Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mrs. DeWitt

Long Story -Lots of pictures ! 

Once upon a time I decided it would be a good idea to rescue a vintage or antique quilt top that needed some love to bring it back to it's former glory. I'm not sure where these insane ideas come from, but once they've popped into my head they rarely leave, and often become almost obsessive thoughts, until I've acted on them. 

The problem with this particular brainwave though, is that in Australia it's very rare to see old quilts in op or thrift shops or on eBay, which was where I imagined I might find one.  I had to broaden my search a little and look in the US , which would appear to be the mecca for cutter tops, orphan blocks, vintage and antique quilt tops and quilts that need some TLC. You guys over there are so lucky.

After many months of searching I found an unfinished vintage Martha Washington Flower Garden quilt top that I fell in love with, and duly paid what I considered to be an arm and a leg for it (can you really put a price on such exquisite hand piecing and history though?) and had it shipped over. The danger with doing this is that sometimes when you buy a quilt top virtually sight unseen you run the danger of the quilt top not being square, or having undesirable polyester fabrics tucked in there or being imperfect in some other way which means finishing it can be a bit of a pain in the arse. Ask me how I know this....


This quilt was started in the 1930's or 1940's by a lady named Fontella Holmes DeWitt in Iowa US. Mrs. DeWitt was born in 1905 in Winterset, Iowa (which is also the birthplace of John Wayne) and passed away on Christmas Day 1985. I'm assuming that this quilt lurked around in an attic somewhere for the next  20 odd years while someone thought about finishing it. Her hand work on this quilt is absolutely exquisite and she was obviously very skilled at paper piecing. I wonder why she didn't finish this. I wonder if she got totally fed up with hand sewing hexagons.

The plan was to finish the white borders on the edges ( never mind that at that point I had no idea how to paper piece hexies) and then turn this into a useable work of art. This was a huge quilt at almost 80 by 90 inches and I had visions of me hand sewing minute little one inch hexagons like some pioneer woman and actually being serene and happy about it. 

It lobbed at Maison Pyjamas via the grace of USPS and Australia Post. It was gorgeous. It was perfectly square. The hand sewing of all those teeny tiny hexies was perfect. Angels sang and trumpets heralded it's arrival. 

And then I hung it in a cupboard and there it stayed for 4 or 5 years while I contemplated trying to find cream fabric to match, and the agony of hand sewing 400-500 teeny tiny hexies to finish it off. Occasionally I'd take it out and stroke it lovingly and reassure that poor unfinished top that one day it would be a finished functioning quilt and that we'd be together forever. 

Sometimes inspiration hits you like a bolt of lightning. While I was on holidays, I pulled that quilt top out for it's annual foray into actual light and out of nowhere I decided the time was right to finish it. I consulted with QuiltyGal at lunch that very day and came up with a plan of attack. 

I laid it out to see if it had ripples...and then I basted it with about 500 pins. I used a wool batting with a higher loft than I usually use and I really enjoyed working with it. No lint at all!



I started quilting. And kept quilting for a very long time. It took 5 spools of bobbin thread to get through this baby, because I quilted it very very closely together with a serpentine stitch. I have to say there were points where this was not fun to get it all through my machine. 


Then oh horror of horrors I squared the quilt up and cut all those pretty points off to bring this quilt down to 70 x 80 inches square. 


I picked a plain fabric that was as close as I could get to the original cream hexagons and started binding.


And finally on Sunday night I put the last stitch in and she was finished, approximately 70 years after she was started. I'd venture a guess that this is one of the worlds oldest WIP's.

More gratuitous fabric shots. Aren't they pretty?



Quilt front




And the back ...I love how this looks!


The whole quilt...I'm so happy with this finish. I'm prouder of this than anything else I've ever made. I like to think that somewhere Mrs. De Witt knows that her beautiful work is finally going to be used the way she hoped it would be all those years ago. And it was a no brainer to name this quilt in her honour. 


Linking up to A Stitch In Time Finishes Linky party for February over at Elizabeth's too!

February Finishes


42 comments:

Canadian Abroad said...

Go you! I love the way it looks squared off. It gives it a nice modern twist of an appropriate finish.

Lorraine said...

Good work!....and not having ever seen this quilt (how did that happen??)I was wondering what you were working on when you posted pics of the quilting marathon. It looks great!

Denise said...

Oh my goodness that is beautiful! Great job and I'm sure Mrs. DeWitt does know that it's finished. It's so beautiful!

Katy Cameron said...

So pretty! I might have had heart failure trimming that, but it looks great :o)

Tazzie said...

Love it Shay, can't wait to see it in person!
*hugs*
Tazzie
:-)

Sooli said...

Spectacular! Love the wavy line quilting, particularly on the back! So great to think that something which has been hidden away for so long is now able to be out and in use as the maker would have intended all those years ago. Well done you!

Suzan Oxenreider said...

Beautiful! How good of you to finish this treasure. I am sure somewhere in the great beyond Mrs. Dewitt is smiling!!

Jennifer said...

That is a very pretty quilt! I'm sure Mrs De Witt is smiling to see creation finally finished so beautifully.

Frog Quilter said...

It is stunning!!!! Gorgeous!!!

Lou - Max and Louise Pattern Co said...

BEAUTIFUL. How very brave of you to work on an old quilt. I hope you enjoy snuggling under this quilt for many, many years.

Michelle Ridgway said...

Well done you. It is absolutely beautiful...definitely "quilt envy" going on here! I am sure Mrs DeWitt is very thrilled from wherever she is. Your quilting is amazing by the way!!!!

Kate said...

Wow! You did a great job. It's gorgeous. I'm sure Mrs. DeWitt is quite proud.

