Imagining the Past

Two more UFOs down, still a stack to go. I was on the road a lot in October but managed to have projects at a point where I could bring some with me and work on them at night after meetings. It was stress relief and productive all at once. Gotta love hitting a double.

Yesterday I brought one of the antique quilts back to the appraiser, Beth Davis--I had only gotten a verbal appraisal on it the first time around but Beth had written a note, when she sent me the written appraisals on the other two, saying she was hoping I'd decide to get a written appraisal on the Lone Star as well. Then my BQF, ("Best Quilting Friend," who in this case is a regular ol' BFF dating from my elementary school days as well), Kate mentioned to me a few weeks later that Beth had commented to her at their guild meeting that Beth hoped I'd bring the Lone Star back. It was clear the Lone Star had made an impression on her. She doesn't get enough for these appraisals for her interest to really be in the money--it truly is a passion for quilts. So I called her up and made the appointment.

That is always such a fascinating experience. You can learn so much history from a quilt. Probably only quilters would get that jazzed about the detail in the conversation, but it is just so amazing what you can learn by looking at fabric and stitches! I still don't know who made this Lone Star. It's 1940s, and neither of my aunts recognize it at all. But Mom never bought an antique quilt that any of us know of, so it has to be family. My best guess is my great-grandmother since we know for a fact she made another one I have from a few years earlier--same level of skill, but very different style, so it's hard to tell for sure. I guess her sister also quilted, so it might be the sister's instead. I'll probably never know.

What Beth could tell, though, was that this was a quilter of great skill. Lone Stars are a difficult pattern, and this was one completely hand pieced and done beautifully. All the places where the multiple seams meet lay flat--the biggest pitfall with Lone Stars. It may have been from a kit, as those were popular at that time. But it's got a very unusual color combination, one that Beth had never seen before, and the quilting pattern was also very unusual and unknown to Beth. Doesn't mean it wasn't all with the kit (many kits come with a quilting pattern), but it could equally as well be original to the quilter.

But what turned out to be the most interesting part of the conversation revolved around stains on the quilt. It's not at all unusual for antique quilts to have stains on them, but this quilt has a very unique pattern of stains. The stains all appear on one particular fabric (orange), and only where that one fabric appears in the same row all the way around the star points. Plus, it's quite obvious that the stain was in the fabric before it was pieced into the star. It looks very much like something got splashed on it--it's a watery sort of stain. Beth and I imagined all sorts of scenarios about those stains. Did the quilter--I'll call her "Q"--spill something on a stack of diamonds waiting to be pieced? Was fabric so expensive at the time that she couldn't replace it despite the stains? Are the stains a clear indication this was from a kit (since kits only include exactly the amount of fabric you need and not a thread more)--and Q had to plow ahead even though she was now using damaged fabric? Did Q even see the stains at the time, or are they something that only came out with age (and would break Qs heart now if she could see them)?

I found myself running all sorts of film reels about those stains through my head on the drive home. For some reason, the stains make my relationship to Q feel even more real. Whether it's to imagine her knocking over a drink with her elbow and getting really ticked off at herself for doing it, or to imagine her seeing the stains later and feeling heartbroken that some things just go wrong no matter how you try to avoid it, I'm there.

No matter how you slice it, I have some talented quilters in my family tree. Now I really need to step up to the plate!