Q is for Quilt
Remember that car trip game? “I’m going on a trip and I’m bringing an Avocado, a Baseball, a Camera, a Dinosaur.” Work your way through the alphabet and the letter Q is always, always a Quilt.
I’m going on a trip to the Virginia Historical Society and I’m bringing a quilt . . . make that two.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 28, the VHS is hosting the Virginia Consortium of Quilters for a Quilt Documentation and Discovery Day. This is one of a series of documentation days that the VCQ is doing to record information about quilts and quilters for a statewide database kept at the Virginia Quilt Museum in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The group is interested in learning how quilt styles, materials, patterns, and quilters have changed over time. This survey is a continuation of documentation that took place in the 1980s. Out of that research came the book Quilts of Virginia 1607–1899: The Birth of America Through the Eye of a Needle (2006).
The VCQ asks that participants bring the following to the documentation day:
- Quilts (limit three per person) made before the year 2000
- A photograph of the quilt maker (to be photocopied and returned)
- Any information you have about the quilts.
Quilts will be measured, photographed, and dated, and patterns will be identified. Participants will be asked to complete a questionnaire about each of their quilts. Some of the questions may require some advance research, so do some homework and be prepared to answer:
ABOUT THE QUILT:
- Quilt name or pattern used by family/owner
- Source of pattern
- Date and place made
- If made out of state, how did it get to Virginia
- Reason quilt was made (dowry, income, fundraising, gift, birth, marriage, anniversary, etc.)
- Has the quilt been exhibited, displayed, or entered in competitions? Any prizes won? List the dates and events.
- Are there items (ribbons won, original picture of quilt and quilt maker, or pattern used) that exist about this quilt?
- Stories, customs, or interesting information about the quilt
ABOUT THE QUILT MAKER:
- Birth and death dates
- Birth and death places
- Highest education level completed
- Spouse’s name and occupation
- Maiden name
- Number of children
- Did the quilt maker make other quilts? How many and where are they?
- Did the quilt maker participate in group quilting activities?
- When, where, and from whom did the quilt maker learn about quilting?
- Major influences on quilt making?
- Favorite pattern / piecing preferences
- How quilting was done (frame hung from ceiling, frame on horses, no frame, hoop)
- Reasons for quilt making
I’m bringing two cathedral window quilts that my grandmother made in her home in Victoria, Virginia. The first was made in 1976 and uses off-white muslin. It has alternating solid and print “windows.” The windows are scraps of cloth that my grandmother pulled from other sewing projects. It is fun to look at the quilt with my mother and aunt and listen to them recall how “that fabric was from my homecoming dress” and “isn’t that the same green she used for those curtains in our bedroom?”
The second cathedral window was made in 1981. It uses bright white fabric, and all the windows are brightly colored prints. Many of the same scraps can be found in both quilts. Cathedral window quilts are a bit of a misnomer because they aren’t really quilted at all. It’s more of an origami that leaves the folded fabric several layers thick. The magic of the pattern is revealed when the quilt is held up to light. The light shines through the white fabric and illuminates the colors, making it look like the stained glass of a cathedral window. A cathedral window quilt is like a kaleidoscope that you can wrap up in. Heaven.
My grandmother gave the 1976 quilt to me. The 1981 quilt she made for my sister. My grandmother also made a quilt for my brother, but his was the much simpler and less time consuming log cabin pattern. Grandma’s thought was that she would give the fancier quilts to the girls because, as she put it, “they will appreciate it.” She said she wasn’t going to spend the same effort on a quilt for the boy who wouldn’t care about it and whose wife “would end up giving it to the dog.” It turns out that my brother and his wife (another quilter) treasure his heirloom just as much as my sister and I treasure ours. But in this case, I’m glad I’m a girl because I don’t think I could love any pattern more than my cathedral window.
Meg M. Eastman is the Digital Collections Manager at the Virginia Historical Society.