Quilts and Samplers

Making a Mourning Quilt

Everyone contributed a square, which was then sewn into the quilt which can be seen in the exhibit. Here are photographs of a couple of the stages and the finished result. Below, Rachel contributed some history of quilts and samplers. The pattern we used for the quilt was from "Prairie Children and their Quilts" by Kathleen Tracy.

Making a quilt square
Making a quilt square
Finished quilt

Mourning quilts - by Rachel

Before modern medicine the loss of close family and friends was all too familiar. Little could be done in the face of most diseases. A bit of comfort was found in the making of a quilt. One elderly woman remembers her mother taking some blue silk out of a hope chest after a neighbor’s baby died. “Mama and three other women set up the frame and quilted all day. First they quilted the lining for the casket and then they made a tiny little quilt out of blue to cover the baby”. In some situations there was no wood for a casket so the deceased were wrapped in a quilt for burial. Quilts have been used for viewings as well as for draping a coffin. Sometimes the quilt was a family quilt or a quilt owned by a church. In the Victorian era some children were photographed under a mourning quilt so their parents could imagine their children sleeping. Mourning quilts however are still used today. Many were made in the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

Mourning Samplers - by Rachel

Mourning samplers, also called memorial samplers, were popular in the 1800’s and stayed around for another 30 years. They were made of the finest materials and the most complex stitch. The Victorians had a large amount of preoccupation with dying, hence the mourning sampler was popular in that era. When George Washington died many mourning samplers were made for him. Many of these are in museums and private collections today. Almost all of them were embroidered with silk thread on painted satin. They took a long time to make and were sometimes used as the “final exam” in Dame schools. Some samplers may have been sewn with the hair of the deceased loved one. Almost anything was used for thread and fabric. They were heirlooms. Passed down from generation to generation. They were guarded like diaries.