The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
The Thread and Thimble Club
“I felt like these quilters were reaching out to me across time,” says Josie Davis, holding a set of 15 friendship blocks, all of which featured quirky, folksy images rendered in brightly colored fabrics appliquéd onto unbleached muslin.
Each block had its maker’s name embroidered on it, and those names—quaint-sounding to modern ears—read like a catalogue of monikers popular in Texas in the early 1940s: Alta, Bessie, Beulah, Ethel, Maud, Ollie, and Pearl, for example.
One block contained only the woman’s husband’s name, preceded by “Mrs.,” as was also common in that era. A sixteenth block identified the group to which all of the women belonged: The Thread and Thimble Club, and the date: Sept. 26, 1940.
The blocks came to Josie, a quilter living in Burnet, Texas (see Piecing Quilts, Patching Lives) when a fellow member of the Marble Falls Quilt Guild bought them at an antique store and asked if anyone would be willing to accept the challenge of putting the blocks together and giving the finished quilt to a local museum.
Josie took on the project, and she and another Marble Falls Quilt Guild member, Kathy Wilcox, recognized the surnames on the blocks as being those of old-time families of Burnet County. Josie and Kathy began trying to find out everything they could about the long-defunct Thread and Thimble Club and its members.
In the midst of that process, a woman telephoned Josie one day, out-of-the-blue, and said that she had an old quilt top that she would like to have quilted in order to give it to a local museum.
The woman said that it had been given as a wedding gift many years ago to a couple in Burnet County. The wife of the pair had passed away, and the husband no longer wanted the top.
Josie agreed to look at it, and, to her surprise, there in its center was the identifying Thread and Thimble Club block, surrounded by the same sort of colorful appliquéd images made by many of the same women whose names she was already researching.
One of the blocks was dated 1942. “It was such a strange feeling,” Josie recalls. “I really felt as though these women wanted me to find their quilts.”
As Kathy checked obituaries and Josie pored through old newspapers, attended county historical association meetings, and visited nursing homes to speak with the few surviving descendants of the Thread and Thimble Club quilters, the women named on the quilt blocks began to take on personalities.
Josie discovered that most of them went to the same church and their families were the business owners and merchants of the town. One was a noted artist. One was pigeon-toed. Most had children, although a few did not. Two served as PTA (Parent/Teacher Association) presidents. One was a teacher; one was vice-president of the County Home Demonstration Club. One had a reputation for always being in a hurry to finish quilting, so that her stitches were deemed by the others to be “too big.”
“My favorite,” Josie says, “was Beulah, who was described as ‘a tall, large, beautiful woman who wore her hair in a single braid that she wrapped around her head. Her ankles literally hung over her shoes. Her husband, Walter, was tall and thin. When they walked to church, as most people did back then, Walter carried Beulah’s purse in one hand and held Beulah’s arm with the other to keep her from falling.’”
It is an easy thing, when looking at an old quilt, to see only its surface elements: the fabrics used in its construction, its design, its colors, the level of skill with which it was crafted.
But beneath that surface, or perhaps around it, hovers the essence of the person or persons who made it. Those quilters had personality traits, physical characteristics, senses of humor, jobs, children and spouses—full lives.
Many quilt lovers have had the sensation of thinking that the person who made an old quilt was communicating to them through that quilt. In the case of the Thread and Thimble Quilt Club, Josie Davis is getting to know a whole community.
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Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
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Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
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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
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Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
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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
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Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
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Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
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Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
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