Brandie said...

Mrs Dewitt is a beauty! What a story and a wonderfully happy ending.

Amy, a redeemed sheep said...

It's wonderful and it came from very close to where I live! I am so glad you restored this amazing work of art.

audrey said...

What a fabulous quilt! Your idea is brilliant. Now it's finished up, you can love on it and feel good about another finish. Yay you!

Marie said...

flipping gorgeous ... and Mrs. DeWitt would be proud !!!

Susan said...

It's beautiful, Mrs De Witt would be thrilled.

P. said...

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow! Also, WOW! You are right to be mighty proud and happy with this quilt. It is a stunner. I love that you rescued it and have given it life. Love the quilting, how it mirrors the shape of the hexies on the front. I could look at those vintage fabrics all day, and the red polka dot centers are such fun. May I also say I heart the name Fontanella. I doubt she traveled very far and wide, and to think her quilt has gone halfway round the world to live at Casa de Pyjamas!

thea said...

Mrs. Dewitt is beautiful! How did you learn the story? I am amazed that you were able to work with the fabrics -- were the fabrics all intact or were they deteriorating? How did you find it? do tell more. So fascinating.

Rachaeldaisy said...

Wow and double Wow!! Shay, it's absolutely gorgeous. You are so clever to just quilt it and square it up and get it finished. I bet you keep stopping to admire it. I hope you can put the full story on the label.

Rachaeldaisy said...

I'm curious, did you keep the points that were cut off?

Dianne Neale said...

Absolutely fantastic. The quilting is perfect. It must feel wonderful to have saved such a work of art. Just out of interest, how big are those diamonds?

Diane-crewe said...

what a fabulous tribute to her .. and to you x well done and may there be many years of love and enjoyment for it xx

Sue SA said...

Wow, what a fabulous quilt and story. I am so impressed you quilted this yourself, it is so huge! The wavy dense quilting looks perfect and really compliment the design. Great achievement, I am sure that Mrs Dewitts descendants are now green with envy....any chance I can inherit this!

Noela said...

What a fabulous job you have made of the quilt Shay. You have every right to be proud of yourself. Congratulations, you have a treasured heirloom to admire and pass down. Hugs......

Cindy said...

Wow!!!! I have been away foreva while due to a crazy life and what a GORGEOUS post to come back to!! The quilting is stunning. The entire quilt is just beautiful!!!! You should absolutely be proud of yjix beauty!!!

Karen said...

Oh dear lord I adore every bit of this! From the history, search through to the absolutely perfect stitching on it! So incredible!

Me and My Stitches said...

Such a small world - I live only a few hours from Winterset, IA! That quilt could have traveled to my house and I would have been happy - haha! Glad that you were able to get it finished - enjoy it!

Terri said...

You two ladies make a great team. Love the results.
Hugs

Jackie said...

Lovely, lovely quilt. Glad that you got to finish it and finish it so well.

Kris said...

How flash is that quilting! You are a genius woman.

the running hare said...

Gosh! Words fail me- it's gorgeous! I love the way you've quilted it and I hope it gets lots of use after all this time.

Helsie said...

Absolutely brilliant ! Hearty congratulations ! You are right to be proud.

Helsie said...

Absolutely brilliant ! Hearty congratulations ! You are right to be proud.

Kirsten's Cooking said...

You should be very proud - and Mrs. Dewitt would be honored. On a side note: we love Iowa. The people are the nicest, best people. It's beautiful country and your quilt is stunning - great job!!!

Nicky said...

Amazing, what a beautiful quilt, now the work of two very inspired quilters!

Razzle Dazzle Quilter said...

That looks fantastic! No mean feat pushing that through your domestic
machine. A super solution. I think Mrs Dewitt would be very happy.

Linda

Anonymous said...

What a great tribute to Mrs DeWitt it nearly had me in tears. You have done such an incredible job Mrs DeWitt would be very proud of how you have finished her quilt. I think I have just found an excuse for all my unfinished things in the cupboard - 70 years on someone might come along and finish them!!! lol Louise

Barb H said...

Ms. P, you have a real gem there. I like how you gave it a practical finish by squaring it up. This quilt deserves a label relating its history and the two quilters who made it.

Sharyn T said...

Amazing! Sharyn:)

Jindi's Cottage said...

I. Am. In. Love. Absolutely gorgeous…you have honoured Mrs DeWitt with a beautiful job of finishing her quilt…enjoy…

Elizabeth said...

First, I am SO behind. I'm sorry for not getting over here sooner. I knew it was going to be a good story and I didn't want to be distracted by all the other things I should be going and have to hurry though so I could get on with it.

Next, WOW! Just wow! Mrs. DeWitt did a beautiful job on those hexies and you did her justice with your finish! I think the quilting is so perfect for this and I like how you ended up squaring it up and using it as is. You have every right to be proud of this quilt. You did an amazing job finishing this really, really, really old WIP! I hope you save this for the next Blogger's Quilt Festival. I think they should invent a new category for this quilt -- something like "WIP Rescue Quilts." You would definitely win it!

Last, have I mentioned how much I love everything about this quilt! Well done. Very well done! (And thank you for linking up. I never know if I'm being pesty if I remind you to link up. I almost added your finishes last month to the linky after it had closed. You were only a couple of hours after the close when you lamented you'd missed it. They were both in one post, though, so I didn't know who to make that work. I should have at least done one link for you.)

That is a really amazing quilt! Thank you for sharing.

xo -E

P.S. Maybe Mrs. DeWitt didn't finish it because she ran out of cream for the borders? But it is probably more likely that, as you suggested, she was so sick of sewing hexies that she never wanted to see them again. In any case, that is a real treasure you've got there.