This quilt was made in 1882 by Ankey Keaton Hutchison. Ankey, who lived in West Virginia, had no children of her own. However she raised her step-grandson, William Hutchison, my husband's great grandfather. When William decided to move to Nebraska to farm, she made this quilt for him. Using whatever tools were available in the early 1880's, she cut strips of fabric and hand appliqued letters and designs onto them. The strips allowed her to organize the verse and keep the letters in apple pie order. Then she sewed the strips together by hand. This quilt contains many many tiny stitches. William's name and the date are appliqued on the right hand border. Later I learned the verse was a German Baptist hymn. (Valentine, F. West Virginia Quilts and Quiltmakers: Echoes From the Hills. Athens: Ohio University, 2000)
I think of Ankey, age 42, stitching on the quilt after her chores were done. Carefully cutting each letter and lining them up just so, knowing that when this young man left home she would never see him again. I hope he wrote letters to tell her about his farm, his young wife, and their three children. Even an occasional letter would have been reassuring, knowing he had arrived safely, worked hard, and later had a family. While the hymn was a stern instruction to him on how to live, the gift of this quilt was a labor of love.
My mother-in-law gave the quilt to my husband and I on Valentine's Day, 1993, surely another gift of love and trust. Since then I have stored and cared for it. Every year I refolded it and wrapped it in a clean piece of sheet. Quilt historians recommend archival tissue and boxes and refolding to prevent permanent creasing. Failing archival materials, they suggest wrapping quilts in muslin or "never-been-used" sheets, preferably with no color.
Although this quilt is in good condition, it won't last forever. My husband and I talked with other family members and then decided to donate the quilt to The International Quilt Study and Museum here in Lincoln. This museum is a local treasure with an international reputation. The gorgeous building was specially designed for quilt exhibits, storage, and study. It is worth a visit. The staff will care for the Hutchison quilt and occasionally exhibit it in a way that preserves it for as long as possible. Leaving the museum this week, I wondered what Ankey would think about her quilt becoming part of quilt history in this wonderful place. I hope she would be pleased that her work has and will be lovingly cared for in another new home.