Monday, July 21, 2014

Heirloom quilts: fabric, thread tell time

I'm coming up against deadline to finish a quilt square for the NASA star-themed quilt project. The entry deadline is Aug. 1, 2014. When digging in my closet for complementary scraps of red, white and blue fabric, I was sidetracked by an old journalism portfolio that hadn't been opened in a while. In it were newspaper clippings of articles waiting to be pasted into a scrapbook. Old articles. Not quite antiques, but ... close. 

One was a 1987 story I wrote about a Florida Quilt Heritage Discovery Day at the library in New Smyrna Beach, a coastal city in Central Florida.

photo of a 1980s newspaper article So, what does that have to do with Florida frontier? My young reporter self was fascinated with the stories told that day about the quilts brought in for documentation. I shared as many as I could in the article. 

Most of the quilts were family heirlooms sewn in the 19th century and early 20th century. And even though they belonged to Floridians in 1987, the quilts almost all originated somewhere else.

The quilts were beautiful, tangible evidence of the past. They illustrated the way people brought personal treasures that mattered when they migrated to Florida, whether they made the trek in 1880 or 1980. 

Homemade quilts, stitched with love, warmed both body and soul of new Florida settlers in need of roots.

More than 60 quilts were documented that day, including the following. The 1987 owners' names and relationship to the quiltmakers are in parentheses:
  • red, white and green Mariner's Compass quilt, made in 1847 by Mary Ann Wilson in Pennsylvania (great-granddaughter Mrs. Newell Adams of Daytona Beach);
  • a quilt made in Ohio in 1888 by Alice Hutchins, who sewed into it her own image in silk (grandson Bill Hutchins of Edgewater); 
  • Mennonite quilt made by Mary Roth in 1920s in Nebraska, that included part of her 1892 wedding dress (granddaughter Kathy Meck of New Smyrna Beach);
  • feathered-star pattern quilt made by Fannie Lord Grimshaw in 1901 in New York, and exhibited at the New York State Fair in 1975 (daughter-in-law Harriet Grimshaw of Daytona Beach).
Fannie made a deliberate mistake in her quilt because she said, as her daughter-in-law related, only God is perfect. Imperfections, to me, make quilts authentic, real ... human. They often outlive their makers and subsequent owners. The Quilt Heritage Day took place 27 years ago. Some of the quilts' then-owners may no longer be alive. But the quilts likely still exist.

Learn more about the Florida Quilt Heritage Project and see images of some of the 5,000+ quilts documented all across the state, at the Museum of Florida History website.

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