Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Visit to Dear Jane

The Jane Stickle Quilt, known in the world of quilting as Dear Jane after the title of Brenda Papadakis's book, is exhibited by the Bennington Museum in Vermont for 6 weeks every year from the end of August until mid-October. Earlier this year an announcement was made that this year the exhibition would include new information on the quilt's maker, Jane Stickle. What better excuse for a trip to Vermont in autumn than to learn more about Jane Stickle. So on Columbus Day weekend Megan and Christian and I set off for a glorious weekend in Vermont.

The Bennington Museum's quarterly journal Walloomsack Review (Volume 11 Summer 2013) includes an article by quilt historian Pam Weeks with research on the Blakley and Stickle families mostly derived from Census and probate records. Jane's father Erastus Blakley was a relatively wealthy farmer based on the inventory in his probate records. He died when Jane was 13 and left half his estate to his son Erastus, a quarter to Jane, and the remaining quarter divided between two other daughters. He specified the money should be used to educate Erastus and Jane, implying Jane was especially worthy of education. Jane and her husband Walter had no children, but many nieces and nephews. Seven nephews served in the Union Army during the Civil War. The quilt won the $2 prize (said to be equal to $40 today) for the Best Patched Quilt at the Bennington County Fair in September 1863. 

 After Pam Week's article was published, Museum curator Jamie Franklin found this important article in the October 1, 1863 edition of the Bennington Banner reporting on the recent County Fair where Jane Stickle's quilt was first displayed.  Sadly the article is difficult to read, but the relevant lines begin  in the middle of the third paragraph: 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 the 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." The startling new fact that Jane was an invalid goes a long way to explaining the puzzling decline of Jane and Walter. Why in 1860, Jane's husband and mother lived with her brother Erastus, but Jane is listed as living by herself. In 1870, they were back living together at a farm that was valued at $6,000 with personal property of $1,500. But in 1880, they had lost their farm and were wards of the town according to the records of the Overseer of the Poor. Walter is noted as having rheumatism, but there is no mention of Jane's disability. They continued to live on public charity until their deaths in 1883 and 1896.

The quilt's colours remain vibrant . . .

. . . and the seams match perfectly!
Pam Week's research allowed a peek at the unseen back of the quilt which is two panels made up from a linen bed sheet with tiny embroidered initials of S.B. for Jane's mother Sarah (Sally) Blakley. Jane's father's probate inventory includes two sets of linen sheets. Examining the quilt, she believes the quilt was pieced and quilted as a straight sided square, then strips of calico (UK)/muslin (US) were sewn to the top edges overlapping the extra wadding and backing allowance, then each wedge curve was cut individually and bound with a straight grain strip. 

The quilt and the watercolour were donated to the Bennington Museum by Jane's niece Sarah Blakley Seymour Bump (1868-1950), daughter of Jane's brother Erastus, probably in 1938 or 1939, according to the undated records held by the Museum.