Texas Quilting: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Heritage

Found Treasures: Texas Heritage Quilt Society 
Quilts embody both functional and embellished art, as did the baskets and stained glass of earlier times.  Recognizing that art serving a function can become lost through use, nine women formed the Texas Heritage Quilt Society, an organization to locate, photograph, and record the stories that are a part of every quilt.  Members from across the state have been attracted to support these goals, with longer-range plans to build a quilt archives and a quilt museum where quilts may be seen and studied.  The formation of this group coincided with preparations for Texas’s Sesquicentennial—150 years of being freely Texas.  Accordingly, the group applied for, and was sanctioned as the entity to preserve the quilts of Texas for those who come after us.
Texas Heritage Quilt Society sponsored eighteen Quilt Search Days in communities across the state.  People gathered quilts from their closets, quilt boxes, between mattresses, even car trunks, and brought these “hidden treasures” to be recorded in honor and memory of the Quiltmaker.  Some of the quilts dated even before Texas was a Republic; many dated from the westward migration years; even more from the twenties and thirties, when there was a notable resurgence in quiltmaking, attributable in part, certainly, to the Depression.
The quilt owners wrote down their stories while their quilts were photographed, measured, and categorized.  The colors, fabrics, batting, thread, and techniques used, the designs and quality of the needlework were noted.  Oral histories were taped as well.  Much was learned from this outpouring of information, and it is the purpose of this book to share as much of what was garnered as possible.  The quilts are pictured, often the quiltmaker, and always their stories.
Because of the simultaneous explosion of quiltmaking all over the North American continent, coupled with the lack of a rapid means of communication, during the early years quilt names proliferated and the literature abounds with many labels for the same basic design, confounding attempts at a manageable discourse.  Local designations often vividly reflect the history and culture of that area.  Bethlehem Star became Texas Lone Star; Ohio Star became Texas Star; Pickle Dish was renamed Pine Burr in the East Texas Piney Woods.
The Quilt Search Days elicited the information that “pieced” quilts, those composed of cut-out and sewn-together geometrical shapes, greatly outnumbered the “appliqué” or “laid” type, in which shapes, often flowers and leaves, were cut from one fabric and blind-stitched onto another fabric.  Of the pieced type, the design known as the Double Wedding Ring was most often seen, followed closely by Grandmother’s Flower Garden, which is made of hexagons—six-sided shapes—and is capable of being combined in an infinity of ways.  Dresden Plates, Stars of all kinds, Fans, and Trips Around the World were favorites.  And all of these, though recognizable in basic design, usually departed from the standard to make a statement of their own.
A surprisingly large number of New York Beauty quilts were tabulated—surprising because of the complexity of the design.  One has to conclude that Texas Quiltmakers liked a challenge and wanted to show off their sewing prowess.  Noted too was the dearth of Log Cabin quilts.  Log cabin quilts, with their myriad variations, reached a zenith of popularity during the 1870’s-1890’s, peak years for quiltmaking in general.  The fact that Log Cabin patterns utilize scraps often designated it as a utility quilt and the hard usage to which these were put may account for the fact that not many survived.  Several Crazy Quilts were documented—equally divided between those made of silks and satins and those of wool scraps.  Most of the Crazy Quilts dated between 1880 and 1910, with the notable exception of a silk and satin beauty dated 1861 on a Texas Star in the center of the quilt.
It might be noted there is a definite correlation between the age of a quilt, and the amount of stitchery that holds the three layers together—the two layers of textiles, with a soft, warm substance between.  The older the quilt, the more stitching is often the case.  Older quilts exhibit elaborately quilted design areas, the other parts closely filled in with lines, double and triple lines, squares, diamonds, hanging diamonds, clamshells, etc.  This filling technique lends prominence to the design area and throws it into vivid relief, lending to the quilt that endearing sensual quality that begs to be touched.
Texas Quilts of Today: Our Legacy for Tomorrow 
Quilts have been and continue to be markers in women’s lives—births, marriages, friendships, and death.  They are the creative testaments of the many passages of our lives—sorrows and joys; disappointments and fulfillments.
The availability of books, fabrics, patterns, and classes make it much easier for women of today—especially when we think of those early quiltmakers who had to grow, pick, gin, card, spin, dye, and weave their own cotton.  Why, we can buy “homespun” for only eighteen dollars a yard!  But that desire to create is the same now as yesterday…the joy in design and color, the warmth and security of a handmade quilt is as strong now as it was 100 years ago.
The “quilting bees” of the 1800’s, “quilting clubs” of the early 1900’s, and now the quilt “Guilds” of the 1980’s all reflect the need of women to share activities with friends.  Then and now, groups provide support, understanding, friendship, therapy and, yes, a bit of competition to stimulate new ideas and creativity.
Pauline Smith, a Beaumont quiltmaker, gives us this contemporary testament of quilting in her life:
When I began quilting in 1977 my husband considered it to be something “little old ladies” did to while away the time.  He even suggested that I wait until I was “older” to do it.  Gradually he became supportive in many ways.  He helped to organize my supplies by designing and building, in one weekend, a storage and sewing center.  We worked together on photography and he photographed one of our guild’s quilt shows.
I made many things to give to family members and for charity.  Being a dabbler in painting himself, we often had artistic differences and he always made his opinion known about my work.  He pleaded with me to make a quilt just for him—the way he wanted it.  He chose a king-size Delectable Mountain in greens.  It pained me to stay with the monotone, so he chose every fabric, the placement of the colors, the quilting design and even the backing colors.  On the back I embroidered “Fabric and pattern—Delectable Mountain—chosen by and made for my husband Robert E. Smith who said I never made a quilt just for him.  With love, Pauline Smith, 1983.”  A year later he became ill with cancer and became a research patient.  When he determined that he wasn’t going to live, he asked not to go back into the hospital.  In March of 1984 at the age of 46 he died the way he wanted to—at home, under his own quilt.
The period after his death was made easier for me because of the support of my quilting friends.  One gift to me was a small permanent arrangement of flowers.  It became a symbol to me of the caring attitude of my friends.  The colors inspired me to make a quilt for myself.  It was a way of working out my grief and was an important step in beginning a new phase in my life.
The Contemporary Texas Quilts included in this publication were made by Texas women involved in the resurgence of the art of quilting in the 1980’s.  Each of these quilts has a story.  They are our legacy for tomorrow.                                 

Text taken from Texas Quilts, Texas Treasures, American Quilter’s Society, 1986.
All rights reserved.
  • Museum

    Winedale Quilt Collection

    University of Texas at Austin, Briscoe Center for American History

  • Documentation Project

    Texas Quilt Search

    University of Texas at Austin, Texas Sesquecentennial Quilt Association

  • 1930-1949

    Double Wedding Ri...

    Mackey, Lelia Mae S...

  • 1930-1949

    New York Beauty

    Buske, Hedwig Ferts...

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