When sisters, Margaret Love and Eliza Anne B. Love, began cutting out fabric and piecing together quilt squares in 1860, they knew they were preparing something special, something for the future. Both young women waited in anticipation of their fiances’ return home to Upper Providence Township, PA, from the Civil War, and created quilts in hope of building a home and a family. However, neither woman could have dreamed that 150 years later her appliqued quilt would be part of an impressive, national quilt exhibition in Paducah, KY.
The Loves’ quilts are just two of the historic Civil War era quilts currently on display at the National Quilt Museum. The exhibit, From the Pieces of a Nation: Civil War Period Quilts, offers a glimpse into the nation’s past, during a time when families and friends were torn apart by civil war.
So many of the quilts displayed at the museum bear handwritten signatures, possibly showcasing the names of loved ones who were away fighting in battle and the names of those protecting the family’s interests on the home front. Good penmanship was so valued before the advent of typewriters and computers and those with excellent skills took pride in their work. That is why so many of the signatures found on these historic quilts are perfectly scripted.
“Signature quilts were very special. For example, when a woman got married and moved away from home it was very likely that she would never be with their family again,” Judy Schwender, Curator of Collections/Registrar, says. “Signatures were a way of staying connected to those individuals who had moved away.”
The bold designs and preservation of color on each quilt gives the viewer insight into the industrialization going on in the fiber industry at this time. For instance, the introduction of colorfast fabrics made it easier to use bright colors, such as red. Colorfast meant that fabrics could be washed without fear of bleeding into other articles of clothing and fabrics. Visitors at the museum will notice that red was used frequently in these Civil War period quilts.
It’s difficult to know how these quilts managed to be so well-preserved, but it is likely that as they were passed from one generation to the next these cherished items were stored away for future generations to admire.
“It is likely that the original owners of these quilts would have used them. But as they were passed on they might have been tucked away and only brought out on special occasions, such as a guest coming for an overnight visit. It would be similar to what we might do with a set of heirloom dishes,” Judy says.
Although, most assuredly the colors in these quilts have faded over the years, each of them continues to maintain a vibrancy, free from the typical stains of aging and filled with the stories and memories of an era long gone. Very few details are known about the lives of many of the women and men who created these quilts, but one can be sure that great care was taken in the design and piecing of each of these treasures.
“There is a common misconception that quilts were made by poor people, from scraps of old fabric and clothing,” Judy says. “But it is more likely that quilting was done by people who had the time and the money to purchase material and sewing supplies. Needles and threads would have been somewhat difficult to obtain during this era, so people had to take good care of what they had.”
The quilts are on loan from the collection of Pat and Arlan Christ and will be at the museum through October 8. The museum is located at 215 Jefferson Street and is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays, through November 30, from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $11 for adults, $9 for seniors 60 and older, $5 for students and children 12 and under are admitted at no charge.