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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