A pinwheel quilt with 399 names embroidered on the lighter triangles

A pinwheel quilt with 399 names embroidered on the lighter triangles

Looking Back: Stories behind community quilts

A column by the Maple Ridge Historical Society

The practice of quilting – layered cloth held together with a running stitch – dates back to ancient Egypt and China, where quilted fabrics were used for warmth or as padding for armour.

Quilting in Europe began as a pastime for the wealthy who had time for embroidery and applique work. It was more economical to buy wool and linen bedding than to make it.

As cotton became more available and wool less so, quilting thinner fabrics for warmth became ever more attractive.

Since the middle of the 19th Century, women in North America have been drawn to the craft.  For some, it was the ability to use up scraps from other projects – usually from clothing.  For others, it was always just the joy of producing something beautiful that also had a practical use.

Quilting also lends itself to group efforts as many can contribute pieces and squares and through the use of large frames, the quilting itself becomes a social activity.

Group quilts were used as fund-raisers for organizations or were made as gifts for a minister leaving to another charge, perhaps, or a family struggling through a hard time.

One quilt in our museum collection is such a quilt. The cotton fabric used was quite thin and the red parts of the pinwheel pattern are nearly all worn through.

Fortunately, embroidery thread is made of sterner stuff so the majority of names embroidered on it are easy to read.  Families from Whonnock and Ruskin along with the rest of Maple Ridge and from across the river are all represented on the quilt.

The ladies who produced it took it to different church gatherings and agricultural fairs – embroidering to order as people laid their quarters down.

But that is only part of this quilt’s story.

Many of us remember Olive Leaf, Whonnock matron and a genuine force of nature, who passed away in 1995. She was involved in the production of this particular quilt and sometime after it’s donation, she encountered it again being used as an outdoor blanket on the ground by a group of children. Deciding on the spot that such was not an appropriate fate for so much work, she repossessed the quilt and it was still with her belongings when she passed away.

Olive Leaf was involved with the Women’s Institute, the United Church and the Community Association, all of Whonnock. It is likely she made and raffled quilts for all three. This is a practice that is still maintained today by our modern Ridge Meadows Quilters Guild.

Through a program called “Community Quilts,” the women of the guild have made and donated quilts for premature babies, hospice residents, and our veterans.

In the fine old tradition of Olive Leaf and friends, every year there is a raffle quilt made, the proceeds of which go to our hospital or search and rescue or another worthy cause.

On May 3 and 4, the Ridge Meadows Quilters Guild will have a show, “Quilt Stories … Every Quilt Has One!” at the Burnett Fellowship Church at 20639 – 123rd Ave., beginning at 10 a.m.

In addition to a fabulous array of quilts and stories, there will be a featured artist – Judy Greenwood, a boutique of quilt-y gifts and of course, a raffle quilt.

Val Patenaude is a director of Maple Ridge Museum.