Quilt historians visiting Connellsville
Quilt historians on a mission to record the sewing heritage of Southwestern Pennsylvania — one quilt at a time — will visit Connellsville Presbyterian Church on April 20 for the Western Pennsylvania Quilt Documentation Project.
“The project co-directors were here for an official documentation last September, and due to the popularity of the day, are returning for a second time,” said Nancy Luckey, church secretary. “It is a unique opportunity for those who have handmade quilts that they treasure, that may have been in the family for many years. Others bring quilts that they have no background for and are also curious to know the history.”
This area of Southwestern Pennsylvania has rich and varied sewing traditions, which have led to the creation of hundreds of handmade quilts over the past 200 years, said Brenda Applegate, executive director of Beaver County Historical Research and Landmarks Foundation, which sponsors the project with partial funding through The Foster McCarl Foundation. These quilts reflect the sewing skills and artistic visions of women who made quilts as a way of caring for their families, telling the story of their lives and commemorating their loved ones.
Applegate's co-director, Jan Rodgers, is from Marshall Township in Allegheny County. She is an independent quilt historian and appraiser who has a master's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in textile history with an emphasis on quilt history.
“Of the quilts we documented in Connellsville last fall, the most interesting one was a circa-1840 red and green appliqué quilt that has been passed down through a local family since it was made,” Rodgers said. “What makes it special is that this quilt was made with a green print background fabric and had 25 fleur-de-lis motifs hand-sewn in a 5-by-5 grid. Red and green appliqué quilts were common from about 1850 to 1890, but most of them have white backgrounds with both red and green decorative appliqués.
“This quilt has been well cared for by the family who owns it and exhibits beautiful workmanship in addition to the unusual color use. We determined the age by looking at the printed designs on the red appliquéd pieces. There are a number of prints typical of the 1830s and 1840s. The quilt could have been made later, but we feel comfortable dating it as we did. It's one of the older quilts that we've seen in the four years since we began the project. The oldest was one made in 1793, but it had been made in eastern Pennsylvania,” she added.
There is no fee for documentations, but a $5 charge covers the cost of copies and data intake forms. Any type of handmade quilt is welcome: patchwork, appliqué, embroidery, crazy quilts, whole cloth quilts, and quilt tops that have not yet been quilted. The goal is to document as many of southwestern Pennsylvania's quilts as possible over the next few years. Ten counties will be included: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Green, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland.
Appointments must be made in advance by calling the church at 724-628-4401. During an appointment, the quilt will be measured, photographed, fabric dated and pieced or appliquéd pattern identified and the story of the quilt recorded. Bring birth and marriage dates and any history of the individual who made the quilt. The history and photo of the quilt will then be submitted to the Quilt Index and will be referenced at www.quiltindex.org. Quilts will not be appraised during this project. For more information, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applegate and Rodgers have undertaken the quilting project so this valuable piece of women's history is not lost. Their long-term goal is to include the quilts in a book. There is such a book, “Treads of Tradition,” containing quilts found in northwestern Pennsylvania. They hope to eventually submit them to The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress for inclusion in the nationwide database.
The two women have documented hundreds of quilts. They want to bring recognition to the extensive quilting activity of this region. The Presbyterian Church members are hoping to schedule a full day of appointments for the ladies. The church is located at 711 S. Pittsburgh St. in Connellsville.
Nancy Henry is a freelance writer.