Each block has a basket pattern with white ground and a contrasting colored basket. The earliest document use of the basket motif that we found in Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns dates to the 1850s, and they remain a common pattern today. Finally, we cross referenced some of the names on the quilt after its owner told us that it originated in Dublin, New Hampshire.
Using the book The History of Dublin, NH, we found that many of the signers, with surnames such as Allison, Mason, and Fisk, were among the important families and officials in the town prior to 1852. Cemetery records then provided a birth date for the youngest person represented on the quilt, Ethel Piper, who was born in 1884. This quilt, therefore, could not have been made before 1884. We don't yet know what connects the names on the quilt and we can only speculate why it was made. Blocks reading simply "Mama" or "Aunt Lizzie," lead us to believe that the quilt was made by a family and honored an event meaningful in all of their lives.
We continued to ponder the lives of the people inscribed on the quilt as conservation work began. One of the most damaged blocks was signed "Hannah Harrington," the sister of Eva and Clarence Harrington, also on the quilt. The three siblings lived on a farm that George and Martha Harrington purchased when they moved to Dublin, NH in the 1860s. Hannah's block contains a brownish blue fabric that shows extensive chemical deterioration. In order to prevent further loss and provide color compensation, navy blue cotton fabric was inserted behind the damage and then overlayed with nylon net.
The red sashing on the front of the quilt was also in an extremely deteriorated state and required stabilization using an overlay of red nylon net. Throughout the treatment, MTS conservators paid special attention to our stitching by only sewing into the batting. This way we were able to preserve the appearance of the distinctive red and white backing, which we discovered was pieced by machine rather than printed, as we first believed. Even when repairing the dark brownish blue fabric in the Hannah Harrington block we were able to use only tiny stitches in white or red thread within the "ditches," or seams, so that the graphic impact of the striped quilt back would not be spoiled.
Gretta Hempelmann is a graduate from The University of Missouri with a MA in Clothing and Textiles. She has a BA in Fashion Design and Merchandising from West Virginia University. She received a certificate for Care of Special Collections for Textiles from the International Preservation Studies Center in the summer of 2016.