Johnson is co-owner of Silly Whispers in Houston and so when she passed a quilt on the side of the road recently she had to stop. She took the dirty old spread home, washed it, dried it and started trying to unravel the quilt’s story without unraveling the quilt.
“I took one look at it and realized it was old and couldn’t believe it was on the side of the road,” said Johnson. “I have to believe somebody lost it while they were moving and they probably didn’t know it had blown off. I’m sure they want it back.”
Johnson has shown the quilt to several quilters and their practiced eye has been able to tell them a lot about the work of art.
“It does have a modern hem around the edge that was sewn with a machine,” said Johnson. “It is obvious the hem was put on much later to try and preserve the quilt. But every other stitch in that quilt was done carefully by hand.”
The quilt has several features that point to how old it might be.
“It has this German swastika design that was a popular design for material before the 1930 when the Nazi started using it,” said Johnson. “I can’t believe anyone would have used that design after the 1940 and not known what it meant.”
The batting, or fill, is raw cotton and the backing is quality muslin cotton. The tops, batting and back, are quilted with a strange, heavy cotton thread that neither Johnson nor any of her friends have ever seen before.
Ann Henry, a veteran quilter from Houston, said she believes the quilt is more than 100-years-old.
“The quilt is not very colorful and it’s obvious it was made from pieces found around the house,” said Henry. “The quilting pattern is called ‘Baptist fan’ and that leads me to believe it was made in the South.”
Henry also pointed to strips pulled from dresses and shirtsleeves and sewn into the quilt. The subdued, earthy tones also point to a time when bright colors were not the norm.
“The binding on the edge is called fold-over and that is a rather old style,” said Henry. “The quilt is also well made and shows someone put a lot of time and effort into this. You don’t see the amount of hours spent on a utility quilt like this unless it is old.”
The quilt is in surprisingly good shape and, while worn in spots, only has a few patches.
Johnson said the quilt measures 70-by-76-inches and was probably made for a couple’s bed.
Johnson has shown the quilt to others and everyone offers a story.
“We had one person tell us the swastikas might be from the lining of a German uniform brought back after the war,” said Johnson. “The pieces probably came off dresses and shirts that were gifts or had sentimental meaning.”
There don’t appear to be any initials or dates sewn into the quilt.
And while Johnson said they love dreaming up stories, they would really like to know the truth about the quilt. More than anything they want to get this work of art back to its family.
The quilt is at Silly Whispers and the owner can claim it by describing what the pieces mean and giving a brief description of where it was lost.
“It’s a nice, old quilt to us,” said Johnson. “But to someone out there this is part of their family history. Quilts made by family are priceless works of art to the next generation. We just want to get this quilt back home.”