Genealogy, Quebec

Aunt Madge’s Quilt

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The incomplete quilt, carefully wrapped in tissue paper, had been shunted from pillar to post for almost eighty years during the many household moves my parents made. Rarely did it see the light of day, stuffed away as it was in linen closets and basement trunks, so none of the colours faded. My mother could quilt but she never finished it. Perhaps she felt the memories would be too painful. Mum finally gifted it to me during one of her downsizing periods. I couldn’t quilt but I did collect antique linens. Once again it was stored away in a box.

With the quilt came the story of its beginning. I remember few of the details and my mother is no longer here for me to ask. It was evidently begun by Madge, my mother’s oldest sister. My mother and my Aunt Vi helped her. There were two Violets in the family, a sister and a sister-in- law, but whether one or both helped is unclear.

I never knew my Aunt Madge. She died in 1941 before I was born. I. heard the tragic story again and again growing up. She was only thirty-nine and left behind two small boys, boys I finally met when we were adults.

Madge, born in 1902, was the first of George and Isabella Willett’s seven children to leave the farm overlooking the Chaleur Bay on the Gaspe Coast. She earned a teaching certificate at MacDonald College in Montreal and took her first job in Abbottsford in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. There she met Albert Whitney, an apple farmer. They married in 1934 and she happily settled into a familiar life as a farmer’s wife. The family quickly grew with the births of my cousins, David and Paige.

Then illness struck. Madge was diagnosed with cancer. My mother, now a surgical nurse working at the Veteran’s Hospital in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, traveled to Abbottsford on her days off to help with her sister’s care and with the two lively boys. Both Violets were also living in Montreal and they too were able to help. During this time, the last months of Madge’s life, they worked on the quilt together, faithful doulas accompanying her on her final journey.

Today the quilt has been completed. Two women from the Victoria Quilts branch in the Laurentian Mountains village of Arundel did the work. The Victoria Quilts organization makes beautiful lap quilts and gives them to cancer patients to keep them warm during their chemotherapy. Elizabeth Wood selected and purchased the backing and border fabric along with the batting. Pat Thomas did the hours of hand quilting. She claimed that the original stitches on the quilt were the tiniest she had ever seen and said she did her very best to match them.

The quilt fits the queen size bed in our guest room. The simple motif, repeated twenty times, is a flower pot made of brown triangles pieced together and appliqued to a beige background. Each pot holds a single brightly coloured flower with green leaves, all pieced and then appliqued. It has a modern, stylized look yet with a feeling of fresh growth.

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Genealogy, Ontario

Great Grandmother’s Quilt: Eliza Jane Eagle

I have a sampler made by Susan Dodds Bailey, my two times great-grandmother, but much more has survived made by her daughter Eliza Jane. My favourite item is a wool quilt.

The quilt is a traditional bow tie pattern, made from scraps of suiting and other old clothes. Reds, blues and greens in plains, plaids and a few polka dots march across the front. It was all hand stitched. For many years, it was put away in a closet but now summer has it spread out on the day bed, on the verandah of our country cottage. Many an afternoon nap has been taken on it. The quilt had begun to show wear, especially the disintegration of the black dyed fabric but it was being used and loved. Last fall, before Thanksgiving, the quilt was left on the bed. Mice climbed under the tarpaulin protecting it, decided wool would make a great nest and chewed the fabric. It needed to be repaired. Great grandmother would not be happy.

Eliza Jane wasn’t just a quilter, she also knit and made a finely worked afghan. This was a work of love made from off white wool purchased especially for the project. It was given to her daughter Minnie. Elisa Jane was very upset to see that her daughter used it folded up under a mattress, to raise the head of a bed. It was the only time her granddaughter Beth remembered seeing her grandmother cry. The afghan then went to Beth and later her great-granddaughter Dorothy, who proudly displayed it on her guest bed. Great grandmother would be happy.

Eliza Jane also did a lot of fancy needlework. Needlepoint book marks, crocheted towels and lace, crossed stitched sayings on paper and tatted edging have all been preserved. She loved listening to the radio,“Wilson came over on Wed evening and looked over our machine it needs a new long battery but I heard a fine concert in Masonic Hall last night the best yet after the shaking up he gave the old battery.” I can picture her sitting listening in the evening, her hands never idle.

Eliza married William Eagle in 1881, when they were both considered “older”. He had been looking after his mother and didn’t want his wife to become a nurse. They did marry before Martha McClelland Eagle died, as they couldn’t wait forever. Eliza’s wedding dress was a burgundy silk because she thought cream or white wasn’t suitable for a woman then 36 years of age. I don’t know if she made the dress but it was kept for many years and worn for dress up by her daughters and granddaughters.

Neither her daughters nor her granddaughters were much for sewing or handiwork. My grandmother, Minnie could do some mending and darn her stockings but she was never into fine sewing. She had a dressmaker come to her house twice a year to make her clothes. Her sister Amy tried to do some sewing but for her it was a task, not something she enjoyed. So, I think Eliza Jane would be pleased to know that some of her great granddaughters do a lot of needle work and appreciate her craft.

With some old fabric saved from my mother’s hall closet, I repaired the major holes in the wool quilt. This summer it was back on the day bed. I think Great Grandmother would be happy.

Bibliography:

Personal communication with Beth Sutherland Van Loben Sels in 2000.

Notes written by Minnie Eagle Sutherland,“Mother made these fancy articles” and Amy Eagle.

Letters from Eliza Jane Eagle to Minnie Eagle Sutherland -1920’s.

Letter Feb 8 1924 from Eliza Jane to Minnie. Wilson was her daughter Minnie’s brother -in-law.

Articles in the possession of the author