Column #93

The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

The Thread and Thimble Club
The Thread and Thimble Club

Nola Wingren Nola Wingren

Beulah Wallace Beulah Wallace

Jewel Jenkins Jewel Jenkins

“I felt like these quilters were reaching out to me across time,” says Josie Davis, holding a set of 15 friendship blocks, all of which featured quirky, folksy images rendered in brightly colored fabrics appliquéd onto unbleached muslin.

Each block had its maker’s name embroidered on it, and those names—quaint-sounding to modern ears—read like a catalogue of monikers popular in Texas in the early 1940s: Alta, Bessie, Beulah, Ethel, Maud, Ollie, and Pearl, for example.

One block contained only the woman’s husband’s name, preceded by “Mrs.,” as was also common in that era. A sixteenth block identified the group to which all of the women belonged: The Thread and Thimble Club, and the date: Sept. 26, 1940.

The blocks came to Josie, a quilter living in Burnet, Texas (see Piecing Quilts, Patching Lives) when a fellow member of the Marble Falls Quilt Guild bought them at an antique store and asked if anyone would be willing to accept the challenge of putting the blocks together and giving the finished quilt to a local museum.

Josie took on the project, and she and another Marble Falls Quilt Guild member, Kathy Wilcox, recognized the surnames on the blocks as being those of old-time families of Burnet County. Josie and Kathy began trying to find out everything they could about the long-defunct Thread and Thimble Club and its members.

In the midst of that process, a woman telephoned Josie one day, out-of-the-blue, and said that she had an old quilt top that she would like to have quilted in order to give it to a local museum.

The woman said that it had been given as a wedding gift many years ago to a couple in Burnet County. The wife of the pair had passed away, and the husband no longer wanted the top.

Josie agreed to look at it, and, to her surprise, there in its center was the identifying Thread and Thimble Club block, surrounded by the same sort of colorful appliquéd images made by many of the same women whose names she was already researching.

One of the blocks was dated 1942. “It was such a strange feeling,” Josie recalls. “I really felt as though these women wanted me to find their quilts.”

As Kathy checked obituaries and Josie pored through old newspapers, attended county historical association meetings, and visited nursing homes to speak with the few surviving descendants of the Thread and Thimble Club quilters, the women named on the quilt blocks began to take on personalities.

Josie discovered that most of them went to the same church and their families were the business owners and merchants of the town. One was a noted artist. One was pigeon-toed. Most had children, although a few did not. Two served as PTA (Parent/Teacher Association) presidents. One was a teacher; one was vice-president of the County Home Demonstration Club. One had a reputation for always being in a hurry to finish quilting, so that her stitches were deemed by the others to be “too big.”

“My favorite,” Josie says, “was Beulah, who was described as ‘a tall, large, beautiful woman who wore her hair in a single braid that she wrapped around her head. Her ankles literally hung over her shoes. Her husband, Walter, was tall and thin. When they walked to church, as most people did back then, Walter carried Beulah’s purse in one hand and held Beulah’s arm with the other to keep her from falling.’”

It is an easy thing, when looking at an old quilt, to see only its surface elements: the fabrics used in its construction, its design, its colors, the level of skill with which it was crafted.

But beneath that surface, or perhaps around it, hovers the essence of the person or persons who made it. Those quilters had personality traits, physical characteristics, senses of humor, jobs, children and spouses—full lives.

Many quilt lovers have had the sensation of thinking that the person who made an old quilt was communicating to them through that quilt. In the case of the Thread and Thimble Quilt Club, Josie Davis is getting to know a whole community.

 

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Archived blogs:

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
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
Column 90: Leitmotif for a Lifelong Love Affair
Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
Column 81: Why So Many Quilt Shops in Bozeman, Montana?
Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
Column 77: Quilting with AMD
Column 76: Maverick Quilts and Cowgirls
Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
Column 73: Maximum Security Quilts
Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
Column 71: The Christmas Quilt
Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Column 64: Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree
Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
Column 61: Louisiana Bicentennial Quilt
Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo Fly Pattern
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor

See other archived columns here

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