A Quilt Block Mystery

About 6 months ago I had an email from someone in Massachusetts that I didn't know (oh, the joys of the internet!). Catherine was writing to me about some quilt blocks that a friend of hers had bought at a yard sale while she was visiting Nova Scotia. Unfortunately her friend doesn't remember where in Nova Scotia she found them. Catherine was writing because she thought that these blocks should come back to Nova Scotia, perhaps to a museum and would I be interested in helping her, needless to say I jumped right in!

There are 30 blocks in all, they are all the same pattern but only a couple are the same fabric combination. The most interesting thing about these blocks is that they are signature blocks, each one is signed and most are dated and in most cases there is a place name.

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I love this block, it has 5 different fabrics. The verse reads "Know then this truth, Enough for man to know, Virtue above is happiness below" Johannah Stone 18th January 1848

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This is the back of the above block, see how the centre was just a bit too small so a very narrow strip of white was added to the bottom.

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This is the oldest block signed by Eunis Holloway, Kempt, March 21, 1842

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This is one of the "newest" ones signed in 1857 and it reads "Except this token of esteem, While under this you sweetly dream, May no false friendship harm thy..., While under this you sweetly rest. Sophia J Nichols" A lovely sentiment to write on a quilt.

The signatures date from 1842 to 1857! Most of the place names are in Queens County (Liverpool area) of Nova Scotia. One is from Halifax and a couple from Cornwallis. Three were from Brookfield, I was curious about those ones as Brookfield is quite a distance away especially in the 1840's. Then I searched further on Google maps and found there is a Brookfield in Queens County. I am a bit stumped about Cornwallis though, as the only one I can find is in Annapolis County, directly on the other side of the province from Liverpool. What a find! They are all hand stitched and you can tell they were made by different people as the stitches do vary. Some are quite exquisite and fine, others are not!Most just have about 1/8" seam allowance. Most are made with two fabrics, some three and one or two have several different fabrics.

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I am so grateful to Catherine for finding me and mailing the blocks to me. I have shared them with quite a few quilters, everyone has their own idea as to why someone would have made these over a 17 year period. I am looking forward to visiting the Queens Quilters next month and showing the blocks to them. After that I will deliver them to Simeon Perkins House, the local museum (one of the branches of the Nova Scotia Museum) in Liverpool where hopefully someone will be able to trace some of the signatures. 

Some of the blocks have interesting short verses or poems, but nothing indicates if they were made for someone's "hope chest". All were signed by women with their given names, not "Mrs. John Brown" as so often seen on old signature quilts. All the signatures are different which indicates to me that perhaps the maker of the block signed it.

I have been in touch with noted American quilt historian Barbara Brackman. I have sent her all the images of the blocks and she is writing a blog post about them and the fabrics. The fabrics are quite varied, some very fine, others are glazed and some are pieced within the patchwork.

Some of the statistics - the years the blocks were made - 1842-1, 1843-1, 1845-1, 1848-11, 1851-6, 1855-3, 1856-1 and 1857-3. Several blocks did not have dates. Where the people were from who signed the blocks - Port Medway-7, Brookfiled-3, Cornwallis-2 and one from Bridgewater, Whitsburn, Kempt, Milton, Halifax, Caledonia and Liverpool. There were eleven blocks signed that did not have a place name. Some of the names are quite unusual in this day and age, Mehetabel, Ceritha, Penira and Jedidah.

The blocks have all been well cared for, there is no mustiness or other smell one often associates with fibres that have been stored a long time.

I am looking forward to reading what Barbara Brackman writes about the blocks and the fabrics. I have posted images of all 30 blocks and some of the backs on my Flickr page here.