Quilt making was a creative pastime as well as a necessity for women of the Wallenpaupack Valley a hundred or more years ago. Those were the days when sewing and quilting were essential daily chores, as routine as baking bread and sweeping the floor. In the stove-heated farmhouses in which they lived, very little heat reached upstairs bedrooms on cold winter nights, and warm quilts were always needed.
Nearly all of the quilts from that era are pieced. Patchwork quilts were a thrifty use of fabrics, oftentimes cut from worn-out clothes. Beginning in the 1920s, feed sacks were sold in pretty floral prints that were often incorporated into colorful quilt blocks. The blocks themselves were quite portable for working in the lap whenever time permitted, and they could be neatly stacked and stored until time to put the quilt together.
Women fit their quilt making into the seasons. When the harvest and the holidays were over, quilt frames would be set up in parlors or spare bedrooms and the needlework would commence. Blocks that had been pieced throughout the year could now be assembled and seamed together to form a whole. Women would spend their afternoons setting the squares, sometimes adding a border, preparing the wool or cotton filling, cutting the backing and basting the layers together. Then it would be set into a wooden frame, ready for quilting.
Mothers and daughters, sisters and aunts would gather at each other’s homes for “quilting bees,” and friends and neighbors often joined in. It was a time to get together and socialize and exchange bits of news and gossip. The women took pride and satisfaction in their achievement when the finished product was taken out of the quilting frame and held up for all to see. They knew their quilts were appreciated as well as needed. As spring approached and it was time for the plowing and the planting to begin, the frames were taken down and put away until the next winter.
Quilt making was a long-standing tradition in the Wallenpaupack Valley, and it continued here long after interest in quilting had waned in the general population. Ladies Aids continued to meet weekly for the benefit of their respective churches, with the last group disbanding around 2010. Having worked together week in and week out for many years, members were such skilled quilters that there were no noticeable differences in their work—stitches were all the same size and tension, corners were always unpuckered and borders well-planned. They knew each other so well they could easily accommodate one another’s styles.
Most quilts were made for everyday use and are of simple design. Although they may be a bit faded and worn, they are still appealing to the eye and cherished by family members and descendants for the skill and artistry of their makers. Below is a selection of the locally-made quilts that were on display at Peggy Bancroft Hall during the 2009 Quilt Show.