At that time, there clearly were women who had enough time to consider art. One way that they would practice their artistic skills was with fabric. No two quilts are exactly alike, even if the intent was to follow a pattern. There are color variations, and stitch variations. Some quilts follow existing patterns, and others are individually designed.
The two quilts that came to me are similar in age and in fabric, but very very different in detail. I've had an opportunity to talk over the phone with one of the ladies who work at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, and I've learned quite a bit just in that short conversation. I told her that the Crazy Quilt seemed not to be complete, as it had no filling. She told me that crazy quilts were not meant to have a filling; and, though I didn't think to ask her, I wondered if that was because the finishing touches on a crazy quilt involved decorative border stitches that would be difficult to accomplish through three layers. I'll have a chance to ask about that in September, as I've made a reservation for her and her staff to consult on my two orphan quilts. They will 'appraise' the quilts, not in financial terms but in age, fabric, and perhaps location. They will know if these quilts used fabric made in Lowell or elsewhere, and they'll give an approximation of the age of the quilt. For their time and expertise, they ask a small fee: $15.00 per quilt for non-members, or $10 for members. I told her I would sign up for membership: $45.00, or $30.00 for people over age sixty. I will join the museum, as I'll have time now to visit it to see the exhibits as they rotate through. And I'll invest the small fee to learn more about the quilts. And then, perhaps, I'll be able to write their story.
I did ask her if she might want the quilts for the museum, and she asked me if they were museum quality. I smiled and said no, they were tattered and stained, and now further weakened by my careless washing. She did say that if the quilts had something that the museum was missing in their collection, they might accept them. And if not, I will keep them until someone else might need them.
After talking with her, I went back to the dining room, where the Crazy Quilt was still spread out like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. I looked differently at it now; square by square, each seemed to have been created by a different person, and I began to imagine this as a 4-H project, with a group of youngsters using the same basket of remnant fabrics to cover their 15-inch square uniquely. But each square's fabrics were machine sewn with precision, as was the binding made of the back fabric, and so the thought of different people didn't fit. I then thought of a young person making a first quilt with odd discarded remnants of the family's cast- offs, and then losing interest in the project and finishing it hastily to go on to something else ... perhaps the Dresden Plate quilt. It, too, was machine sewn with precision, but with much brighter and better coordinated fabrics. And after being machine sewn together, some hand quilting of all three thin layers was done, suggesting to me that this quilt had special meaning to someone.
I have finished pinning the Crazy Quilt back together, with now only a few original pieces missing. I will not sew it, nor fill in the blank spaces, until after the museum has had a chance to assess it. I'm posting a picture of it here, spread evenly on the floor, so that you can see that it is composed of twenty-five 15 x 15 inch squares. It measures 75 x 75 inches, each square with layered print fabrics on a solid white muslin piece, and the finished squares are all sewn together with 1/4 inch seams. The Dresden Plate quilt (and that is the correct name for the pattern, I learned from one of the quilter sites posted at the bottom of yesterday's blog) is also square in shape, but measures smaller than the Crazy Quilt. It has a flannel-feeling layer between the front and back, giving it a bit more weight and fullness. Both quilts are backed with small patterned cotton calico, carefully seamed to fit the wider-than-bolt-width size of the quilts.