On Sunday, 20th October 2019, TRC-volunteer Beverley Bennett wrote:
The TRC recently received a donation of a simple and unassuming utility quilt. It has a colourful top that is made from two lengths of fabric. This top is printed with a design mimicking a patchwork of half square triangles in a pinwheel arrangement. The two lengths are joined along their length by machine.
The backing of the quilt is different. It consists of simple feedsacks joined together. It is hand quilted in a basic Baptist Fan design. Because of the fabrics and the slightly coarse hand quilting thread, we have dated the quilt to about 1920-1930.
However, on examining the quilt, we realised it was unevenly ‘lumpy’ inside, which was a bit unusual and so we carefully unpicked a small corner of the quilt to see what was going on. We discovered an older quilt inside! More unpicking revealed a worn, tattered quilt that had been made from even older, recycled blocks.
The Hidden Quilt consists of bits of old shirts, dresses, etc., of a mid-nineteenth century date, which were recycled into diagonally string-pieced (a method of using long, narrow pieces of fabric), 5 inch squares and joined into sets of four, making (roughly) 10 inch blocks.
It is hard to know whether the blocks were used for making a quilt straightaway, but at some stage the blocks were joined, by machine, with used and patched denim pieces as sashing and more shirtings as corner posts. It was backed with a purple ticking type fabric and was then hand quilted in the Baptist Fan pattern with 5-6 stitches per inch as the cotton filling and the ticking is quite thick.
The Hidden Quilt had a long life, because it was well used and in tatters at the edges. There was clearly some damage that was repaired with a machine-sewn patch and, since the sewing machine dates from about 1860, we know the repair must have happened after that date. When exactly the Hidden Quilt was made, remains a moot point.
Finally the Hidden Quilt was recycled into the utility quilt we received, interestingly being quilted once again with the same pattern, in the same style and with virtually the same type of thread – could it have been recycled by the same person, for the third time, but some fifty or so years later?
The quilt, including its Hidden Quilt, will be on display in the forthcoming TRC gallery exhibition on the history of American quilts, opening in February 2020.