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.