November 29, 2017

Treasured Family Heirloom, part 1

There are many different ways to put a value on a quilt.  Sometimes, like with this one, it's the artistry and the family history that makes it a treasure.  This poor quilt has definitely seen better days.  The silks are pretty much totally shredded.  But even so, the spirit, variety, and skill in the embroideries are notable.  Add to that a wonderful family history, and the quilt becomes something to honor and stabilize as much as possible.

Here's the story as told by the quilt's current owner.

We have a very old family quilt which we were told belonged to my husband’s great-great grandmother, Mary Catherine (nee Utterback) Redman who lived in Marshall Virginia (Faquier County) in the 1800’s.

Mary Catherine was born in the 1830’s and married Tilman Redman in 1850 Faquier County, Virginia.  We believe that he and his children worked as farm hands or laborers on a large farm owned by Col. Dulany in Faquier County. The spellings of the last name have been Redman, Redmon, and now Redmond finally, as the story goes when a school teacher in Virginia told them how to spell their last name.

There are wonderful embroidery of birds and flowers. There are also: an apple, pocket watch, large horseshoe, dog, leaves, grapes and grape leaves, cat, pipe, egret bird, spider, a horse with a rider who has a horn like a fox hunt, deer, squirrel, swan, many patches with rings with differing numbers.  I would love to know the significance of the number of rings.  We know that fox hunting was popular there in that time.

We do not want to use the quilt but would like to conserve the quilt or part of it somehow as a keepsake for our 34 year old daughter whose name is also Mary Catherine Redmond.

The quilt owner and I decided that I should mostly stitch down the pieces of silk that were loose and dangling, in order to help keep the lovely embroideries from coming off altogether.  That was plenty for her budget, and also the way to avoid tampering with Mary Catherine's fabric choices and stitchery.

The beautiful blue silk backing and brown striped silk borders were in really bad shape.  The brown borders were totally fragile, losing bits practically just from my breathing!  There really wasn't much to be done short of adding all new fabric, which would have changed the historical beauty of the quilt too much.


You'll notice my stitches in many of the following photos of the embroideries.  In so many spots, it was only the embroidery that was holding the fabric shreds in place, and sometimes not even that.  I used long running stitches in some places and a large herringbone stitch in others.  I stitched into the muslin foundation fabric, which was blessedly still intact and strong.

The quilt has had some TLC before.  There were a couple of patches that had been replaced with c. 1940s rayons.  I'm a big fan of keeping old repairs in place.  They're a sure sign of a well-loved quilt.

Even though I did the simplest work, the quilt does look much happier.  Just neatening things up can be worth an awful lot!

Because of the very fragile condition, I reminded the owner to pass along a couple of safe handling hints:
When handling the quilt, take off rings and bracelets that may snag on the tears, and roll up sleeves with cuff buttons.
Pick up the quilt by sliding arms beneath it and gathering it up instead of holding just by the edges.
Safe storage will prolong its life rather than display.

I just couldn't stop myself when I was photographing the quilt!  So grab a cup of tea, have a seat, and enjoy Mary Catherine's lovely and loving needlework.  She used several techniques, and had an apt eye for nature and the world around her.  Clicking on these to enlarge them will let you really see the wonderful stitches.

She enjoyed making velvet appliqués edged with buttonhole stitching, plus embroidered detailing.

Here is some embroidery with chenille threads.

Look at the way she used her stitches to create texture, starting with the rough texture of the bark on this apple tree branch.


And even more lovely embroideries!

This pocket watch has single strand thread Roman numerals on its face.


 I love that this spider is off center, as if creepy-crawling right across the quilt.

And this elegant stag fits so perfectly on his piece of silk.

On the left is the hunter with his horn.  The thread for the horse has practically all disappeared.

I include this because it makes me smile.  I just acquired a plant that is just the same!

So, all in all, a most wonderful quilt, and so lucky to be in a family that values its history and artistry.

See the second post about this quilt for a question about one of the embroidery designs.

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