This quilt story has a special meaning to me because I found my own family history on this quilt!
First, about the quilt. This autograph quilt features over 200 names embroidered on it. It was made c. 1914 as a fundraiser for the South Oshawa Methodist Church. The church later went by the name Albert Street Methodist (United) Church. For a dime, a name could be embroidered on the quilt.
In the centre of the quilt is an embroidered picture of the South Oshawa Methodist Church, and the quilt is red and cream in colour. The quilt has been completed with the hourglass or broken dish pattern.
The church was established in 1910, operating as the South Oshawa Mission of the Methodist Church. A small, white building was erected for this new mission in 1914, and it served the congregation until 1928 when a new building was erected at the southwest corner of Albert Street and Olive Avenue. This building is still standing, however the Albert Street United Church closed in 1996, amalgamating with the Centennial United Church to become the Centennial-Albert United Church. This church was described by Rev. Pogue as “a typical working class church, very family oriented, that’s what made it really strong.”
As I mentioned, names were embroidered on the quilt for 10 cents. One of the names embroidered near the top is ‘Mr. G. Trainer.’ My grandfather was married twice; his second wife, my beloved Grandma, was born and raised in Oshawa, around St. Lawrence Street. Her father, George Trainer, was a local barber. He also supported the South Oshawa Methodist Church in 1914 as his name was found on this autograph quilt! I never expected to find a little touch of my family on any of the quilts in the Oshawa Community Museum Collection, and I was quite surprised when I found this name among hundreds others.
‘Lest we forget – the quilters! God bless them! They sew and sew and sew some more to fill orders for beautiful quilts. They also raise a lot of money thereby!” – Memories of Albert Street United Church, 1990, Oshawa Community Archives.
The Oshawa Community Museum has roughly 50-70 quilts in the collection, and as of today, March 11, there are less than 10 that need to be photographed and catalogued! This month long project is coming to a close. It isn’t until the quilts are carefully unwrapped and unfolded that their stories are able to be fully told. For some quilts, unfortunately, we have little information about them. They are beautifully pieced together, with a great amount of care and attention, but little information was available when they were donated to the site. Other quilts, well, they tell stories all of their own.
There are some quilts in our collection with their history literally recorded on them. These are our signature quilts which are simply fascinating to look at. They are quite a bit of work to catalogue because every name on the quilt gets written down and recorded. Some quilts have 40-50 names embroidered on them, and there was another example which had over 200 names! This one quilt has an interesting story that I’ll share another day.
There are two quilts in our collection which are ‘mates.’ The first was donated in the 1960s and the second was donated in the late 1970s. They feature a ‘Friendship Block’ pattern, with names embroidered in red in the centre. Many names repeat on both quilts. When the second quilt was donated in 1979, the donor included a history of the quilts, as follows:
May Douglas Keddie and our mother May Farewell (Mrs Everson) were very close chums as girls and they each made an autograph quilt which their mothers Mrs Keddie and Mrs AW Farewell quilted for them in 1885. Before she died my mother gave me hers and later she gave me May Keddie’s – which Jean Keddie had given her after May Keddie died. Some years later mother agreed that Helen should have her aunt’s [May Keddie’s] quilt. She was very happy to have it but later I saw in the paper that she has presented it to the Oshawa museum. I have talked to my daughters and to my sisters and the agree with me that our mother’s quilt be put in the museum in Oshawa and that we ask you to but the two quilts near together.
Both quilts are now photographed, catalogued, and are stored right beside each other.
In early 2013, our museum was thrilled to learn that we received a Museum and Technology Fund Grant which would go towards digitizing Henry House. In anticipation of our summer exhibit Common Threads: Stories from our Quilt Collection, the first artefacts to be cataloged, photographed, and digitized were our quilts! The museum has over 75 quilts in the collection, and photographing these large artefacts has proven to be quite the challenge.
The first step was finding space to photograph the artefacts, and the upper floor of Henry House, which is off limits to the public and therefore limited traffic, proved to be an ideal space. The entire floor area in one room, with grey photographer’s paper laying against the carpet, became the photographic studio.
The next challenge we needed to face was how we were going to get the picture we wanted! Before undertaking this project, we researched how other sites photographed their large textiles, and we had a clear idea of what we liked and what we didn’t like. Photographing our own quilts at first was a trial and error process, seeing what worked, what didn’t, and what technique got us the image we were looking for.
What technique worked for our quilts? A camera, on a tripod, on top of a ladder. It sounds elaborate, but we were happy with how the images were turning out.
We’re also trying our best to ensure we capture the whole quilt, as well as an image with the back, because quite often the fabrics on the back are quite detailed.
In the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing posts about the quilts in our collection, the patterns used, and the stories that are associated with the quilt. This was simply the story behind the story. Please be sure to check back often!