She herself relayed to many people that she had been challenged to show that the human face need not be seen to show emotion.  In 1900, she self-published The Sun-Bonnet Babies:

Shortly afterwards, she partnered with a school teacher named Eulalie Osgood Grover and the women made history with their primers and text books.

The books were an immediate success and not only were the books sold to school districts but they were sold in book stores as well.

Together Bertha and Eulalie would publish 8 books which were reprinted for well over a decade.  The characters expanded to include the Overall Boys:

Like many illustrators, Bertha marketed her characters.  They were  featured on sheet music, calendars, and even ink blotters.  She was shrewd and always signed her name to her work with a copyright date.  Soon her babies were being used to market all kinds of things:

 I've read that when she moved to Chicago to set up a studio there, she benefited from a friendship with Robert F. Outcault. 

 Outcault was an illustrator who had created a popular comic strip named "The Yellow Kid" but was most popular for his  Buster Brown:
Buster Brown and his dog Tige, from a redwork crib quilt in my collection.

In 1907 and part of 1908, Bertha had comic strip of her own featuring the Sunbonnet Babies.

Bertha also gave "chalk talks" to different social groups, hospitals, and schools.  She would tell a story and illustrate it on the chalk board.  

Bertha was also an artist but I have never been able to find any of her other work.  In 1910, she met and married George Henry Melcher.  Melcher was artist from Pennsylvania who had moved west.  The couple lived in California, had two daughters, and were married until 1932 when they divorced.  

Most people don't realize that Bertha suffered from severe arthritis which eventually ended her professional art career.  Over at the Sunbonnet Sue website, there is actually a photograph of Bertha in a wheelchair that was shared by Bertha's granddaughter.  You can see it here.

Bertha passed away in 1950 but she is adored by many (including me).  Tomorrow I will talk about her sunbonnet influence on quilting and illustration.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021


 Yesterday Nann emailed me so I could see some of the redwork shams she had collected.  You have to check this out!  Hit here!

I have one pieced sham.  It's not for a child but the Pennsylvania Dutch are famous for pieced sham.  Ann Hermes who often attended our quilt study meetings is famous for her collection and she has a wonderful book, Pennsylvania Patchwork Pillowcases And Other Small Treasures.  If you are interested, the book is available at Amazon here.  

The pillowcases and shams tend to be pricey but I bought one from a dear late friend who has since passed:

Making shams and pillow covers for kids apparently was part of the nursery ensemble.  I remember getting a baby pillow when I was pregnant with my child and being told that pillows are for show-- not for the crib.  Of course everything is different now and kids aren't covered with blankets or quilts until they are much older.

These were layover shams that were placed over the pillow and easily removed:

Kit pieces that included a sham:

(The coverlet)
Another coverlet sham:

Layover sham made for a sunbonnet quilt pattern that Sears sold after the 1933 World's Fair:

Some other shams that I don't have the accompanying pieces for:

Probably a kit piece.

Possibly the maker used embroidery transfers to make this one.

I have often wondered about the one above.  Obviously there was some dye lot problems with the side and bottom sashing.

This one looks more mid-century modern.

I'm sure the one above was from a kit but I can't remember where I saw the coverlet or quilt.

Sunbonnet babies:

A pillow case with a dog fabric appliqued on it.  
I love this one!

A pillow case that was never embroidered but so sweet!

Have a safe and happy day!