Friday, January 14, 2011

Identifying Quilts

A few months ago, my mother received some quilts that had belonged to her mother. Since her mother didn't quilt, Mom thought they were made by her two grandmothers. Mom said her mother used the quilts when Mom was very young, but when they could afford it, her mother bought blankets for the beds and Mom never saw the quilts again. Unfortunately, the quilts aren't marked in any way, so Mom brought them to me so we could try to identify which grandmother made which quilt, and when they were made. I know a woman who is a quilt historian, so I took them to her. She really couldn't say definitively which quilt was made by which of my great grandmothers, but she gave me enough information to narrow down a few of them.

Here's the first quilt, which was at my great-uncle's house at the time of his death. Since he had lived with my great grandmother S for the last years of her life, and he never married afterward, we were 99.9% sure that this quilt was made by his mother, who we called Mother S.

This quilt looks a great deal like the quilt Mother S made for mom's wedding gift in 1951.

The pink double wedding ring quilt has smaller rings, and the binding is bias and follows the scallops of the block. The red one also has bias binding but the scallops have been filled so the quilt is square. Of all the quilts we have that we know were made by Mother S, none of them have binding with mitered corners, and this one does, or three of the four are mitered. The fourth corner is straight binding, probably because that is what she was used to doing and that is where the two ends came together. It was actually a relief to see that so I could compare it to her older quilts. The only other difference is the quilting design. The pink quilt, being smaller just has a boxed X in the center of the ring, and the red one has a cross hatch in the center.

The pink one was made when Mother S was 63 years old and had been quilting at least 46 years. With it, her stitches are small, straight, and closely quilted. The red one was probably the last one she made around 1975 soon before going into a nursing home, and the stitches are longer, though still straight and closely quilted. I'm guessing it was her last because it was never washed and still has the blue pattern marks drawn on it.

But the real proof were the fabrics that were in both quilts.

These are sections from the red one: (remember the fabrics are brighter because this quilt has never been washed)

And sections from the pink quilt with matching fabrics:

Bless Mother S's little frugal heart.

The next quilt that we needed to identify is this Grandmother's Flower Garden.

It looks very much like this Grandmother's Flower Garden Quilt. When mom got married in December 1950, Mother S told her she would make a quilt and asked what mom wanted. Double wedding ring of course. Mother S didn't have one of those made, and gave mom a Grandmother's Flower Garden to put on her bed until she could get a Double Wedding Ring made. It was this Grandmother's Flower Garden, made in 1950. When I was a little girl, this was my quilt though I didn't appreciate it at the time. I wanted a ruffled bedspread like all my friends. Little did I know that this quilt would outlast all my other bedspreads.

Mother S was a woman whose hard work and frugality helped the whole family make it through the depression with comfort. She saved every scrap of fabric that was worth saving, and most of her quilts, even the last one, have some of the older scraps in it. That makes it hard to date this quilt, even though I found some of the same fabrics in each one. Since my grandmother quit using the quilts around 1940, I'm guessing this well worn quilt was made in the early 1930's.

Again, Mother S's scraps tell us that it is she who made both quilts.

Sections from the 1950 quilt:

Remember that fabric from the Double Wedding Ring quilts?

Now sections from the 1930 quilt:

Now the next quilt is a puzzle. My expert said the fabrics are late 19th century, based on the shirting fabrics in it and the dark patterns in the blocks.

But that doesn't mean the quilt was made then. Both my great grandmothers were about 12-15 years old at the turn of the century, and it's doubtful either of them made this quilt at that time. Either one of them made it at a later time or one of their mothers or possibly even one of their mothers-in-law made it.

We really don't know anything about the quilting skills of any of my great great grandmothers. Mother S's mother became a widow when Mother S was about seven years old, and she had to go to work in the fields. Mother S was the oldest child, and she had to leave school and take care of the house and her younger siblings. It is doubtful that her mother had time to do any quilting of this quality then. My other great grandmother, who we called Mama H, didn't really like quilting. Her interests were in embroidery and crochet. Mom remembers a beautiful Crazy Quilt that Mama H made, but said that her pieced quilts were of simple design and her stitches larger than Mother S. While her mother surely made quilts for the family, and taught her daughters their sewing skills, we don't have any quilts that have been identified as hers. It's even a possibility that the blocks of this quilt were put together by the daughters and quilted by Mama H's mother. Some of the blocks appear to be well made with small stitches in white thread, and others seem fairly sloppy with a combination of thread colors, and even some machine stitching. The quilting design is stitched with small, straight, and even stitches. The binding is the quilt backing folded over to the front, something that we have seen before on Mother S's quilts and on some of the quilts we know are not Mother S's.

So now the hunt is on to see if we can identify any of these fabrics or find any other clues that will tell us who made this quilt, and when.

One other thing, if you dear readers have gotten this far. All of these quilts were stored for awhile at a nephew's house and they smell of a musty house and cigarette smoke. I've had them in my house for a couple of days and I am very sensitive to cigarette smoke. I've aired one of them today and it is better, but still intolerable for me. If any of you know how to get out that smell, other than washing, please let me know. I don't think any of them would make it through a washing.

Update: Thanks to the comment by Cheyenne, I just had an epiphany. I was thinking about using, or not using, Febreeze, a dryer sheet, or fresh air, and I thought about my air filter with the ionizer. I never use the ionizer, but thought if I shut the door to a bedroom, it would be safe enough.

Until next time, may you have blessings and soft reminders of your heritage,


  1. Beautiful quilts. Such a wonderful legacy. I can actually appreciate them now. lol

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. I love quilts and I love any kind of history.

    Suggestion: do you think Febreze would work?

  3. Me too Missy. Too bad it took so long!

    Thank you Cheyenne. I've wondered about that too, but I'm afraid to put any kind of chemical cleaner on them. Some of them are over 100 years old. I guess I'll just wait until the next nice day and put them outside to air for a few days.

  4. I love your mother's 1951 quilt and included it in my included it in my blog (

  5. I've heard that you can lay them in the sun...a sheet below them, and another sheet over them to limit fading...and this will help with the smell. It's worth a try and costs nothing and should not damage the quilt.

  6. I've heard that you can lay them in the sun...a sheet below them, and another sheet over them to limit fading...and this will help with the smell. It's worth a try and costs nothing and should not damage the quilt.


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