Saturday, May 12, 2018

Quilt Inscriptions and Signatures

A footnote from history by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Quilt inscriptions, be they signatures or rhymes, elegant inked stamps or embroidered names, evoke different responses from different viewers. Reading the sentiment below might inspire a historian to search for names and family connections. A quilt lover might wonder over patterns and designs. And storytellers like me muse about the "rest of the story." But whatever the response, inscribed quilts connect present to past in a unique way. 

Harriet H. Huston is my name
America is my station
Springfield is my dwelling place
and Christ is my salvation.
When I am dead and in my grave
And all my bones are rotten
When this you see 
Remember me
Lest I shall be forgotten.
A.D. 1846

Through them, we can realize that some things--like the desire to celebrate friendship and the motivation to support causes we care about--are timeless.

Friendship, Family, and Faith

Some inscribed quilts were made to mark
important life events like the birth of a child, a child's graduation to adulthood, a marriage, or perhaps a departure. When I read the messages ("Hope on hope ever" "When far away remember me") on these four quilt blocks pictured at right, I imagined a woman gathering friend's signatures for a quilt she would carry to a new home that was "far away." Of course the obvious question is why they never got finished. Musing about that resulted in my first novel! 

Ladies of congregations of many different denominations presented quilts to their pastors. In a 1909 letter Ella Rush of Stamford, Nebraska, wrote to family back in Ohio: The ladies aid had a surprise on the minister & wife today. It was his birthday and . . . we had pieced a crazy worsted quilt and finished it to give them. Women of the Holy Trinity Church of Lincoln, NE created the quilt pictured at left (bearing 549 embroidered names) for their pastor and his wife on the occasion of the pastor's departure in 1913. 


In the 19th century, women's organizations like ladies' aid societies and missionary organizations often created signature quilts to raise money for important causes. They'd charge a nominal fee to have a name included on the quilt and then raise more money when the resulting signature quilt was auctioned off. 

During the Civil War, women on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line plied their needles to support their cause. The quilt at right was purchased at a Union sanitary Fair in St. Louis and bears several signatures, among them that of Ulysses Grant. The fair raised over $500,000 for the Union cause.

In 1896, women of Grand Island, Nebraska, made the quilt at left to raise funds for the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) and its projects supporting "old soldiers."

During WW I, the Red Cross encouraged women to make and auction off signature quilts to help support the Red Cross. In 1916, the women of Martell and Sprague, Nebraska, charged 50 cents to have one's name embroidered on this quilt. Once it was finished, it was auctioned off and raised another $75--a month's wages for the man who won it. 

Whatever the reason for the making of an inscribed quilt, their creation provided a way for women and their work to be remembered. As Maria Jane Newton of Nebraska wrote in the 1920s, "I have got Harold, Ralph quilt top(s) done and gave [sic] to them. Got Lyle's done ready to join. Have all my grandchildren done. Thirty-one. That is a lot of piecing but something they will remember me (by) every time they see the quilt."

Have you ever helped make a quilt for a friend or fundraiser?  

To view the quilts that were part of a signature quilt exhibit in Lincoln, Nebraska, follow this link: 

Musing about why some beautiful quilt blocks were never finished was part of Stephanie Grace Whitson's journey toward becoming a published novelist. 

Her first book, Walk the Fire, tells the life story of avid quilter Jesse King. 

To learn more about Stephanie's books:

To join the conversation about her writing life and love of quilts:


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Oops, made a big typo, so deleted it.

      Great post Stephanie! These are lovely quilts pictured here and at the signature quilt exhibit in Lincoln, Nebraska link you shared.

      Years ago when my two sons were very young (both now grown) I quilted a small quilt. I set up my grandmother's quilting frame in the living room of our mobile home, which made it very tight to move about until I got the quilt finished. I now only quilt small items for gifts, much easier to handle.
      Blessings, Tina

  2. I once made a wall hanging for a wedding gift that I don't think was very appreciated...I cringe now that I think of it. The color scheme turned out a little oddly....the fabric took me to orange and gray and it was a young couple. Oh well. I love reading your posts about these quilts.