During this Christmas season, I recall my mother preparing our home for the coming holiday. Besides window washings, floor scrubbing, furniture polishing, there was always a “special” quilt that was put on the bed in the Guest Room. As I would enter the sun lit guest bedroom, my eyes would immediately go to the colorful quilt. I would love to run my hand over its surface and imagine where these lovely pieces came from. I’d like to think they were sent here from far off lands.
In the 1870′s my great-aunt constructed a quilt made when she was employed as a seamstress for the Van Horn costumers in Philadelphia, Pa., the then leading Costume maker in the entertainment field. The costumes she made were seen on stages in Philadelphia and New York and other cities.
The fabrics used in the quilt were of the period….Victorian. They were made of satins, velvets and silks and perhaps taffetas. I believe the pattern is called “Washington Steps” or known today as Log Cabin. I don’t believe it was meant as an “utilitarian quilt” but more as a way to display her ‘sew-manship’.
It was the custom at the time to allow the ladies who worked in the sewing room to take home scrapes of fabric. These pieces were too small for any garment but perfect to be cut into various shapes. My Great Aunt would take these precious scraps and transform them into magical pieces that became our “Heirloom” quilt. We believe that this quilt was made around the mid-1800′s. A “sister” quilt was made from these same pieces of cloth and was displayed in the window, on the 4th of July in the John Wanamaker Department store on Market Street in Philadelphia.
Presently our quilt is packed away in an acid-free, air tight box. It can no longer be displayed due to erosion of the delicate fabrics.
Two of my daughters, who live in Austin, Texas are carrying on this tradition. They fashion quilts from a melange of fabrics. These can be old baby clothes, “T”-shirts, blouses, wedding gowns, dresses and suits worn for very special occasions and clothing worn at one time by family member who has since passed on. After designing a pleasing quilt top they then machine quilt them on their long-arm machine.
So it seems we have come “full-circle” Our love of this beautiful art just grows and continues.
Do you have an old quilt in your family with a similar, rich history?