The popularity of decorative embroidery in America can be traced, in part, to the exhibit of the Royal School of Art Needlework of Kensington, England, at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The school had been established in 1872 for the two-fold purpose of restoring “ornamental needlework to the high place it once held among decorative arts,” while at the same time supplying “suitable employment for poor gentlewomen.” Both the principles of the Royal School and its style of needlework were adapted in America following the Centennial. But while the social-reform ambitions of the Kensington school met with limited success here, the embroidery style it advocated became an extremely popular means of decorating textiles, including quilts.
Beginning in the 1880s, books and magazines printed drawings that could be copied and used for embellishing all manner of household linen, generally using the Kensington outline stitch seen on the In Honor Shall Wave Spread. The bedcover is typical of quilts of this period in its combination of Turkey red cotton thread worked on a white cotton ground. As is also common on these quilts, the embroidered motifs simply have been copied from a variety of sources and placed on the quilt without regard to scale. Typical Aesthetic Movement motifs, such as cranes, owls, and butterflies, intermingle with Kate Greenaway–style children, scenes from Currier & Ives prints, and a number of patriotic and political designs.
Perhaps the most historically interesting motifs on this quilt top are two coal scuttles that can be found to the right of the center. One, depicted with a shovel in its arm, is inscribed “Poor man’s empty scuttle in December the 25, 1902.” The other says “Rich man’s full scuttle in December the 25, 1902.” These cartoon drawings probably refer to the strike by the United Mine Workers against their employers, members of the anthracite coal monopoly. The work stoppage caused a coal shortage throughout the nation in the winter of 1902–1903.
Elizabeth V. Warren, "In Honor Shall Wave Spread," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 361.