Dear Jane, (no, not that Jane, another one…)
I was wandering around the Knitting and Stitching Show 2011 at the Royal Dublin Showground on Sunday (the last day of the show) looking at the beautiful quilts on display when I came across a bright and cheerful contemporary design called Dear Jane, it’s the 21st Century. It was a large piece divided into rows of squares and into each square had been sewn a design that represented a part of contemporary life. I was engrossed in spotting the well known Apple logo, a shopping cart, the Twitter logo and many more familiar designs when a woman came up to me and asked if I knew where the ‘Dear Jane ‘ came from in the quilt’s title.
Any guesses from the floor? If you were going to suggest ‘Jane Austen’, which had been my first thought (not that I am aware that she had a particular love of quilting); then you would be spectacularly wrong. The Jane in question was an American woman from Vermont and her name was Jane A Blakely Stickle. She was never famous in her lifetime but a quilt that she made during the American Civil War has ensured that her name will live on forever in both quilt making and Civil War history.
In fact her quilt, the original ‘Dear Jane’ quilt is now in Bennington Museum, Vermont after being passed down through the family and ending up in St Louis, Missouri at some point during the Depression years. Jane signed and dated her quilt thus, ‘In wartime 1863 Jane A. Stickle 5602 pieces’. So there you have it; a real live piece of American social history for historians and collectors alike to sigh over. I would like to go and see it myself someday. Meanwhile I will have to make do with the picture here, courtesy of the museum website.
Not surprisingly, the quilt and its maker have been featured in books about the history of quilts. From 1991: Plain and Fancy: Vermont’s People and Their Quilts as a Reflection of America by Richard L Cleveland and Donna Bister, which really brought Jane Stickle to quilt historians’ attention. One such historian was Brenda Papadakis who was inspired to research Jane’s life story and the story of her quilt. This resulted in a book devoted to the historic piece of work, Dear Jane: The two hundred twenty-five patterns from the 1863 Jane A Stickle Quilt.
I was intrigued enough by the history behind the quilt to look up available titles on our databases and I discovered that due to the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War, some interesting books on the quilts and quilt makers of wartime are soon to be published. My eye has lighted on Civil War Anniversary Quilts by Rosemary Youngs (due June 2012, shown below) which contains copies of historical documents, letters and diary entries as well as design illustrations. It looks to be a lovely book that would be a great introduction to an interesting area of women’s’ history.
Moreover, just for the record, apparently Jane Austen fans are ‘Janeites‘ whereas the term ‘Janiacs’ refers to Jane Stickle quilt enthusiasts. It is amazing what can come of a Sunday afternoon at an RDS show.
A version of this piece was previously posted on the Hughes and Hughes blog site in 2011.