Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Ghost Quilt

It's been a week for quilt fragments and reflection.

When I was clearing out my grandmother's house some years back, I found some mattress pads in the bottom of a large cedar chest. One caught my attention--with fine quilting stitches all over it, it clearly had not begun its life as a mattress pad. It was a smallish quilt that had been folded right sides in, and roughly machine stitched into a cot-sized pad. I picked out the machine stitching and this is what I found.

It's the ghost of a quilt.

The backing, sashing, and quilting are perfectly intact,

but nearly everything else on this quilt is....gone.  Out of 25 blocks, only three are intact, and one of those has pieces whose colors have faded out to almost nothing.

This week, I finally got around to asking an area quilt appraiser to take a look, and she tells me that the volatile fabric dyes of the 19th century are to blame. That and hard use, heavy laundering, and time, the enemy of just about everything.

The appraiser dates the quilt at 1860, which means it was made in the Thousand Islands area of New York State by my great-great-grandmother, Fannie Grapotte Senecal. Fannie gave birth to 14 children and raised eight of them. One little son named Moses drowned in a rain barrel.

It might have been nice to discover a Baltimore Album or other better preserved quilt in that cedar chest, but I'll take what I have here.

 It's nothing, it's everything. Hands to heart, from the mid 19th century and a long-ago grandma to me.

I come from a line of quiltmakers who didn't have the luxury of making showpiece quilts or of keeping their quilts pristine. They made utility quilts that were used and loved, and in many cases, used up.  It's hardly even a quilt any more, but I plan to label it with what I know about its history, and keep it safe. Despite its sad looks, I see something more in this quilt every time I look at it.


Tazzie said...

Kathie, I'm sure your Grandmother's heart would sing knowing that you're treasuring her quilt. What a wonderful legacy to have and pass on.

cauchy09 said...

such a lovely heirloom. treasure it forever. i come from a similar line of sewists. the quilts of my past long ago disentigrated when *someone* put them into a hot water heavy-duty washer. oh well.

Karen said...

Such an interesting read today. The part about a child dying in a rain barrel is very sad, though.

Dianne said...

What a wonderful story, and what a sweet quilt, Kathie. So lucky that you took the time to open those seams to reveal the treasure inside. It would be fun to make another quilt just like this one and display them side by side!

Quilting Babcia said...

How fortunate you are to have found this treasure and to know the history of the person who crafted it over 150 years ago! No quilting history in my family of which I'm aware, sadly. I like your friend's idea of replicating the quilt as closely as possible and keeping them together to pass along to the next generation.

The Quilting Car said...

I'm happy for your finding the quilt and for knowing as much as you do about your great great grandmother. I'm really glad you have inherited her quilting skills.

Judy in Michigan said...

Wonderful story and wonderful memories for you.

Sew Create It - Jane said...

What a wonderful piece of family history... Just the thing that send tingles down your back.