Fam­ily quilts laden with his­tory

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Woman - By BRIGETTE WALTERMIRE

QUILT­ING has been a tra­di­tion passed down for over a cen­tury in Mar­garet Moss’ fam­ily.

There are many show quilts that have been made by the fam­ily to dis­play at fam­ily re­unions, and unique his­to­ries to go with each.

Moss is very proud of one quilt passed down by her great-grand­mother, Artha Lee Van Horn Massey Surber, from the 1940s.

Artha spent most of her days dur­ing World War II cre­at­ing Vic­tory Quilts in the house she lived in with her daugh­ter in Sun City, Kansas, United States.

That was her “war ef­fort”, Moss said, adding that her grand­mother would sim­ply eat meals and quilt all day.

Moss re­mem­bers her great-grand­mother’s bed­room con­tained “a bed and a quilt­ing frame and quilt­ing sup­plies, and that was it”.

When Artha’s fam­ily mem­bers started go­ing off to war, she cre­ated a Vic­tory Quilt for each of them. Moss’ fa­ther re­ceived one, and it has been passed down and kept to show fam­ily.

The quilt is ap­prox­i­mately twin-sized. Cre­at­ing it by hand would take weeks or even months of con­stant work to com­plete, depend­ing on the de­tail, Moss said.

This level of in­volve­ment in cre­at­ing hand-stitched, needle­work quilts was to be for pub­lic dis­play. It was im­por­tant that these quilts dis­played show fine quilt­ing tech­niques, have a story of why they were cre­ated and to be handed down through the fam­ily, “like fine art”, Moss said.

It was tra­di­tion in their Kansas com­mu­nity to spend their Sun­days not work­ing the land. The farm­ers’ and ranch­ers’ weekly “re­li­gious hol­i­day” con­sisted of go­ing to church, hav­ing Sun­day din­ner and then visit­ing other fam­i­lies in the area, Moss said.

When people would show up, the men and women would separate, and the women would look at the fam­ily’s quilts.

“There’s al­ways the dis­cus­sion in­spired by why it was made, why they se­lected the pat­tern, what fab­rics were used,” Moss ex­plained.

She said that the type and color of fab­ric are the cri­te­ria used to date quilts, and so when look­ing at hers, it can be dated to WWII since “a Vic­tory Quilt was red, white, blue” and the pat­tern was strong “like a flag”.

Artha spent her days and nights cre­at­ing these quilts by hand, with the help of a neigh­bour for sewing, be­cause she wanted to have them com­pleted by the time her fam­ily mem­bers left for war for a very im­por­tant rea­son.

“[The quilts] were meant for pub­lic dis­play at a funeral,” Moss said.

While this seems to be a grotesque in­spi­ra­tion to make a quilt, it was very im­por­tant to Artha to com­plete these quilts as her con­tri­bu­tion to the war, Moss said, ex­plain­ing that Artha made quilt­ing her sole war ef­fort be­cause of her skill with the craft.

Artha was mar­ried in 1889 and lived on a ranch with her hus­band and five kids un­til her hus­band was struck by a train in 1908. She con­tin­ued to run the ranch and raise her chil­dren, but she also was in­stru­men­tal in build­ing the town’s first church.

“People had to cre­ate beauty for their homes and churches, and that’s where quilt­ing be­came an art form as well as util­ity,” Moss said, ex­plain­ing the rea­sons these quilts are passed down and so im­por­tant to fam­ily mem­bers through­out gen­er­a­tions.

The art in­volved in quilt­ing was about beauty and aes­thet­ics, and Moss be­lieves the beauty of quilt­ing helps in times of emo­tional stress. World War II was cer­tainly a time of emo­tional stress for many around the world.

Even though Artha was an artist in other ar­eas, like paint­ing, her con­tri­bu­tion was mak­ing quilts be­cause “she could en­vi­sion what would hap­pen if she had to have the funeral” of a fam­ily mem­ber in the church.

“The quilt would not only sym­bol­ise the pa­tri­otic char­ac­ter, but it would also have the sen­ti­ment of warmth that a quilt con­veys,” Moss said, de­scrib­ing the rea­son for us­ing a quilt as a cof­fin dec­o­ra­tion.

Artha’s vi­sion never be­came re­al­ity and the quilts were never used for by of the own­ers. But for Moss, a quil­ter her­self, hav­ing the Vic­tory Quilt and other fam­ily quilts helps her trace her fam­ily his­tory through­out the years – and to re­mem­ber her great grand­mother, who died in 1948.

“To­day, when I’m quilt­ing on this an­tique 1930s quilt­ing frame, if my stitches aren’t straight, I take them out,” she said, re­mem­ber­ing when Aunt Ruth, one of Artha’s daugh­ters, taught her how to sew. Her aunt would pull out her work if any stitches were crooked be­cause “that was the stan­dard of these women and this gen­er­a­tion”.

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