The tradition of quilting celebrates a rich history that is both utilitarian and commemorative.
By definition, a quilt is a three-layered bed covering incorporating a decorative top layer, simple bottom layer and filler in the middle. The act of quilting started as a solitary skill women learned and passed down from generation to generation as essentially a way to keep their family warm. Fabric was not abundant, so every scrap counted. Clothes made by hand were repaired until they were no longer useful and then they were either used as filling or stitched together into patchwork quilts.
Because those items of clothing embodied the identity of their wearer, those histories were woven right along with the fabric into the quilts, making them testaments to the stories of those family members.
That time honored tradition lives on today.
Renee Volgren has firsthand experience when it comes to the commemorative power of a quilt. Her family has been using quilting to keep alive a family tradition started by her grandmother, Delia Germain, six generations ago.
It all started with the marriage of Delia to Pearl Maitrejean on July 6, 1920, in Somerset.
“Delia and Pearl were blessed with six children (three boys and three girls). Delia was always a quilter but wanted to make a special quilt with a square for each of their children and each member of their future generations,” recounted Volgren.
Delia began the quilt by making a single 12- by 12-inch square for each of her six children and another square for each of their spouses when they were married. Each square consisted of the same specific pattern but incorporated a different fabric.
“On each square, she embroidered their first and middle name and year of birth. As the family grew, Delia made squares
for each grandchild and left space on the same square for their future spouses' name and year of birth,” said Volgren.
When Delia could no longer work on the quilt, she passed the responsibility for continuing the quilt onto her eldest daughter Ione. Ione continued the quilt until she passed it on to her eldest daughter, Arlene, Renee’s sister.
Today the quilt is nine feet high and 18 feet long. It consists of 139 squares representing 161 living and 20 deceased members of the extended Maitrejean family.
According to Volgren, the quilt has become an honored family heirloom reserved for special occasions such as Ione’s funeral, where it was draped over her casket, and each autumn where it is displayed for all to see at the Maitrejean “Christmas in October.”
For generations the tradition of adding to the Maitrejean family quilt has been handed down from eldest daughter to eldest daughter, creating an enduring legacy to the history, artistry and living spirit of quilting.
“Adding a new square for each new descendant ensures the quilt will never be finished,” said Volgren.