“The Art of Quilting,” Ensign, Mar. 1989, 42
Security. Warmth. Comfort. These adjectives seem to come to mind naturally when the word quilt is mentioned. And for many, the word also evokes memories of family togetherness, of relatives uniting around a quilt frame to commemorate an important event.
Quilting has traditionally been a social rather than a solitary art, a creative process based on cooperation. For decades women have forged caring bonds, sharing their joys and sorrows while pushing and pulling needles through a quilt top. Perhaps that is one reason quilting has remained a strong LDS tradition for over a century.
In 1988, the Church Museum of History and Art exhibited quilts made by LDS women. Some have won national awards, some are family heirlooms—and all communicate values important to their makers. Following are some of those quilts.
Sesquicentennial Quilt, 1979; designed by Diana McClun and James Adams. The Church Historical Department commissioned this quilt from the Oakland California Stake Relief Society. Diana McClun, owner of a quilt shop and a counselor in the stake Relief Society presidency, chose the subjects for each block after consulting with her stake president and a historical department representative. The blocks show historical events, family scenes, and Church organizations. Artist James Allen sketched the patterns.
Sister McClun passed out kits for the blocks to “just anyone I knew who could do applique.” After the blocks were pieced and sewn together, the stake Relief Society set up the quilt in the stake president’s office. Women worked on the project as they could; some worked as many as twelve hours a day. The quilt was stitched in a week, and the entire project was finished in about a month and a half. “When women work together with their hearts and their souls, great things can happen,” says Sister McClun.
The Quilt, 1978; designed and appliqued by Maryloo Stephens. Sister Stephens wanted to give her parents, Mary and David Roberts, something “really different” for their sixtieth wedding anniversary. So she asked her nine brothers and sisters for tracings of their hands and those of each of their children and grandchildren. The eighty-one handprints came from as far away as Australia. “The two smallest ones were babies who were three days old; we got them the day they came home from the hospital.”
Sister Stephens made each generation’s handprints from a different shade of blue—her mother’s favorite color. She embroidered the person’s name on his or her handprint, and for direct descendants, she added a number that indicates birth order. Her parents’ names and their wedding date are on the tree’s trunk.
“This was a fun project for our family,” says Sister Stephens. “I think quilts bring family generations closer together.”
In God We Trust, 1894; designed, pieced, and quilted by Hawaiian Latter-day Saints. Native Hawaiian sisters gave this quilt to Matthew and Libbie Noall at the end of the second of their three missions to the islands. The words on the quilt are “Farewell, with much love, Mrs. Libbie Noall, M.H. (Mission Hawaiian), 1894.” The eagle holding the U.S. flag and the Hawaiian flag symbolize the union of the two lands. The crown represents the Hawaiian monarchy—possibly significant because the Noalls were close friends of the Hawaiian king and queen.
Mary Louise Stromness, a granddaughter of the Noalls, now owns the quilt. She says the quilt is a family heirloom that bonds her not only to the grandmother she never knew, but “to my family as a whole going back to her. It reminds me of their struggles.”
Grandpa Ebenezer’s Pine Valley Church, 1984; designed, pieced, and quilted by Bonnie Bryce. Sister Bryce made this wallhanging as a gift for her husband, Gale Rex Bryce. He is a great-grandson of Ebenezer Bryce, the man responsible for building the Pine Valley Chapel in southern Utah. Sister Bryce appliqued the picture of the church, using a pattern her son David drew. She then added a border pieced in the pine-tree pattern to further symbolize Pine Valley.
Sister Bryce makes quilts to decorate her home—“so it reflects me”—and for her children’s weddings and her grandchildren’s births—“so that they’ll have something from their mother or grandmother that they’ll be able to keep all their lives.” But quilting is also her creative outlet. “I am saying something with my quilts. I want people to look at a quilt and be able to pick up more after the initial impact. I want my quilts to say that I wasn’t just sewing pieces of fabric together; I was trying to create beauty.”
Advice from the Relief Society, 1985; designed and pieced by Peggy Childress. When Sister Childress was Relief Society president in the Edgemont Fourth Ward in Provo, Utah, she had “a wonderful working relationship” with Bishop Jack Starley. Because she “didn’t hold back” when asked her opinion about problems in the ward, other members of the welfare committee teasingly called her “the advice-giver.” So when she saw an advice quilt in a book, she decided it would be a perfect gift for the bishop.
Sister Childress chose the sayings on the quilt by reading them to her husband and son at the dinner table. “If they laughed hysterically, I’d know the saying was good enough to go on the quilt.”
Sister Childress’ great grandmother taught her to quilt when she was young, and she has been doing it ever since. What does she do with her quilts? “I give them away. For me the fun is in the making, not in the having.”
Brent’s Japanese Mission Quilt, 1979–80; designed, pieced, and quilted by Karen Searle. Sister Searle made this quilt for her second son, Brent, while he was serving in the Japan Okayama Mission. She worked on it mainly during the winter months, “because that’s the slow season on our farm.” She made the pattern by enlarging a picture from a beginning piano book that her children had used, then added cherry blossoms and a Japanese character that means congratulations and longevity. Sister Searle further carried out her theme by piecing the cloaks on the figures from Japanese fabric and stitching the quilt in a Japanese motif.
Ironically, Brent has never used the quilt because it has spent so much time traveling between quilt shows. It has won prizes in several competitions and was featured in the American Quilters’ Society calendar in 1986.
Double Wedding Ring, 1937; pieced and quilted by Melissa Berrett Poll. The fabric in this traditional wedding quilt came from clothing Doris Harper Byington wore as a child and as a young woman. Doris had lived with Sister Poll, a relative, while attending college and working in Pocatello, Idaho. Since Doris’s mother had died many years before, Sister Poll made the quilt for Doris’s wedding. Sister Poll was more than ninety years old at the time.
Sister Byington passed this quilt on to her daughter, Carol Johnson. Sister Johnson remembers that her mother didn’t use it much, but treated it as a treasured heirloom. “My mom didn’t entrust it to me until about two years ago,” she says, “until after I had been quilting for several years and had served as vice-president of the Utah Quilt Guild. I guess she finally felt that I knew enough about quilts that I could appreciate it and would take care of it.”
Three Degrees of Glory, 1987; designed, pieced, and quilted by Charlotte Anderson. Sister Anderson chose an abstract form for this quilt “since none of us really knows what heaven looks like.” The purple star in the upper left-hand corner of the quilt represents the world. It has a small map of the earth quilted on it. The middle section represents the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms. Rays of light shine from the sun, moon, and stars on the right side of the quilt to their corresponding degrees of glory. The black section at the bottom of the quilt is outer darkness. In this section Sister Anderson quilted human figures—the sons of perdition—in postures of despair. Satan, shaking his fist defiantly, is in the lower right-hand corner.
Sister Anderson is a nationally prominent LDS quilt artist. “I find ideas for quilts everywhere around me,” she says. “Any little thing can inspire me.”