|"Dear Jane" quilt, detail.|
In October DH and I headed to Vermont; he practiced casting a fly-fishing rod, and I made a beeline to the Bennington Museum, to see the "Dear Jane" quilt, one of the museum's masterpieces. The quilt is on display for only a short time each year, in a gallery with very low light levels, to help prevent fading. The museum is noted for a number of collection areas - it has the largest collection of Grandma Moses paintings as well as an informative display and study center relating to Bennington pottery. However, for textile enthusiasts the museum is a place of pilgrimage for this singular quilt, made in 1863 by Jane A. Stickles (1817-1896).
|Quilt carefully displayed for a short time each year.|
The quilt is a "sampler quilt"; that is, the design is a grid of unique pieced or appliqued blocks, as opposed to a grid of like-patterned blocks. From the display text:
Jane Stickle's ambitious quilt is made up of 169 five-inch blocks, each in a different pattern and using a different fabric. Many of the block patterns are commonly seen in quilts from this era, however many more are unique, drafted by a skilled needle worker with a mastery of geometry. Jane recycled a linen sheet from her mother, Sarah Blakely, for the majority of the quilt's backing. The initials "S B" are embroidered in tiny cross-stitches on one of the scallops at the quilt's back edge, originally intended to identify the linen's owner.
Jane Stickle entered this quilt in the 1863 Bennington County Agricultural Fair. In the Bennington Banner's article on the fair, her quilt received special notice:
Mrs. J. B. Smith of Manchester, Mrs. Taft and Mrs. Stickles presented each a very extra bed quilt. Mrs. Stickles is an invalid lady, having been for a long time confined to her bed, but her ambition to do something to kill the time induced her to piece this quilt. It contains many thousand different pieces of cloth, no two of which are exactly alike. Upon one corner is marked in plain letters, "made in the war of 1863."
A week later, on October 8, the Bennington Banner published a list of premiums awarded at the fair. In the "Ladies Section" it is noted that the "Best patched quilt" was awarded to "Mrs. W. P. Stickles" with a prize of $2, about $40 in today's money.
|Quilt, behind velvet rope, as befits a celebrity.|
As I looked closely at the quilt I began to notice the careful deployment of color in the composition. For instance, look at the center green square above, pieced in four circular segments. Above, below, and to the right and left of this block the pieced blocks feature yellow fabrics. Moving diagonally from the green block, the blocks next to the yellow ones are pieced using brown fabrics. In the image below, blocks pieced from red fabrics are adjacent to the afore-mentioned brown blocks, with pink blocks next to these red-based designs. Colors form diagonals, animating the grid.
|Brown, red, pink blocks carefully placed.|
Color placement was carefully considered, and results in a quilt not just noteworthy for the incredible number of pieces stitched into blocks. Although as many aesthetic decisions are involved in needlework design as in "fine art," art history has not always acknowledged such skill. Until relatively recently, curators and scholars may have admired the technical skill exhibited in a particular textile and researched its provenance, but had little to note with regard to design. It was almost as if the art historical world thought that women, rather than making decisions with regard to color, form, negative/positive space, etc., just responded to some instinctive compulsion, like weaver birds making elaborate nests.
I don't know how this quilt came to be known as the "Dear Jane" quilt, but this artifact has inspired a cottage industry, including a book, as well as patterns and templates for those wishing to make their own Stickles quilt. I had hoped to buy the book at the museum, but the volume is currently out of print.
|Detail, scallop border.|
One particularly delightful element of the quilt is the scallop border, with wedge-shaped pieced and solid blocks. The curve of the scallops creates a bit of tension with the square grid, and is a masterful touch.
|Scalloped border, detail.|
|Bennington Museum, home of the Stickles quilt.|