Dramatic stories bring quilt history to life

Carmen Pincott, Ann Hedberg, Pauline Clarke, Cheryl Mussell, Pat Kiteley and Sheila Gibson
Previous presidents of the Kemptville Quilters’ Guild were on hand at the Pentecostal Church to celebrate its 20th anniversary. They are (l to r): Carmen Pincott, Ann Hedberg, Pauline Clarke, Cheryl Mussell, Pat Kiteley and Sheila Gibson. Photo credit: Sally Smith.
Posted on: September 16, 2019

An unexpectedly large number of women — plus one baby and one or more men — turned out Monday night to watch and listen to the stories about treasured old family quilts at the Kemptville Quilts’ Guild bed turning.

Twenty-four quilts of all sizes and vibrant colour mixtures took centre-place at the Pentecostal Church on County Road 43. When Nancy Grundy, program convener, began the presentation, the only other noise in the room was a cooing baby.

Anne Rankin holding up blue and white Dresden Plate quilt.
Anne Rankin brought a well-loved blue and white Dresden Plate quilt to the bed turning. Photo credit: Sally Smith.

Quilts ranged in age from 1899 to 2019, each with its own story,  many with family histories; the owners wrote a bit about their possessions, hinting at life a century ago — some dramatic and tearful, others describing the frugality of long-ago households, and even others the daily existence of young women hand-stitching their first sampler quilts.

Quilt materials differed throughout the century from rough cotton with sugar- or flour-sack backing to the newer polyesters. Some of the quilts had never been put on beds — stored away, handed down from mother to daughter through the generations. Others were faded, often washed, a few tatters, well worn and used.

Grundy, in her opening remarks, painted a picture — “Quilts were handmade, made with love for someone, and had a purpose.” The purpose today, she added, is to bring the quilts out into the light, tell their histories to families, and finally, to use them.

At least one came from a garage sale in South Mountain and is now being used in a camper; edgings were different on many of them — folded from front to back, flannel sheet binding; some were still stained from previous use (after being well washed!); some were appliquéd and others had scalloped edges. They came from nearby — Brockville, Merrickville, Smiths Falls, and as far away as Meaford.

The story behind Anne Rankin’s blue and white Dresden Plate quilt hushed everyone: “The fabric used in this quilt is from my mother’s nurses training uniforms from the Montreal General Hospital,” she wrote in the description.

“Kate McCune arrived in Canada aged eight as a Barnardo Child with her two sisters. The girls were placed in separate homes and used as farm labour. Kate received a Gr. 5 education which was all her adopted parents where obliged to provide. She always wanted to be a nurse. I inherited the quilt when my mother Phyllis Hipkin passed away.”

So Grundy’s message is to uncover old quilts, give them a gentle wash, dig back into family history, find the story, and then use them.

Article by Sally Smith