Bill and I went to the Vintage Tulsa Show on Saturday, and I found several lovely things including a redwork memorial quilt. We are big fans of antiquing, and our home reflects our passion for all things old and worn. When I unwrapped the red and white quilt at the show, I was pretty sure it was a memorial or grief quilt. Women and men often made bereavement quilts when they lost someone they loved. People still do.
How did I know?
Two blocks, in particular, stood out to me. One contained the words, “I’ll be with you when the Roses Bloom Again,” and the other stated, “Rest Here Thy Weary Head.” I’m capitalizing them the way they were embroidered on the quilt below.
Down the rabbit hole I go.
These two blocks sent me down a rabbit hole trying to figure out the time period for the quilt. I believe from the wear on the edges of the binding and the red and white composition, that it is from the late 1920s. I collect quilts, and I have several different red and white ones. It’s not gardening-related, but if you’re interested, I could write another post about my favorite quilts.
My grandmothers were quilters, and I’ve helped make quilts too.
Both of my grandmothers were great quilters, and my Grandma Nita was my first and truest friend. I wrote a memorial to her in 2011. I found it this morning as I searched through my writing. Don’t read it if you don’t want to cry. She always had quilts on her beds, and even now, my favorite thing is to crawl beneath a quilt–not a priceless one–on a cold winter’s night. There is nothing better or more comforting.
How old is it?
I really don’t know the quilt’s age, but to get a better idea, I ordered Red & White: American Redwork Quilts & Patterns, by Deborah Harding–a storied redwork collector–to see if I can date the patterns on the blocks. I’ll let you know if I discover anything.
Red and white quilts can be quite difficult to find. They reached their peak between the late 1800s and through the Depression. They had a resurgence in the 1990s probably due to various shows around the country. Another book I own is Red & White Quilts Infinite Variety, by Elizabeth V. Warren with Maggi Gordon. It’s a compilation of the red and white quilts shown at the American Folk Art Museum in 2011.
A song title, lyric, or both?
The first phrase on my quilt refers to a song written in 1901 by Will Cobb and Gus Edwards, “I’ll be with You When the Roses Bloom Again.“
The first verse goes like this:
They were strolling in the gloaming
Where the roses were in bloom
A soldier and his sweetheart brave and true
And their hearts were filled with sorrow
For their thoughts were of tomorrow
As she pinned a rose upon his coat of blue
A later lyric is the same as the song’s title and my quilt’s phrase. The soldier is going to the Spanish-American War, not the Civil War, although you might think it from that last line.
A hymn sung at funerals.
I’m sure others will recognize the second phrase referencing a line in the hymn, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus say,” by Horatius Bonar, in 1846. Bonar was a Scottish minister. According to the Church of Scotland website, “The first half of each verse recalls a different saying of Jesus while the contrasting second half is the response of the singer, a pattern echoed in the tune ‘The Rowan Tree’, from the ballad by Lady Nairne (1766-1845), who also collected the tune (origin unknown).” We often sing this hymn at funerals.
“Come unto Me, and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He has made me glad.
Bluebirds or swallows. Roses, narcissus and tulips.
The other blocks in this redwork memorial quilt are interesting. Several blocks have roses in various bloom stages. Some blocks are ornate while others are quite simple. There are baskets of strawberries, stylized tulips and narcissus, and other floral emblems. There is also a block containing bluebirds or swallows–the swallow is a symbol of the resurrection. Bluebirds often symbolize hope, love, and renewal. I heard a bluebird sing when I was moving my mother’s things out of her apartment two weeks ago.
The construction of the quilt is also interesting. The quilter was skilled. She has very small stitches except on the nine-patch blocks. These look like the work of a teenager or preteen. I know because I used to be one of those who tried my hand at hand quilting. The stitches are somewhat uneven. Maybe the stitches just show up differently against the red fabric. I can’t tell if the piecing is done by machine or hand, but the quilting is by hand.
When I began looking at the redwork memorial quilt, the lady who owned it said she bought it because she lost her sister, and her sister loved roses. She said she was ready to let it go, and she’d forgotten she had it so this was the first time she brought it out to sell. I explained my mother’s name was Rose, and I lost her three weeks ago. The lady teared up, hugged me, and said the quilt must be mine.
There really is no reason why the redwork memorial quilt didn’t sell before the second day. It was far too fine a piece and in nearly perfect condition. Red and White quilts are very collectible and becoming quite rare. As I carried it around the show rolled up in a sack, several people stopped me to admire it.
Another interesting and odd coincidence: when I was very young, I had a lazy eye, and I had three surgeries to correct it. I also spent hours doing various versions of therapy to correct the problem. One of these therapies was to do redwork embroidery while wearing a red plastic eyepatch on the other eye. It was supposed to help my eye muscle grow stronger. It was my favorite form of therapy, and I spent hours embroidering various pieces of fruit in red thread on white cloth.
I don’t really believe in coincidences. I do believe that God speaks to us in mysterious ways, especially when He knows something touches our hearts. I think the lady was right. The quilt was meant for me.