• Community Ties

    Quilts and comforters can give makers an outlet for service and affirm relationships. Some make quilts to raise money for charity or to give to the needy. Others make them to give as commemorations and farewell gifts.

    Automobile travel has enabled quilters to get together and sew on their own work or tie a communal piece—and to share news and strengthen their friendships. Today there are at least a dozen quilting groups and guilds active in the Adirondacks.

  • A sewing bee in a sugar shanty in the western Adirondacks

    ca. 1900
    P 20939

    The quilting bee—a gathering of women to quilt or tie off a single piece—has become a staple of American folklore. History suggests that quilting bees were not very common in the Adirondacks. Adirondack quilters have traditionally been too isolated to get together often. They generally worked alone or with the help of family. Lucelia Clark, who lived on a farm near Cranberry Lake, N.Y., wrote in her diary on October 21, 1909, "I put a quilt on & Mrs. K. came over & May & we tied it off before supper."

  • "Evening Star" Album blocks

    Thurman, N.Y.
    Photo by Richard Walker

    These blocks, four of a set of forty-eight, were probably created to raise money for the Methodist Church in Thurman, N.Y. Early in 1918, members of the church started collecting names for a quilt. Members of the community paid for the privilege of having their names embroidered on the blocks. The finished quilt was then sold or auctioned off to raise still more money. This quilt was never completed.

  • Appliqué bedspread

    made as a retirement gift for Joseph Ronie Bruno, North River, N.Y.
    Private Collection
    Photo by Richard Walker

    Friendship Then

    This rare and unusual spread is both a document of life in North River, N.Y., and a testament to friendship.

    When Joseph Bruno left his job as cook at the North River Hotel in 1894, he was presented with this bedspread. It was meant to remind him of his friends and colleagues, pastimes meaningful to him, and, we suspect, a few inside jokes.

    The three rings, crossed keys, and five-pointed stars are symbols of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The fish on a stringer, deer, gun, fishing rod, tennis racquet, croquet mallet, and the playing cards symbolize activities available at the North River Hotel. The most intriguing block on the spread is "The Heavenly Twins," a reference to a popular feminist novel published in 1893.

    "Album" quilts, in which each block is signed by an individual, were popular presentation gifts from the 1850s through the 1870s. Each of the forty-seven blocks on this one is signed, but only a few bear more than initials. The identifiable names are W.H. Roblee, who was the owner of the North River Hotel, and his sons Will, Beecher, and Allie.

    The center panel, a picture of the stagecoach that regularly stopped at the hotel, is both painted and appliquéd. Painting on quilt squares was also done on crazy quilts, which were popular at the time.

  • Quilt made by fifty-six friends

    housewarming present for Terry and Dianne Perkins, Stillwater, N.Y.
    Private Collection
    Photo by Richard Walker

    Friendship Now

    On July 27, 2001, Dianne and Terry Perkins's new home on an island at Stillwater Reservoir caught fire and burned to the ground. Along with the roof over their heads, the Perkins lost a remarkable quilt commemorating thirty-one years of service and friendship.

    Terry had retired just three years before as the district forest ranger for the Stillwater area. On the occasion of his retirement, fifteen members of the Rap-Shaw Club, a private hunting club on Stillwater, made and signed blocks for a quilt.

    Following the fire, the Perkins's friends rallied and made a replacement quilt that was similar in style but included fifty-six members of the Stillwater community. Donnie Brownsey, a summer resident who owned a quilt shop in Albany, N.Y., Marion Romano of the Stillwater Hotel, and Linda Ostrander spearheaded the effort.

    Compare this quilt to the Bruno quilt. Although they were made over a hundred years apart, both include signatures of friends, a wide variety of block styles, and images of people and things dear to the recipients.

  • Sampler comforter

    made by the United Methodist Women, Johnsburg, N.Y.
    Crandall Library, Glens Falls, N.Y.
    Image Courtesy of Crandall Library

    What's in a Name?

    You can probably find the blocks in this comforter that are called "Pinwheel" or "Maple Leaf," but how about "Belle's Favorite," "Aunt Sukey's Choice," or "Old Maid's Puzzle"?

    The names of quilt blocks have become part of American folklore. Quilt names, however, have changed over the years and across the United States. We know many names only from what was (and is) published. We know less about what most quilters actually called the designs they made.

    This piece is a sampler commissioned by the Crandall Public Library Folklife Center in Glens Falls, N.Y. Each contributor had her choice of block pattern—and what she called it. The makers were members of the United Methodist Women, a group that funds mission work and supports local church projects through suppers, work meetings, and quilting.

    1st row: "Bird of Paradise," "Pinwheel," "Whirlwind," "54-40 or Fight," "Shoofly."
    2nd row: "Double 9 Patch," "Road to California," "Star," "Symmetry in Motion," "Belle's Favorite."
    3rd row: "Dutchman's Puzzle," "Maple Leaf," "Weather Vane," "Road to Oklahoma," "Suzannah."
    4th row: "Monkey Wrench," "Star Milky Way," "House on the Hill," "Churndash," "Aunt Sukey's Choice."
    5th row: "Whirl Around," "Bear Paw," "Old Maid's Puzzle," "Night and Noon," "No Name."
    6th row: "Split 9 Patch," "Twin Sister," "Grandmother's Fan," "I Wish You Well," "Airplane."
    7th row: "Interlocked Block," "Broken Dishes," "Swastika," "Ribbon Border," "Windblown."

  • Utility quilt in the "Brick Wall" pattern

    between 1923 and 1981
    Veteran's Mountain Camp, Tupper Lake, N.Y.
    Photo by Richard Walker

    Utility Quilts

    For each fancy quilt that impresses us with intricate piecing and delicate stitching, there were once dozens of utility quilts—not elegant, but warm, inexpensive, and essential to keeping the family comfortable.

    Utility quilts, hired man's quilts, and the thick "sugans" (most often used outdoors by Western ranch workers) are all distinguished by their small size, uncomplicated and easy-to-make patterns, and ties rather than quilting. The fabrics on the top of this example are probably wool-suiting samples, which came in uniform size and could easily be used as quilt blocks. Although the makers of utility quilts were primarily concerned with providing warm blankets and didn't lavish needlework on them as they might on family's quilts, this one has been enlivened with red hemstitching which also attaches the top to the back. There is no batting.

    In 1923, the American Legion opened a summer camp on the shore of Tupper Lake, N.Y., for veterans recovering from tuberculosis. This lap robe is one of several made by the Legion Ladies Auxiliary or a group of nurses at the camp. It was used to keep the veterans' knees warm as they "cured" in the open air.