Her Story – Quilts and the Women Who Made Them

Jun 1, 2007

Quilts are among the few traditional household objects that bridge utility, communal activity and art, but they have always been made with consideration to their aesthetic value.

For many years, a hand-sewn quilt was one of few tangible ways a woman could leave her mark on history.

Sixth-generation quilter and Maplewood resident Sarah Izzo coordinated a beautiful display at the Durand-Hedden House in 2007 that featured a variety of traditional, vintage and art quilts from her family and her own hand, the collection of the Durand-Hedden House and that of other local quilters and collectors.

A centerpiece of the exhibit was The Maplewood Historical Quilt, sewn by the members of the Maplewood Service League and presented to the township in 1976. Each block in the quilt represented an important site or event in Maplewood history. The project was a yearlong labor of love for the Service League, many of whom had never quilted before. Susan Newberry tracked down some of them to gather their memories and learned that many recalled this as a highlight of their life in Maplewood.

Other pieces on display were by Theresa Barkley, an award-winning Maplewood quilter, and Imogene Hicks of Edison. Beautiful heirloom quilts were loaned to the exhibit by Mary Auth, Gretchen Braunwarth, Thelma Hadley, Sarah Izzo, Marilyn Schnaars, Samuel Whinery and Marilyn White.

Pieces of History

Despite the traditional image of colonial quilt-makers, the practice was uncommon in America in the late eighteenth century and early years of the nineteenth. Most women spent their daylight hours spinning, weaving and sewing in order to clothe their families. Coarsely woven blankets or coverlets were more usual bed-coverings. Most people had few clothes, and the idea of using leftover scraps of fabric to make pieced quilts was more myth than fact.

The industrial revolution of the 1830s and 40s was the real force in the development of quilt-making as an attractive pastime. The availability of reasonably priced commercial textiles freed women from the need to create their own fabrics.

A wide variety of cotton prints could be purchased to make clothing, and even specifically quilts. According to the website womenfolk.com, the first quilt patterns were published in about 1835, and the introduction of the Singer sewing machine in 1856 – affordable on the installment plan – allowed women to make family clothing more quickly, and left them time for artistic expression through quilt-making.

The exhibit at Durand-Hedden vibrantly illustrated the vast variety of patterns and colors, and the spirit of the women who made them, and many young visitors tried their hand at sewing simple quilt patterns with the guidance of Ms. Hicks.

Read more about:

Domestic Arts Women’s History

Slavery in New Jersey: A Troubled History is an illustrated 40-page book that traces the evolution of slavery in New Jersey, which began with Dutch settlement in the seventeenth century and continued through the end of the Civil War.

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