Keota's Book Vault

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Stiching for Cash
in Keota Iowa,
A Story About Three Historic Fund-Raising Quilts.

(Above is a picture of the 1890 Keota Quilt)

Exicting News! Our three wonderful, historic quilts have just recently been published in a nation-wide quilting magazine called "PieceWork." They are being featured in the magazines September/October 2006 issue and is now for sale by either going to their website, or to your local magazine stand. I would personal try ordering one off of their website first, but if you feel the need for an adventure, and for some much needed coffee, I would try heading to your local Barnes and Noble!

Some background information. About two years ago, Andi Reynolds and myself, Rachel Klein, the director at Wilson Memorial Library, came across a wonderful clue! A local historian explained to us that admist all the artifacts in the Keota Musuem, which is located in the basement of our library, sat three beautiful quils, the oldest one dating back to the early 1890's. So down we went to the musuem. I was a new director of only a few months, and Andi didn't even know Keota has a musuem, so it was quite exiciting for us to embark on this new adventure. After an hour of searching, no quilts were found. So we went on to the library's storage rooms for an extend look, and lo and behold, we found a large box stuffed with three historic quilts. Now for all you quilting people out there, imagine finding three quilts, dating from 1890 to 1930, in no protective box, no tissue paper, and not folded correctly! Yikes. However, to our amazement, the 1890 quilt was in alsmost perfect condition, the 1914 Sunday School quilt was in great condition also, and the 1930 pink & green quilt had some tears on the outside border which made it obvious that this quilt was used and not put on display.

The Keota Quilt, dated 1890, was a redwork quilt used as a church fundraiser. The quilt contains forty-two blocks. Some blocks were filled with embrodered signatures, which the Keota Eagle article reports as costing 10 cents each. Other blocks contained advertisements by buisnesses; purchase of one of these blocks cost $3. The sale of twenty-one business blocks (costing $63) and 640 signatures (costing $64) would have brought in $127 which is about $3,000 in today’s dollars. There were also unknown proceeds from the center title block and the names in the memorial block that are not included in the $127 price. The popular practice of auctioning or raffling off the quilt more than once would have increased the funds raised substantially. Austin Harper Richardson who was only 16 years old, signed the center block as “artist.” Richardson became the editor of the Keota Eagle newspaper at the age of twenty. The names of a number of Harper residents as well as the name of the town itself are included on the quilt, suggesting a close relationship between Harper and Keota.

The second quilt that we found was quilted by the Gleaners, a Sunday school class of the Keota Presbyterian Church in 1916. This quilt was a blue basket signature quilt which contains a total of 240 signatures that are embroidered entirely in blue with the names arranged in wheel patterns, (see the photo below). As to why the quilt was made, we do not know as of now. If any of you have any ideas, please be sure to stop in at the library and give us a clue!! We are also not too sure what kind of fundraiser the quilt was for. The type of things ladies back then would have raised money for may include, in addition to building funds, memorial stained-glass windows, a new organ, refitting rooms for a kitchen, new choir gown, new songbooks, etc. Again, if you may know of a reason this quilt was constructed, please let us know!

Our third quilt that we found was crafted by the Rebekahs. “In 1851, the Order of the Odd Fellows, a benevolent and fraternal men’s organization, created the degree of Rebekah for women.” This quilt is a 1930s pink-and-green Dresden Plate signature quilt. The motive for such a quilt, we are guessing, would be to support the Odd Fellows’ missions, such as visiting the sick, burying the dead, relieving the distressed, and educating the orphan. We have also discovered that pink and green are the colors of the Rebekah’s and in the center of each Dresden Plate block is quilted a star, which happens to be one of the organizations symbols, (see photo below.) The condition of the quilt, unlike the previous two, is in poor condition; the border fabrics are beginning to disintegrate. It is also obvious that this quilt was used and frequently laundered, unlike the other two quilts that were solely for display purposes. Many quilts back then that were fund-raising quilts, were not used in the home, but instead frequently auctioned or raffled off and were either displayed in churches or other public building between auctioning events.

The research of these quilts as you can imagine is an on-going affair, but an exciting one at that! It is always nice to find a treasure in your library, and it is even nicer when this treasure brings your community together to remember the past! So if any of you out there know about these quilts, or would like to see them, please stop in at the library. We also have an Excel database of all the names of the 1890 Keota Quilt mapped out if you want to see them. You are able to take these copies home with you. Keep us updated!!!