In the world of antique and vintage quilts, you truly never know what you’ll find next. Here in Pennsylvania, we know we’ll always see a certain number of beautifully crafted antique quilts in any number of traditional patterns, and many of these can be truly astonishing in their beauty and workmanship. But we have a place in our hearts for the unusual, and have presented a few of them here in the past.
This week we found a quilt unlike any of the traditional PA quilts we’re used to; in fact, it resembles much more closely those quilts from Gee’s Bend, Alabama that have been so widely celebrated since their discovery a few years back. And like those quilts, this one is delightful for its originality, its exuberance and joy in the use of what were obviously scraps of cast off material to create a thing of utility and beauty.
It’s a heavy quilt, quite warm no doubt, constructed of mostly brightly colored corduroys. But there are numerous other fabrics included as well, from wool army blanket to 1970’s poly knits. It’s not quilted, but tied with strings or heavy thread in blue and red. And as if it weren’t enough to have pieced all these various fabrics together in these colorful variously sized arrays, rather than finding larger pieces for a backing, the quiltmaker has pieced another joyful top!
This reverse side clearly shows the ends of the ties, and features a somewhat cooler palette than the front, but is otherwise every bit its equal in originality and creative use of scrap fabrics. On both sides are strips of fabric clearly added in order to make squares of various sizes fit together, and other strips to square off the whole, but there’s a freedom apparent in the sheer variety of fabrics, patterns, shapes and colors that belies the cohesiveness of the final product.
Because it’s so different from everything else we find here, so unfamiliar to us in every way, we don’t quite know what to make of this quilt. But we can’t help smiling when we look at it, and that’s a good thing. And the more we compare it to those famous quilts of rural southern black communities, the more it seems to us to resemble them, to be representative at least of that tradition. Barring the unlikely discovery of where it originated and how it came to be here, we are left with little else but conjecture. That said, in the world of quilt history we often use a certain amount of conjecture along with our knowledge of fabrics and historical data to determine a probable origin, etc. So while we obviously cannot tell the name, locale, skin color or even the gender of the maker of this quilt, it certainly bears comparison to the housetops quilts of Gee’s Bend and other rural southern communities.
And as I said, it sure makes us smile to look at it!