Sunday, July 29, 2012

An Antique Quilt

This quilt was made by my great-grandmother, Sarah Caroline Howard. She was born 28 July 1852 and died April 12, 1944. In 1871 she married Thomas Berry Howard (see previous post), and made this quilt sometime during her marriage to him. Every stitch in the quilt is by hand. No sewing machine was available to her for sewing the pieces of fabric together.

She gave this quilt to my mother, who has it displayed on a quilt stand in one of her bedrooms. In my opinion, it is a true work of art; so individualistic; not like the precision quilts made today where everything lines up perfectly and every stitch looks the same.

My mother said the colors were more than likely dyed to obtain the desired shades and colors, as this was still being done when she (my mother) was a young girl, although dyes were available commercially by then. It is very likely the dyes used by my great-grandmother were were from plants.

The blue in the first two photographs are true; the lighting in the second two pictures makes the color appear aqua, which it is not.

The pattern seems to be a variation of a fan quilt with many interesting additions.

A close-up view of the stitching. All the threads used for quilting appear to be brown. Was it brown when it was made, or has it just aged over the years?

The backside of the quilt.

The backside is a woven fabric; most unusual.

I am amazed that this quilt has survived in such pristine condition! My mother estimates it to be at least 140 years old!

When I handled it (very carefully!) today, I could hear a few threads snap. Not a good sign.

Making quilts is something that runs in my family. My grandmother made and gave each of her eight children 20 quilts upon their marriage. My mother and most of her sisters made quilts. And within the past 15 years, even I became interested in quilt making! When I was younger I had no interest, as it seemed like an “old-fashioned” pastime. But I actually took a class to learn how to quilt! Imagine that, growing up among all those talented women and paying someone to teach me to quilt!

I made several quilts during that period, stitching the patchwork by machine and actually doing the hand stitched quilting instead of sending it out to be quilted by a machine. My mother gave my sister and me 20 quilts each upon our marriage, continuing the tradition started by her mother.

These quilts make for a very warm and cozy sleep on a cold winter’s night.
Do you own quilts? Have your ever tried your hand at quilting? Do you appreciate handmade quilts?


  1. We don´t have a quilt tradition over here.
    Instead, rugs made by hand were and are still made. With or without a specific pattern. They were used on horse driven sleighs in the winter. The most beautiful ones were and still are hung on the wall.
    I have an over 100 year old rug from the MIL. I had it restored - very expensive - at a time we had a cat in the house.
    Lying on the quilt before and especially after the restoring was one of his favorite places.
    So it got ripped all over again.
    I still have the rug, but never took it for another restoring trip.
    It is now in our sauna, folded on an armchair, waiting ..

    I especially like the striped side of your quilt a lot. Do take care of it!

    1. Hi Mette,
      I think patchwork quilts were an early-American tradition because it allowed settlers (mostly poor and in remote locations) to use up every bit of scrap material.
      Sorry that your restored rug became damaged again. I will have to watch it with these cats I have! The rug must be beautiful; you must picture it for us on your blog.
      The quilt still belongs to my mother. She has taken very good care of it and I suppose one day it will belong to either my sister or me.

  2. The quilt is absolutely stunning Sanda - what a precious heirloom to have in your home! I have been quilting about 15 years also, but usually machine quilt my efforts. However my mother made a full size quilt handstitched in tiny hexagons. It took her years, and it has recently come into my possession. I would like to wash it because it was on her bed, but am concerned it might break up. Any suggestions? Thanks, Patricia

    1. Hi Patricia
      I'm glad you, as an accomplished quilter, appreciate this quilt. As mentioned to Mette above, my mother still has it. I believe it would be perfectly fine to wash your mother's quilt, gentle cycle.

  3. What stunning colours it has been well cared for,no fading from sunlight,moth holes I hope not.What a treasure have never heard of anyone quilting over G/mother made 14 tapestry covers for her dining chairs.

    Same over here as Mette mentioned,old Persian rugs are hung up on walls,or even enclosed in glass & hung up.

    Have you thoughts on how you will display your quilt? Ida

    1. I think quilting is more an American tradition, begun by early settlers and made for the practical reason of staying warm and not letting any tiny scrap of fabric go to waste. I'm guessing the finer supplies associated with tapestry and embroidery work were just not available to many their creative talents were exercised through quilting.
      Should I ever become the owner of this quilt I would hang it in order to show it off to its full advantage.

  4. What a beautiful quilt, the colors are unusual too. So nice that it came down through the family and you know the history of it. I use quilts as bedspreads on the three beds in the Mt. House. All are completely hand sewn. Mine are 50-60 years old and made by a family friend who was in her 90's at the time she made them. I do like quilts but don't make them myself.


    1. Hi Darla
      I love quilts as bedspreads. You should picture yours on your blog; would love to see them.

  5. My husband is an only child, so we have all the quilts from his family - many of them made by his great grandmother. We just throw them in the wash and line dry them. Been doing that for years and they still look just as good as when we first got them. We used them all the time in Seattle, but in Tulsa we have to wait for Winter to get them out. I never even think of using them for decoration - what a splendid idea.

    1. The quilts you have must be really well made to hold together after all these years. Will this be your first winter in Tulsa? I would imagine it gets quite cold there and you can use your quilts! I like the idea of using for decoration too!

    2. Pretty sure they were pieced on a sewing machine, although most of them were hand quilted.
      This will be the second year for us in Tulsa, but I spent most of last winter in Southern California and Paris. And a trip to Hawaii. I really didn't like the cold, so I spent all my spare money on travel. This year I am going to try and stay home more.

  6. Thanks for reminding me of the background of this quilt. Besides the 20 Mother gave us at marriage, she has probably given us at least 10 more since then. I've never had the desire to make one and probably because all my closets are stuffed with them. I'll stick to gardening, no pattern and more forgiving in what you do.

    1. And whatever will we do with all the ones she owns? Would take an entire room to store all those plus the crocheted afghans! We definitely don't need more quilts!


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