Thursday, November 22, 2018

History Sewn into Quilts

We had not been in the Stafford County Museum exhibit of quilts more than a minute when my husband insisted that I walk away from the quilt I was looking at and come join him.  No wonder.  When I walked to the back of the exhibit to see what he had found, there was my great grandmother's name stitched into one of the rectangles of the quilt.  Michael Hathaway, Executive Director, said we were the first people to have visited the exhibit and have found an ancestor's name on a quilt.  (Of course, some of the quilts were gifted by family members, and Michael was referring to visitors who had simply come to see the exhibit.)

It was a very special quilt.  People in the community were asked to pay $1 to have their name embroidered into the quilt to raise money for the Red Cross during W.W. I.  Four hundred eight people paid the dollar, but more money was raised when the quilt was auctioned.  As people were the highest bidders, they immediately handed it back to be auctioned again, and in that way more and more money was raised.  The funds were used to purchase yarn and other materials to make items for soldiers.  Some women embroidered their own block, and my great grandmother's appeared to have been such a block.

Susan L. Beck's daughter-in-law, my grandmother, was born in England but came to America as a toddler.  Her father, my great grandfather, had family in the village where he was raised, and that village sent many young men to the war, including some family.  In my blogs "The Steadfast Tin Soilder" posted 9-25-2014 and "The Steadfast Tin Soldier, a Sequel" posted 10-2-2014,  about the discovery of a W.W. I toy soldier, I write about that village and its service to the war effort.  It was a particular thrill to see my paternal great-grandmother Susan's name on that quilt.

Many of the quilts on display were made by a group of ladies, rather than a single seamstress, and the signatures of those working on the quilt were often sewn into the pattern.  Perhaps that contributed to the survival of the quilt, since the owner may have cherished the quilt too much to use it on a bed where it would receive every-day wear and tear.  The quilt above was purchased at an estate sale in 1981 and was made by ladies in the Taylorville community, with a reference that suggests a regular quilting group that called themselves the "Merrymakers."

The ribbon cutting of the Stafford County Museum's permanent quilt collection was held May 18, 2018.  The exhibit contains 39 quilts, many of them friendship quilts and fund raiser quilts filled with names of former residents from Stafford and surrounding communities.  The quilts are beautifully displayed on professional quilt hangers that are hinged to be opened like the pages of a book for easy viewing

Not all of the bed coverings in the exhibit are quilts, and fortunately, one lovely example was labeled by a subsequent owner to document the history of the spread.  It reads in part:  "This bedspread was made by Ann Eliza Riddell.  She spun the yarn and wove it into strips.  The strips were then sewn together to make the spread.  Ann Eliza Riddell born March 21, 1843, died April 24, 1914.  John Richardson born Sept. 28, 1839, died Oct. 5, 1915.  They were wed June 28, 1877, Ann being his second wife.  They lived in Estell County, Kentucky, near Irvine, Ky.  They came to Stafford County, Kansas in 1888 and homesteaded 7 miles northwest of Stafford."  (Remember to click on the images to enlarge.)

I have a particular affection for crazy quilts because they represent for me how precious even the tiniest scraps of special fabrics were to these ladies. Velvets and silks and other expensive fabrics of such small pieces that seamstresses today would deposit them into the trash without guilt were carefully saved by their ancestors and turned into something beautiful by patching the small pieces together and ornamenting the seams with their fancy stitching.  To create even more beauty, the patches themselves were decorated with embroidery.  This round crazy quilt, displayed on the wall of the museum exhibit, is a particularly beautiful example.

Next week I will share a few more quilts from the exhibit.

No comments: