Repurposed cloth and hand-stitched love

A quilt is more than a blanket. When something like that is handcrafted and handmade by someone, it carries a story. I have my own set of storied quilts: a smaller one that my sister’s boyfriend had his grandmother make for me and a larger one that the same woman made for me when she learned how much I loved the first. I have never spoken to her, but she did something so kind for me. I sewed her a small bear as a token of my appreciation. The quilts are gifts and a memory that I hold close to my heart, and it is a part of a long history of quilting and handicraft. Mount Allison University students teamed up with the Tantramar Heritage Trust to explore that history.

The event took place on Sunday March 26 in the Anderson Octagonal House at the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre. Called the Heritage Quilt Exhibit, the exhibition showed off several quilts made in the past by members of the community. Each quilt included an information card on where it came from, who made it, and how it was made. Included in the collection was one quilt as old as 1859—made by a woman named Susan Lockheart and passed down from mother to daughter across generations—and one started between 1910 and 1930 and finished as recently as 2004 or 5, which was worked on by two women across time: Jane Dixon and Mary Bowser.

Various signs at the event emphasized the industriousness and sociability of quilting and the handmade nature of various quilts. One particularly noteworthy example is a quilt made as a fundraiser by the Ladies Aid Society of the Sackville Methodist/United Church in 1920 that has the names of donors embroidered on it by hand. There are also the striking examples of love in the quilts, like the one made by Mary Avard for her daughter in 1915, because they were made for someone else. The labour that goes into hand-making a quilt demonstrates great care for the one receiving the gift. Another emphasized category was the quilts made by more than one set of hands, like the one made by the Ladies Aid Society and the one that Jane Dixon and Mary Bowser co-operated on.

According to one of the organizers, a fourth-year history student named Thursday Dvali, the exhibition was created as a project for a community engaged learning course. They said that three of the quilts came from the museum’s collection, while the rest were loaned from the community. The group decided to display quilts because “it kind of reflects the community aspect of [the] course because that was a way that women were able to come together in a time [when] they didn’t really have a lot of activities outside of the home.”

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