Quilt Memories

Diane Mateo, the newest member of our team, shares about her family quilts.

What I love most about quilts, embroidery, and other needlework, are the stories and history behind the pieces, which is what often makes them truly special. For example, when my husband and I became engaged, my sister-in-law (Marianne Kasper Feeney) created a beautiful quilt to mark the event. I cherish it as much for its beauty as I do for the time, energy and thought behind it.

My favorite quilt is not very impressive; it is plain and simple, ripped in a few places and has a few stains. It was on my bed when I was a small girl, and before that, my mother’s. It had originally been given to my grandmother by her close friend, Vera, when my mother was very young. My mother was born in the thirties, during the depression, in a time when money was tight and budgets were stretched thin, so I am sure the gift was especially appreciated. Although it is hand-made, we are not sure if Vera made the quilt herself; my grandmother is long gone, so that is part of the story we will never know. Although the quilt is worn and faded, I cherish it, as it represents three generations of women and a special friendship.

Above: Diane's Grandmother Edna Kaht Collins with Diane's mother, Ruth, in 1936

Left: Quilt given to Edna Collins by friend, Vera Collins (no relationship to Edna)

Because textiles are so very delicate, I keep it stored in a cedar chest that was, at one time, my grandmother’s hope chest,at least until she changed her mind and married my grandfather, rather than the suitor who had given her the chest. [See NOTE below re: cedar chests.]

Also stored in this chest is a crocheted tablecloth, or bedspread, made by my great-grandmother, Julia, who, in 1901, at the age of 16, traveled alone from Austria-Hungary to New York, where she met and married my great-grandfather. She died when I was ten, but I remember her well; she was tiny, and sweet, but also tough and hardworking. She spoke five languages and had a thick German accent. Her life here was not easy; she lost two of her seven children, and worked nights to supplement the family income. I have visions of her crocheting, late at night under a dim light, and I treasure the fact that long ago her hands touched and worked this piece.

These family pieces will one day be handed down to another family member, who I hope will also treasure them, and with the pieces, will go the memories and the stories.

Left: Julia Speiss Kaht with her husband Edward Kaht and sons Joseph and Edward, about 1908, New York City

Above: Julia, 1950s

NOTE: Cedar chests are not recommended for long-term storage of textiles. For information about textile storage see here for cedar chest damage and at the Quilt Index website for care of quilts.

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