The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
Many of us remember the day — some, the very hour — when we learned the truth about Santa Claus. (In case you still haven’t heard: he’s not real.) It’s not an easy moment when that story is debunked; a measure of innocence is lost.
These Amish folk are all rushing home to see the latest mistake in Mother’s quilt. Image: Wikipedia
The same crestfallen look comes across the faces of quilters when I bust long-held quilt world myths (such as the ones examined below.) Many quilters look forlorn as I suggest a few of the nice-sounding stories they held dear are not true.
But why rain on anyone’s parade? Does it matter if there are a few untruths stitched into the narrative of the collective American quilt?
Well…yes, if you believe that the truth is always better than an untruth or misinformation. Isn’t truth always stranger — read: more exciting — than fiction?
It’s true in the case of Santa, when you think about it. Isn’t it better that gifts and love come from one’s parents and friends and not from some chubby guy in red velvet? So it goes with quilt myths. The truth of the situation is better than the false one. Therefore, with each of the stories I attempt to set straight, I have provided a reasons to take heart.
Myth #1: Amish quilters plan a mistake into their patchwork or quilting, “because only God is perfect.”
Reality: I asked a Mennonite woman about this once — I realize Mennonite and Amish people are not the same, but I’m working on it — and she laughed and rolled her eyes. “Believe me,” she said, “no one has to try and put a mistake into her quilt.” This struck me as logical and also very true. We talked about how the concept of intentionally marring a quilt that would otherwise be “perfect” is a rather prideful one and pride is something people of that particular branch of Christianity are decidedly against.
The power of a quilt block cannot be denied. Image: Wikipedia
Take Heart Because: Hurray! Those amazing Amish and Mennonite quilters are just like us! They make mistakes in their sewing rooms just like we do.
Myth #2: Quilters helped slaves on the Underground Railroad escape to their freedom by hanging quilt blocks in the windows of their homes and in places along the trail.
Reality: Historians have found exactly zero evidence to substantiate this admittedly very cool story. After serious investigations for decades, there’s just no proof that this actually happened; rather, it was a good story that got re-told until people believed it. This doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened, but so far, there’s no evidence for it.
Take Heart Because: Quilters have used their quilts for political messages and to spread awareness for social causes. Quilters made quilts that championed the abolitionist movement, that campaigned, in their way, for women’s suffrage, and even prohibition.
Myth #3: The Scrap quilt is made when fabric is scarce. Women snipped and clipped tiny pieces of fabric from wherever they could to painstakingly piece the quilts we admire and copy today.
Crazy quilt, 1890. Three cheers for scraps! Image: Wikipedia.
Reality: In fact, the opposite is true. Only when there is an abundance of fabric can scrap quilts be made. Think about it: scraps exist when you have fabric leftover from something else you made, e.g., clothes for your family, curtains, another quilt, etc. The American Scrap quilt — with all its colorful blocks, appliqués, and borders — owes its existence to great quantities of fabric, not a dearth of it. A time came during the Industrial Revolution when the U.S. began to weave and print cloth at home instead of importing it from England and the Scrap quilt as we know it was born.
Take Heart Because: Did someone say fabric?