Eight-pointed Star Doll Quilt, 20" x 20", made by Pairlee Williams.
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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Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
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Column 50: Doll Quilts
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