Bits and pieces of the lives of people who lived on Whidbey Island before us are displayed in a colorful quilt show reflecting the homespun values of resourceful women at the Island County Historical Museum in Coupeville.
Quilts often tell stories, but some of the stories of these quilts have been lost, or are incomplete.
Roger Sherman, a local historian and lifelong farmer on Whidbey Island, speculated about a red and white quilt his mother Dorothy Sherman donated to the museum before her death in 2001.
“I know this quilt belonged to my great grandma Mary LeSourd,” he said. “But I don’t know why she had it. It was passed to her daughter Alma, my grandma, who gave it to my mother Dorothy.”
The LeSourds arrived on Whidbey Island in 1885 and bought a farm on Ebey’s Prairie, Sherman said.
The quilt in question is red and white with hand-appliquéd circles. In the center, the words “U.W. 1908” are embroidered. Other circles have embroidered signatures of well-known early Island settlers, with family names such as Engle, LeSourd, Howard, Blowers, Gookens and Zylstra represented.
“We know it’s a signature or friendship quilt,” said Rick Castellano, executive director of the museum. “But we don’t know who it was made for, or what the initials ‘U.W.’ in the center mean. If it was made for a student heading off to the University of Washington in 1908, the colors aren’t U.W. colors.”
Another mystery surrounds a crazy quilt made crafted of silk with several kinds of decorative stitching.
“We think it was used as a piano cover,” Castellano said, pointing to the ruffled edge. “But how the maker acquired all this silk is a mystery.”
Some of the quilts are showing their age and the results of improper storage. The silk crazy quilt has some frayed sections. Other quilts in the show may have been folded and stored for too many years.
“Quilts should be rolled, not folded. They should be rolled in acid-free cloth or paper, and stored in acid-free tubes,” said Joan Handy of Clinton, a museum volunteer who helped catalog and preserve the quilt collection some years ago.
Several quilt tops were donated to the museum in 2005 by the Oak Harbor Lutheran Church. Castellano said they were given to the church by Willard Krigbaum of Coupeville, who believes the tops were made by his grandmother and her friends in the Eastern Star Lodge in Buckley, Wash. in 1920-23.
These colorful quilt tops reflect the everyday clothing people wore. Printed cotton remnants might have come from housedresses, aprons or men’s shirts.
“Nothing was wasted,” Sherman said. He remembers his mother “always had a quilt in the frame” when he was growing up.
The handsome “Courthouse Steps” quilt, made with thousands of tiny strips of cloth, is a variation on the traditional “Log Cabin” pattern.
Donated by Hazel and Ruth Furman and Helen Vanlaningham of Greenbank, it belonged to their grandmother Ruhamiohe Baker-Fitchie, who was married in 1865, and lived in Stockton, Calif. The maker of the quilt is unknown, but what is known is the skill the seamstress had in joining all those tiny strips.
“Certainly, all the quilts in the show came to us from folks who live[d] here,” Castellano said. “I’m guessing many of the quilts in our collection were made elsewhere, and traveled with the family when they relocated to Whidbey.”
Quilts were made for practical reasons and for family use, but the designs required planning, resourcefulness and artistic skill, Castellano said.
Castellano, who grew up in Port Townsend, said his mother Hilda was a master quilter who always added a signature patch on her creations with the embroidered words “Every Stitch is Love.” He chose that name for the museum’s quilt show in her honor.
The “Every Stitch is Love” quilt display in the museum’s changing exhibit room runs through Labor Day.
The Island County Historical Museum is at 908 N.W. Alexander St., Coupeville, and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 360-678-3310.