Stitchers sew history into quilts

by Donna Daniels
Post Independent Staff

Like many pioneer women of the burgeoning West, Maude White was used to hardship and loneliness. As the child of homesteaders who grew up in a sod house, and who became a Colorado homesteader herself, she provided for herself and her family.

She made quilts as a matter of course and they became her passion.

Maude died at age 99, leaving behind her personal history pieced together into homemade quilts.

Ruby Davis of Palisade, a family friend who cared for Maude in her old age, and who is herself a quilter, understands how important it is to preserve the pioneer heritage of women such as Maude.

Davis heads up a group of women affiliated with the Colorado Quilting Council, who document quilts all over the Western Slope.

This Saturday, May 3, Ruby and her colleagues will hold a quilt documentation day from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Lovell Building , 200 4th St. in Rifle. The day will be hosted by the Anvil Points Quilting Guild.

Anyone with a quilt, whether modern or historic, is invited to register their quilt with the council. The registration is free and a copy of the documentation record is $5.

The group held a quilt documentation day in Hotchkiss last weekend and last month in DeBeque. Davis said she is negotiating to have a documentation day in Glenwood Springs in the near future.

For Davis, the project is a work of love.

“Maude had no amily, but she was a dear friend and we took care of her,” Davis said.

“Many women felt their role in making a quilt was not important,” she said. “Their job was to provide for the family, to make quilts to keep them warm.”

Quilts, which pioneer women often pieced together with scraps of clothing or rags, stitched the very history of their lives.

Seeing a quilt his mother had made when he was a boy, a friend of Davis’ recognized pieces of her apron.

Maude took old shirts and pants and aprons and pieced together a quilt she backed with feed sacks. Judging from the fabric, Davis estimated it was made sometime in the 1920s.

Maude was from Red River County, Texas, and traveled with her family to Tucumcari, N.M., sometime in the late 19th century, Davis said.

“She followed a cart driving two cows.”

The family built a “soddy” – a shack roofed with grass sod, about 20 miles from town. Her father was murdered in Texas, but his assailant was never found. Maude’s mother remarried but her husband left them in Tucumcari, not wanting to care for her five children, Davis said.

When she was of age, Maude went to work in town to support the family. She homesteaded her own land and built a “soddy.” She picked berries in Oregon and after her short-lived marriage worked in factories in California during World War II, Davis said.

She had one child, a daughter, “but the last she heard of her was in the 1950s,” Davis said.

For more than 50 years she was alone, and her quilts kept her company.

“This little lady had so many struggles in her lifetime. I found her so interesting,” she said.

Davis volunteered with the quilt documentation project to preserve the history of women like Maude White.

“If I didn’t tell the story of that pedestrian quilt made out of what people would normally throw away” no one would have known about that brave soul, she said.

Since 1986, the Colorado Quilt Council has documented 8,858 quilts. Davis and her group, formed in 1995, have registered more than 800, Davis said.

The documentation process is simple but involves filling out a lengthy registration form. Davis and her team may interview the owner about the quilt, looking for information about when the quilt was made and by whom and any known history of the quilter.

The quilt is photographed, then is inspected by a research team that tries to identify the block pattern using “The Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilting Blocks” by Barbara Brackman.

The researchers also identify the fabric and make note of such elements of the quilt as the type of stitching, backing, and borders used.

The team doesn’t appraise the value of quilt. Nor does it date them. That’s a pretty tricky proposition, Davis said.

“We can look at the fabric and maybe give people a decade when it was made,” Davis said. Certain quilt block patterns have been dated, so quilts can be placed after a particular design appeared.

Finally, a quilt receives a registration number that is entered in a computer database at the council’s headquarters in Denver and a registration tag is attached to the quilt.

The ultimate goal, Davis said, is to publish a book of Colorado quilts.

In the meantime, stories such as Maude White’s will be preserved for generations to come.

Contact Donna Daniels: 945-8515, ext. 520

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