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Column #50

Doll Quilts

Doll Quilts
Eight-pointed Star Doll Quilt, 20" x 20", made by Pairlee Williams.

Doll Quilts
Back of Eight-pointed Star Doll Quilt, featuring horse and cowboy conversation print.
Photos by Alex Labry.

Why are miniature things so appealing to so many of us? There’s something about the smaller version of an object that distills the essence of the larger, thereby making it more accessible. No doubt that somewhere, a psychology Ph.D. candidate has written a thesis on this topic, but it’s a certainty that tiny things have long captivated people.

For example, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, written in the early 1700s and describing the miniature country of Lilliput, has never been out of print since it was first published.

Portrait miniatures became popular in Europe in the 16th century and were carried by soldiers and sailors or kept by loved ones at home. Probably for as long as people have been making things, they’ve been creating tiny versions of those objects.

Fondness for the pint-sized also applies to quilts. I wonder how many quilt aficionados first fell in love with a doll quilt—perhaps one made just for them by a mother, grandmother, aunt, big sister, or other special person. That was the case for me.

I still have the doll quilt that my paternal grandmother, Pairlee Williams, made for me when I was six years old. Earlier that same day, Grandma had let me put my first quilting stitches on a quilt she was working on. Her quilt contained a blue conversation print with horses and cowboys on it that my first grade self thought was just the finest thing I’d ever seen.

She looked in her scrap bag and discovered that she had a piece of that fabric big enough to back a doll quilt, so she said she’d make one for me. She took an eight-pointed star block leftover from another project, added some borders, backed it with that wonderful cowboy fabric, and finished it off with red rickrack that had been used to trim a dress of mine.

My doll quilt was certainly nothing special to look at, and the workmanship was hasty since she stitched it up on her treadle sewing machine in no time flat. But to me, it was just beautiful. It kept my doll cozy for years, and to this day I still treasure it.

Nebraska quilter Mary Ghormley has been collecting doll quilts for 40 years. Her collection, which is housed at the International Quilt Study Center (IQSC) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, can be seen on the IQSC website. Quilts from the Ghormley collection are also featured in a book by quilt historian, author, and Quilters Hall of Fame honoree, Merikay Waldvogel, entitled Childhood Treasures—Doll Quilts By and For Children.

Unlike my hurriedly made, scrappy doll quilt, some of the little quilts in Mary Ghormley’s collection were carefully crafted and feature exquisite workmanship. It’s a safe bet that they were made with as much love, however, as mine. And no doubt, the little girls for whom they were made treasured their doll quilts as much as I do.

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Archived blogs:

Column 145: Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here

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