Thursday, November 12, 2009

History in the Stitches

Recently we found out that one of our coworkers, Jo Jacobi, had a quilt published in a book titled Wisconsin Quilts: History in Stitches by Ellen Kort. Jo used an Appliqued Floral Medallion quilt created by Alice Huebner Besau in the late 1800's or early 1900's as inspiration for her quilt, Jo's Garden (left). The original quilt was a family heirloom that was passed down 8 generations and still is in possesion of the family to this day! I got a chance to bother Jo for a few questions (I kind of felt like a reporter interviewing a celebrity):

How long have you been quilting? I began quilting in the late 70's so that makes it about 40 years.

What made you decide on this pattern? I was reading the First edition of the book, Stories in the Stitches at the same time I had volunteered to make a raffle quilt for Wisconsin Quilters Inc., the statewide quilt guild. I fell in love with the original quilt because it was a very artistic piece with an unusual layout and the color combination was spectacular. I felt compelled to make my interpretation of it.

How long did it take to make this/how long did it take Mary Besau Leanna to make this do you think? I had a year to make and deliver the raffle quilt. I did most of the work in 4 months after I finishing the plan and finding the fabrics. I did the layout on graph paper to keep the proportions correct and hand drew all the floral pieces. I changed some of the elements to suit my style rather than simply copying all of them. I would imagine that it also took Mary Besau Leanna a year or more to create her quilt.

What (if any) are the main differences between your two quilts? Mary's quilt was entirely made by hand, needle turning the edges of the appliqué patches as she laid them on the top with tiny hand stitches. My quilt has the appliqués fused to the top and every edge was stitched by machine using a tiny zig zag stitch. I made each section separately and then machine stitched the pieces together. The sections of Mary's quilt were stitched together by hand because the sewing machine was not invented until after the Civil War in the 1860's. The quilting stitches which hold the layers together are done by hand on Mary's quilt and on the contemporary version the quilting was hand guided and moved under the needle of the sewing machine by a very skilled quilter, Penny Gerds on her household sewing machine.
Do you prefer to quilt designs in a historical fashion or more contemporary? I really enjoy making traditional quilts and I plan to reproduce another historical quilt that I saw pictured in a magazine. I am inspired by the fabric and the colors.
To beginning quilter's and quilter's to be (like myself), what advice would you give them to help them start this great hobby? I suggest that anyone beginning to sew or quilt should take a class and get a good reference book for help and then just start making things to see what you like to do. Also having a good sewing machine will make the experience easier and more enjoyable.

The book was written with material collected over a 15 year span by the Wisconsin Quilt History Project and published by KP Publishers, a Wisconsin company in 2008. Proceeds from the sales go to help build the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Textiles in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Copies of the book for purchase can be found at


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