The Holidays are a time of year when we get to visit and spend time with family members we may not see too often. Going into the homes of grandparents, older aunts and cousins can be opportunities to share memories of family members, and to be around their possessions and family heirlooms. In my family we have kilts, regimental swords, war medals and jewelry - but no quilts. If you're someone with ancestors who quilted, I envy you!
A while back, my friend Dana took me to visit her mom, to see two beautiful quilts that were made by her great grandmother, Myrtie. Dana's mom, Barbara, had them carefully wrapped in tissue paper and stored in a trunk. My jaw dropped when she unfolded the two pieces and spread them out on her bed: One crazy quilt, one tumbling blocks quilt, both silk.
The tumbling blocks were pieced but not quilted. That made them even more intriguing because details of the hand work were still visible on the back that would have been hidden had this been a finished quilt. Spot the playing cards Myrtie used as templates!
As is often the case, some of the silk in these quilts has shattered. Chemicals that were used in the finishing process to create body and crispness in silk fabrics can cause the fibers to simply fall apart.
Mertie was Dana's great grandmother; Barbara's grandmother. She was born in 1881 and made the quilts in her teens while living in New England. It's clear she was a young woman with great patience and nimble fingers.
Unusually, Barbara has good records and photos of Myrtie, née Sleeper, later Ballou. Beautifully put together photo albums accompanied the quilts. It was wonderful to see the maker as a young woman, and later as the grandma Barbara remembers.
There's little more to add that pictures can't say better. Feast your eyes on these beautiful quilts!
Do you have heirloom quilts in your family? We'd love to read about them in our comments section. Enjoy your family visits this holiday season. Stay distanced from that pesky virus - but get up close to those heirloom quilts!