Pennsylvania Dutch Tulip Tree of Life Quilt, Applique, 1965

“There is no other tapestry in the world exactly like it. I created it completely in my own mind. I know from Dutch history that the Dove, Tulips, hearts, unicorns and the Tulip tree planted in the old black iron pots were their chief expressions of Art. So I created one for you and sister. Now, this tapestry I made for Sister is more colorful but I like yours best.”

In her 1965 letter, addressed “Dear child”, Nancy Maude Payne DePhillips wrote to her niece about two art pieces she had created inspired by the art of the Pennsylvania Dutch.  She referred to them as tapestries, which they are. But she used as a foundation for at least one–pictured here–a classic wool stacked bars quilt top. And she referred to it as a top in instructions she gave for backing it.

 

“You have no idea how much work is on them,” she said.

Nancy named it the Penn Dutch Tulip Tree of Life, and called it a collector’s item.

A collector’s item it most certainly is.

This quilt was created by the great-aunt of a Marshall, Texas family that is rich in quilts. My sister acquired it at an estate sale in early 2017 after the great-niece of Nancy DePhillips passed away. I traded my sister five of my best antique quilts to bring it home with me.

But it’s not an East Texas quilt, as the quilt-maker was born in Oklahoma Territory in 1897, grew up in Quay County, New Mexico, and died in Arkansas.

Being out in New Mexico, I don’t get to go to the estate sales my sister goes to in North East Texas, where there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to quilts. So I end up buying quilts from all over the country, from online quilt markets mainly. It’s very rare to get the name of a quilt-maker, even when I purchase a quilt from someone who says they got it from an estate sale. Most people are friendly and well-meaning when I make inquiries, but don’t have the time to go the extra mile to find out more information for some strange quilt fangirl in New Mexico.

So I was pretty thrilled when sister was able to point me to one of the family members, Kay, who gave me Nancy’s name and a little bit of history. But she also directed me to her sister, Donna, who proceeded to delve into her archives to find a letter Nancy had written about this very quilt, in 1965.

It doesn’t get much better than a letter by a quilt-maker describing not only the quilt itself, but proclaiming it something created from their very own mind, and a collectors item to boot.

Nancy was very proud of her work. She wanted it to hang on the wall. And one can see why.

In the letter, she gave instructions on how to finish the piece. Go to “all the rummage and church affairs,” she said, “and see if you can find a bright red flannel or wool of some kind to bind the edges with.”

And, “…when you attach the front side to the lining be sure you use nylon or wool thread or it won’t look worth a darn.”

“You must use (large quilt) frames to set these tapestries properly & work them with the kind of art stitches you like for them to come into their own in beauty.”

1965 was the leading edge of what has since been described as the great American quilt revival of the 20th century, which saw a quilting resurgence that blossomed through the 1970s and led to the robust art world centered on quilts today.

Nancy would have been 68 years old in 1965. She was a quilt designer and a quilt maker. It’s a mystery, as of yet, why she was inspired to create a Pennsylvania Dutch motif. Perhaps her husband was from Pennsylvania and she visited there. A newspaper archive search shows the surname DePhillips is particularly prevalent in that state.

At least one of her quilt designs is featured in a 1994 Marshall News Messenger article that featured a quilt made by her niece, Lotta, who was an award-winning quilt maker in her own right:

 

 

 

peace quilt, 1978

A particularly mysterious quilt in the collection.

You can read more about it here.

Georgia Window Quilt, c. 1950

This is one of many quilts in the collection that I purchased with a suspicion it was brilliant based on a poor photograph. It came to me from Talbot County, Georgia, and has classic hallmarks I associate with southern quilts: thick batting, sweeping and somewhat primitive quilting, backing wrapped to the front for binding. The solutions found by the quilt maker in piecing together the middle, particularly that yellow strip, and incorporating what is clearly a window ;-), gives it a wavy, almost psychedelic feel.

Sneak Peek, Sally’s quilt from 1881

My sweet Ginger passed away in May. About halfway through the 31 day blog challenge, thought I would post her pretty picture.

Oh, and yes, that quilt in the background will be coming up soon. Stay tuned.

Sibley Mills denim and polyester fan quilt, georgia c. 1970

Denim is actually the back of this quilt. The front is an improvised motif of highly colorful, polyester and other dress print fans.  The quilt came from the Harrisburg neighborhood of Augusta, Georgia, a few blocks from the historic Sibley Mill. The mill began production in 1880 and continued until 2006, making denim.  I purchased this quilt from Siobhan Furgurson, who lived in the area and found it at an estate sale of the Lewis family. Siobhan met some of the family members, including a former worker at the mill who said his wife and her sister were always asking him to “bring home scraps and if they didn’t use them they traded them with women at church.” Siobhan speculated that through those trades they may have acquired the polyester used on the front:

 

Sibley Mill is currently being converted into a computer farm, or cyber village. There’s a fair amount about the Mill online, including Facebook. On one Facebook page dedicated to the Mill is an album of slides showing operations of the mill in the 1970s. The photos are excellent. Here are a few I find particularly compelling:

Posted by David Lindsey on Monday, June 29, 2015

Posted by David Lindsey on Monday, June 29, 2015

Posted by David Lindsey on Monday, June 29, 2015

 

Oversized Wagon Wheel Crazy Quilt, c. 1970

When I’ve shown this East Texas quilt to historians or those who’ve otherwise fascinated themselves with antique and vintage quilts, the first response invariably is “Kentucky Sun!”, an antique wool quilt made famous by its position on the cover of  Kentucky Quilts 1800-1900 by the Kentucky Quilt Project. 

My response? Along the lines of, “If this one had also been made of wool, with these same bright colors, I would have fallen over. But corduroy will do.”

I don’t think this quilt was made after the book published, because of the bright corduroy colors that were so prevalent in the 1970s. That was the decade, in modern times at least, that saw use of the fabric peak in clothing. But, who knows? It’s possible someone had a stash and put it together sometime in the mid-1980s, inspired by the beautiful Kentucky Sun.

Notice that I am not calling this quilt a “Sun”. To me, this pattern is more accurately a “wagon wheel”. But I am happy to be corrected by more informed pattern aficionados.

I found this wild thing in Longview, Texas in a big rambling, dusty antique store called Betty’s. It peeked out at me from underneath a bunch of other linens, in a corner.

Even better? It’s double-sided:

 

 

Clovis Patchwork, c. 1970

This striking patchwork quilt comes from eastern New Mexico, a town called Clovis. The top is full of rich earth colored polyesters. The orange back is cotton polyester blend.

Ma Ma at a quilting bee c. 1960

My paternal grandmother, Monnie Childress, at a quilting bee around 1960. She’s second from right. My aunt Nelwyn gave me what she believes may be this quilt. I’ll eventually take a photo and add it here. As a child, I don’t remember my grandmother quilting, but she had a stack of vintage quilts that had been made by her and relatives. By the time I came along, she was crocheting afghans. There was a big basket of crocheted squares behind a chair in her living room, that she’d eventually put together.