Quilts had to be what I used for our ‘Q’ day. I know, they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. But I’ve always loved old vintage quilts and quilt squares. I’d buy them whenever I could –when I could afford them – which wasn’t often. When I accidentally ran across a set of three unquilted, pieced tops and a set of thirty quilt squares in a yard sale in California – all for the unlikely price of fifteen or twenty dollars – don’t you know I grabbed them right up.
After driving off as fast as I could before the seller changed their mind, I headed home where I discovered that 27 of the 30 quilt squares had names embroidered on them. One square said ‘From Mother, To Doris’ and had the year ‘1934’ embroidered in the bonnet.
I knew all the names had to be connected in some way, either as family or by community. Finding the names was an elusive hunt at first. It took me several years before I tried again. By then a 1925 Athelstan Iowa census had been put online and seven of the names were on that list.
Another few years of periodic on and off research led me to a lot of the people and descendants of the people that had signed the quilt squares. In 2014 I made a trip to the Taylor County Historical, many were descendants of the women and young girls that stitched the squares eighty years earlier. Museum in Bedford, Iowa and delivered the quilt squares to the museum. Over seventy people came to the Quilt Tea to see the squares in person, many descendants of the women and young girls that stitched the squares eighty years earlier.
I doubt when the women and girls created these squares in 1934 that they knew the squares would be a source of reigniting a sense of community so many years later. But the story doesn’t stop there. When I returned home to Texas, I was talking to a lady in the bookstore about my journey with the quilt squares. Later, she discovered a signature quilt in an antique shop and she purchased it and hunted until she found some descendants that she could give the quilt to.
Diaries, letters and vintage photographs are wonderful for the history that they give us of the people that walked this earth before we did. But sometimes these historical fragments are left in small cotton and muslin squares.
Here are a few web sites that have information on signature quilts and their significance.
Athelstan Iowa today:
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