Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Mystery Quilt 153 years later

I really have nothing to post today.  I never did get outside to shovel.  I got up, had my coffee, took one look at the thermometer outside the kitchen window and said—“Tomorrow”.   I’ve spent most of the day trying to catch up on the 600 hst’s for the RRCB mystery quilt on Bonnie’s blog and I’m making progress.  I think I have about 300 sewn, pressed and trimmed so far, but I’m still a week and a half behind on this project.

I like to string piece the hst’s in units of 25.  This helps me keep count of how man I’ve sewn and they don’t end up in a tangled mess when I go to press them. You can also see that I sew all of them with either the light triangle on top or the dark on top.  This makes it easier to press the blocks in the same direction (towards the darker triangle).

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I wish I’d bought the “thangles” for this project, though.  Even using the EZ Angle, all of my blocks still need to be trimmed down.

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I want to share a few pictures  and the story of the first antique quilt I bought at an auction almost 20 years ago. 

I was very new to quilting back then, had just joined a quilt guild. I had made a few small quilts on my own but was just starting my first large quilt (Old Ugly).   In other words, I knew very little about quilts, period.

My quilt came up for auction right after a set of 18th century crystal goblets from an historic house in Ipswich, Massachusetts. During the bidding frenzy for them there was a lot of audience buzz that George Washington MAY HAVE visited that particular house and been served wine in THOSE goblets.

There were also several quilts auctioned off that day but I hadn’t seen them at the auction preview, because frankly,  I wasn’t looking to buy anything.   To be honest this auction was way out of my league and we were just there as spectators.  The real bidders that day were  antique dealers and collectors from New York, Boston and Chicago.  International bidders had agents bidding for them via satellite phone.

When my quilt came up next, the auctioneer just said it was an antique red and white quilt dated mid-19th century that appeared to have writing in some of the blocks.  I don’t know what came over me  but when the bidding opened at $25.00 I raised my hand and energetically waved it.  My husband sat next to me with a look of terror on his face and tried to pull my hand down from the air,  but it was too late and the auctioneer acknowledged my bid. 

That would have been the end of it had the bidding gone higher, but amazingly, no one else raised their program to bid against me and I went home with my $25 prize and the cheapest item that sold that day.

Later when I got home and  examined my quilt, I was excited to see signatures in most of the block centers along with dates and locations.  The dates range from 1857 to 1859 just prior to the start of the civil war.  There are a total of 64 blocks which each measure about 9 1/2 inches square.

To this day, I’ve never seen this pattern in another quilt.  I think it’s a variation of a reel and orange peel block design.  I love the double saw tooth border.  You can’t see it in the pictures but the hst’s of the saw tooth border form a flying geese design in the corners. 

I don’t think all of the blocks were signed.  Some definitely look newer and may have been added to fill in or enlarge the quilt so I’m thinking the quilt was assembled much  later after the blocks were made.  The binding is machine stitched and could be a replacement or could be further proof that the quilt was assembled later.

Over the years  some of the India ink signatures faded but a lot of the Antique Quilt Unknown 001 (2)stampings and signatures are still clear and readable.  Most of them are from Grand Prairie, Edgar County, and Paris, Illinois.

But here’s the mysterious part—one of the blocks was made by someone from Raymond, NH.  I can’t read the signature on that block but Raymond is less than eight miles from where I sit, so what was the connection between the block maker in Raymond, and the other block makers in Edgar County, Illinois--a distance of over 1,000 miles. My guess is that the quilt travelled from west to east because it ended up here in the Manchester auction where I purchased it. 

Some of the block makers must have felt very close to the person they were making this quilt for and added sentiments “Forget me if you can” and “Remember me” beneath their signatures.  DSCF3754 (2)DSCF3758 (2)

It makes me sad to think that this quilt was probably gifted to  someone that moved so far away, leaving their home and all that was familiar behind, perhaps never to return.  Who were they and why did they move?  At least they carried these blocks with them and the signatures of those friends left behind.  It must have been comforting coming to an unknown place to have something so familiar and a reminder of home.


  1. Gail, what a fantastic quilt and for only 25 bucks!!!

  2. Thanks Lori,
    It is a great quilt and I'm still doing research on its history. One day I hope to know more about it.


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