By Jean Clark
A Gathering of Quilts will be sponsored by the Pleasant Hill Historical Society of the Cumberlands and the Sew ‘n Sew Quilt Group of the Pleasant Hill area Saturday, Dec. 1, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Blue Barn. The Blue Barn is behind the old Wharton Nursing Home off of West Lake Rd. in Pleasant Hill. There will be both historical and contemporary quilt displays, along with quilt turnings and refreshments. Dr. Liz Mullens, associate professor in the school of human ecology at Tennessee Technological University, will lecture on old fabrics at 1 p.m.
In 1884, the Dodge family — Benjamin, Phoebe and Emma — along with a family servant and AMA teacher made the arduous journey from Maine to Nashville thence to Sparta by train. Arriving finally in Pleasant Hill, it was not long before Father Dodge as he became known, undertook enlarging the schoolhouse and building other structures, which became the Pleasant Hill Academy.
Many years later, around 1940, Emma Dodge came across the family quilt that had “belonged in her family as long as she could remember.” She gave it to Marian Obenhaus, wife of Victor Obenhaus who was the academy's principal. Obenhaus sent it to the Pioneer Museum in 1985 because it came to Pleasant Hill with the Dodge family. The pattern is called “Drunkard Path,” which is a strange name for a pious Congregational family.
Another interesting quilt that will be on display is one pieced by Amanda Gehart Lewis from flour sacks in the “Flower Garden Pattern.” A quilt by Jean Lay of historic houses in Pleasant Hill has been on prominent display in Pioneer Hall probably since it was opened as a museum in 1976. It depicts Pioneer Hall when it was a boys’ dormitory, Dr. May Wharton’s Homestead House, the Carl Thompson House (originally the Wightmans’ home), the principal’s house, the Denton Cole House, the Pleasant Hill Community House and others in existence at that time.
The museum has a quilting frame the size of a double bed, which has ropes at each corner to allow the quilt in process to be pulled up above the table when it was time to fix and serve dinner. Old newspapers were often used to form patterns, piecing them properly together before cutting the pieces. The padding between the quilted front and plain backing could be either cotton or wool depending on the warmth desired. A Linsey-Woolsey quilt was made from cut-up pieces of clothing or blankets woven with a linen warp and a woolen weft. Families treasure quilts pieced together from favorite dresses, shirts, blouses or other clothing that found new life in a quilt when worn out as a garment. The history of their lives became enshrined forever in quilts passed down from generation to generation.
Quilts can provide clues to the past. Quilts can provide warmth. Quilts can provide beauty and value. Quilts can provide heritage. Quilts can provide enjoyment from working with color, texture and pattern. Quilts can bring people together in camaraderie and sharing. Quilting can be traced back to ancient Egypt and China where three layers of fabrics (top, batting for warmth and backing) were stitched together to keep the middle layer from slipping and clumping.
Quilting in America became popular in the 19th century, when distinctly American patchwork and appliqué designs were created. The patchwork quilt was a "utility" quilt, in contrast to the appliqué quilt that was a "best" or show quilt, upon which time and material was lavished. A variation of the utility quilt was the plain "tufted" quilt that is tied through in enough places to keep the filling from shifting and bunching. While a tufted quilt has no stitching holding the layers together, it does have the typical three layers seen in traditional quilts.
Besides the quilts from the Pioneer Hall Museum, several others will allow their historic family ones to be displayed at the Gathering of Quilts. In addition, many talented Pleasant Hill area quilters will proudly show their very modern, yet still useful designs. The Sew ‘n Sew Friends are a diverse group of avid quilters who meet in Heritage Hall in Pleasant Hill on the second Saturday of the month. Every third or fourth month, they share their sewing skills to make service quilts. These are donated to worthy organizations such as the Avalon Center, the Wharton Association, Neighbors Together for newborn babies and Head Start, among others.