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By Emily Bontrager
A piece of thread sewn back and forth over time can create beautiful artwork. Connecting blocks of material together for a quilt, especially with signatures of those who put it together, can freeze time and connect us to the past.
Sue Cabral, 67, of Maine, is a lover of quilts and she enjoys connecting the past with the present.
After working for years at animal shelters and rescuing dogs, Cabral decided to start ‘rescuing’ friendship/signature quilts. She rescues these quilts to uncover their history and she tries to reunite these quilts with the descendants of those who signed or created them.
“It was always my plan to research the quilts, as they are a historical document of a community in America,” Cabral explained.
Twenty-plus years ago, Cabral purchased a blue friendship/signature quilt on eBay.
As Cabral began to research each name that was stitched onto the quilt on ancestry. com, she determined that the common trait that the signatures had was Scotland County and the township of Thomson.
“This particular quilt is hand pieced, as well as hand quilted. The blocks are set on the diagonal. The solid blocks each have a hand quilted motif within the block. The stitching is very fine. The names are actual signatures, with embroidered stitching over the signature, which makes it very personal,” Cabral said.
The blue quilt contains 38 signatures. Some of the signatures are complete, while others only have a first name stitched into the quilt.
The signed names are: Hattie (Hettie) Kasiske, Hattie Nutter, Grace Cull, Lizzie Mohr, Mrs. Ed Mohr, Marlina, Aunt Tillie, Bessie Kasiske, Paulina K, Alma E, Pearl Kasiske, Emma H, Helen P, Mrs. Wells, Virgil Mohr, Mattie Bally, Ella Dieterich, Linda Bricker, Mae Bentz, Ida Ebeling, Betty (Beulah) Dye, Etta E, Lulu Arnold, Gertrude F, Velva Welborn (Welbourn), Florence, Maggie Hottle, Clara Mohr, Mrs. Benz, Amanda, Aunt Susan, Marge, Mae Baumgarten, Jane and “Dot”, Barbara, Helen Dye, and Tillie (Tilla) Dice.
According to Cabral, the quilt might have been made between 1930 and 1950.
“I believe it is on the older side. The fabric is pretty fragile, which probably is because blue dye was harsh,” Cabral said.
Cabral’s hope is to find a descendant of one of the signatures on the quilt or to find someone who might have a special connection to the quilt. She has made a hobby out of buying the friendship/ signature quilts and finding out where they came from.
Over the years, Cabral has bought many quilts. She has returned two quilts to descendants of the quilters. These quilts originated in Bountiful, Colorado and Tennessee.
According to Cabral, the Colorado quilt went to the daughter of a 94-year-old quilter, who recently passed away.
“She gets to have a piece of her mom nearby,” Cabral said.
The second quilt Cabral rescued went to a quilt signature’s family member in Tennessee.
“The town it came from had been taken by eminent domain by the Tennessee Valley Authority because it flooded, and the community members were dispersed to surrounding areas. The quilt was made for a family member entering the military in World War II,” Cabral stated.
Looking at the names on the Scotland County friendship/ signature quilt, most of the people are buried at the Etna Cemetery. Cabral is hoping that a descendant of one of the signatures might know who made the quilt, why they made it, and when. Hopefully someone in the area knows about this quilt and can connect these stitches in time.
“These quilts are pieces of American Folk Art, a group in a community came together for many hours, creating a memory, was it for a community fundraiser or raffle, through a church, school, Grange Hall? To commemorate a special occasion, such as a wedding, a neighbor or Parish member, Pastor or Elder moving away? Or, in the case of the Tennessee quilt, a family member going off to World War II to protect our democracy and freedom, as a reminder of home?” Cabral said.
If anyone would like to reach out to Sue Cabral about the quilt, you can send her an email at suedavri@verizon. net. She would love to hear from any descendants who are connected to the quilt or from anyone who knows more about the history of the quilt.