A STITCH IN TIME: Heirloom quilts and memories on display at museum

Published 9:58 pm Friday, March 15, 2019

Every quilt has a story and every quilt piece is a memory.

That can be said about every quilt that hangs in the Pioneer Museum of Alabama’s 2019 Quilt Show. Those stories may never be shared and those memories may never be known but the quilts can be admired and enjoyed and, perhaps, even envied.

Barbara Tatom, museum director, said the biennial quilt show features 70 quilts on loan, most of which are considered heirloom, vintage or antique but some are just plain old. But whatever a quilt may be called, every quilt in the show is deserving of being there, Tatom said.

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“This is an amazing quilt show and everyone who has visited the show has been impressed by the quality and diversity of the show which will hang through April 6,” she said.

“One quilt, the Passmore feather quilt, was made by the mother of Mrs. Sam Passmore. The quilt dates back to 1774-75. It was made in South Carolina and brought to Monticello in 1821. It’s absolutely amazing. Back in those days, quilts were made to be used and to last. This one has lasted for more than 200 years.”

Becky Laney takes great pride in a family heirloom quilt that belonged to her dad’s mother, Cornelia Wilson.

“It’s what is called a friendship quilt and dates back to around 1889,” she said.

“Evidently, a group of friends got together and made quilts and each quilter stitched her name on the quilt.”

Laney said it is unclear whether each quilter designed the quilt block where her name was stitched or whether the names were stitched randomly.

“But what makes this quilt so interesting is that each friend signed it,” Laney said. “Whether this group of ladies made just this one quilt or made a quilt for each of them, we don’t know. But, we do know that at that time, several of the friends were not married. Could be that they made quilts for their hope chests.”

The quilts in the Pioneer Museum of Alabama show feature many different patterns, some are familiar to those in the know about quilts, including Mary Hasslewander’s wedding ring pattern.

“This is a very interesting quilt as far as color and, also the back of the quilt,” Tatom said. “Several of the quilts have been folded so that the backs can be seen. The quilt backs are often interesting.

“Feed sacks were often used for the backings and that was not unusual because feed sacks provided readily available material for quilts. Several quilts in the show have feed sack backs.”

Old clothing was also used to piece quilt tops and the clothing material often dates the quilt. However, because clothes were handed down from child to child or worn until they were threadbare, feed sack and biddy feed sack patterns are more recognizable than clothing materials.

Although some quilt patterns were similar, if not the same, they often had different names in different parts of the country.

String quilts, pieced quilts and crazy quilts were made from scraps and put together in various ways.

The personalities of the quilters were often very evident.  A string quilt could be very orderly or helter-skelter.

One string quilt with an interesting story was made by Florence Ivester from Stephens County, Georgia during World War I.

“Her husband, Vernon, lost his right leg in the war,” Tatom said. “The quilt was always a reminder to them of their time spent apart.

Another reoccurring pattern in the show is called Grandma’s Garden or summer blooms, depending on where the quilt was made.

The drunkard’s path, also known as drunkard’s walk, endless trail, and wanderer’s road, were designed for the temperance cause.

One of the more recent quilts in the show is a picnic quilt made by Bea McKnatt for her husband Art of South Montgomery county.

“Art wanted a picnic quilt to go with his 1936 Ford pickup,” Tatom said.  “He wanted the quilt to be the color of his truck. Bea found heirloom material the color of Art’s truck and made the picnic quilt for him.”

Tatom said each quilt in the show does have a story but story, or not, the Pioneer Museum of Alabama’s 2019 Quilt Show is not to be miss.

This opportunity will not come around again for two years. The price of admission to the museum also includes the quilt show, making it the best ticket in town right now.