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Column #74

The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas

The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
A detail of The Membership Quilt..

Czech immigrants began coming to Texas in the mid-1800s, arriving by boat to the Texas coast and then dispersing inland from there. They were leaving overcrowded farmland and social uprisings in Central Europe and they were hoping for a fresh start in a new land.

Texas gave them that start, and Czech communities began establishing in many parts of the state, with the main concentration being in the eastern central counties. Following the Civil War, a second wave of Czech immigration occurred, and today there are close to one million Texans who claim Czech ancestry.

Czech women were renowned for their prowess with a needle, although quilting was not among their traditional arts. Patchwork was new to many of the European women who came to Texas, but they quickly learned from their new neighbors and incorporated quilts into their daily existence.

As was the case with women of all backgrounds living in rural areas of Texas from the mid-19th century even up until World War II, quilting together as a group provided a welcome social outlet for the Czech women. Although quilts created during that time period were most commonly made for utilitarian purposes, occasionally the quilters would make a special quilt that was not necessarily intended for everyday use. 

Such was the case with a quilt known simply as the Membership Quilt that is now in the collection of the Czech Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas.

The Czech settlements were close-knit and most were centered on their churches, which were either Catholic or a Protestant group known as Brethren. Whether Catholic or Protestant, both types of churches served as a focal point and gathering place for the primarily rural worshipers.

Philosophical divisions between Czech Catholics and Czech Protestants began long before they immigrated to Texas; however, the Membership Quilt crossed religious boundaries and brought together women of both faiths.

Completed in 1927, the quilt was made by the Christian Sisters of the Ocker Brethern Church in Zabcikville and the Seaton Brethren Church in Seaton, along with women from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Cyclone. All three of these small communities are located just a few miles from one another in Bell County in Central Texas.

The quilt is made up of blocks containing the names of 528 members of those churches. Each block has a red flower on a green stem appliquéd in the center surrounded by names embroidered in black floss against a white ground. Narrow green sashing the same color and width as the flower stems separates the blocks.

Frank Klinkovsky was just one year old when the Membership Quilt was made, but his name is on it, as are the names of all the members of his family, since his mother contributed a block for the quilt. Now 86, Frank still attends the Seaton Brethren Church, and even though he was too young to remember the making of the Membership Quilt, he fondly recalls the “quilting parties” that were held in his family’s home during which ladies in the community would come to help quilt around a frame suspended from the ceiling.

When asked about the joining of the two religious groups as “members” on a single quilt, Frank responds, “I’ve wondered about that myself. But we were all neighbors living close together and most of us were sharecroppers, doing the same things. We were all mixed in and maybe it just didn’t matter.”

He’s probably right about that. After all, quilts have always had a way of bringing people together—across countries, across nationalities, across time, and, in the case of the Membership Quilt, even across religions.


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Archived blogs:

Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here

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