Monday, June 12, 2017

When Quilts Speak

A footnote from history by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Do you have family quilts that remind you of past events? So many quilt stories disappear when quilts aren't labeled (and most weren't). But here are a few stories that ARE known--stories that take as beyond the textile itself and into the lives of the people involved in their making.


See the words Ladies Aid in the center of the quilt block on the right?
In 1893, the Ladies Aid Society of the Filley (Nebraska) Methodist Episcopal Church raised funds to support the church by having a contest. Members of the organization embroidered their names on the front. Folks who contributed ten cents got their names on the back and the woman who raised the most money got to keep the quilt. The winner had recently married and collected names (and contributions) on her wedding trip--which included a visit to the Chicago World's Fair. 

During the Civil War, women organized Sanitary Commission Fairs to raise money for the cause. The quilt on the left bears General Grant's signature. It was brought back to Nebraska from the fair held in St. Louis--which raised $550,000.

The Grand Island, Nebraska, GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) chapter made this flag fundraiser quilt about 1896.


You wouldn't necessarily expect a pioneer story to emerge from this elegant crazy quilt, but the maker painted flowers onto velvet and silk while homesteading a claim in western Nebraska in the 1890s. Inspired by the wildflowers growing on the prairie, she wrote, "the first summer I copied these flowers with oil paints on silk and velvet pieces sent me from home." She was able to hire the work down required to "prove up" ... and isn't that just another story that reminds us not to make assumptions about all those pioneer women! 
Do you own a quilt that tells a story from your family history?

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Stephanie Grace Whitson loves including references to quiltmaking in her historical fiction. Sarah's Patchwork, a story of an orphan train child, is told through the fabrics Sarah used in the crazy quilt she uses to tell her life story to a beloved niece. Learn more about Stephanie at www.stephaniewhitson.com. 



 

21 comments:

  1. Great post! My mother is an avid quilter, and the first two quilts she created were "memory" quilts. The fabric was all from clothing and other items she made for my sister and I while we were growing up. I look forward to reading your book.

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    1. What a wonderful thing to do.. legacy quilts. Love that term!

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  2. Wonderful Post. Each one of us children have a handstitched quilt from mother--in fact we have more than one. The first few quilts were made from all the scrapes of material from years of sewing our clothes. Then a memory quilt with all the beautiful western shirts our dad wore as an auctioneer after his passing. Mother continues to quilt today and each one is special. She has one where each lady in her home extension group embroidered their names on a square with a specific embroidered item--butterfly, flower, etc and she pieced it together.

    Thank you for sharing this post. Sarah's Patchwork is going on my TBR list.

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    1. What a wonderful thing your mother has given you all! And it's such a blessing that you treasure that gift.

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  3. I love quilts, and this makes me want to look for historical quilts to see if I can find their stories.

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    1. Check at your local county museum! They often tell quilt stories in their collection. Also the international quilt study center has been posting quilt stories on their instagram and Facebook pages. Have fun!

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  4. Great post! There is a quilt hanging the fellowship hall of our church that was a similar project to raise money. I have been a member of this church for over 40 years but I didn't grow up in thia small area. My paternal grandmother lived in the town where I grew up so imagine my surprise when first saw this quilt that was gifted to our church about 20 years ago and there was my grandmother's signature! I was so pleased and so proud and once again given evidence of the circle of life!

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    1. What a touching story. Thank you for sharing it.

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  5. I love quilts. I enjoy thinking of the person creating the quilt and the time they took to touch each piece and make it just right. We have several crocheted afghans that were given to us 38 years ago on our wedding day. Quilts and afghans give special memories. :-)

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    1. I love crochet work too. Just this past week my sister and I were admiring a crocheted spread made by a beloved ancestor.

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  6. wonderful post. I own several quilts that have family history quilted in. My sister has a couple also. I make quilts for family members. My daughter is continuing the tradition.

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    1. What a wonderful tradition to pass down. High five to a fellow quilter!

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  7. My mother-in-law made quilts while she was alive. We have 3 that she made. All are also hand painted. One was 3rd place in the MO State Fair, and it's a Bi-centennial quilt. Another has flowers of the Bible, and another has personal things, like flowers & trees from family history, a school that my hubby attended, the college he attended, etc... I also have 2 baby quilts that my grandmother made out of flower sacks. I remember many of the blocks, as she also made her own dresses out of them. She never finished quilting it, so my mother-in-law put a back on them and finished them. They all are a real treasure to us!

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    1. Flour sacks were used in so many ways and made lovely quilts. You've given me an idea for another blog... bless you!

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  8. Thank you, Stephanie for your interesting post. My daughter now has a quilt that was made by her great, great grandmother.

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    1. What a treasure! We don't have much from earlier generations ... how blessed your daughter is!

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  9. Hi Stephanie. Great post! I have a couple of quilt my grandmother quilted, one is a Dutch Girl quilt that my mother helped her make when she was a little girl. Now that they are both in heaven, the quilt is even more special to me. Also, I discovered a very intriguing (book material) story when we toured a lighthouse in Michigan. At one time, the lighthouse keeper helped a husband and wife who were runaway slaves that were trying to get to Canada. The quilt on the upstairs bedroom where they stayed had arrows sewn into it. If the quilt was placed one direction, it meant go hide in the forest. If it was placed the other direction, it meant they were safe.

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  10. Great post Stephanie! There were many quilters in my family & my husband's family as well. I have quilted in years past but not recently.
    Blessings, Tina

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    1. My mother was a quilter ... but I hated the process ... until I was a young mother. Then I grew to love it. My sister never caught that "bug" LOL. Different folks like different things ... and life just sometimes interrupts even the things we enjoy, doesn't it?

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  11. Great post Stephanie! There were many quilters in my family & my husband's family as well. I have quilted in years past but not recently.
    Blessings, Tina

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