Saturday, October 27, 2012

Therapeutic Quilts

Sewing mends the soul.
Author Unknown

Every quilt has a story stitched into it. The Stratford Perth Museum uncovers the stories of some twenty quilts exhibited in "A Common Thread: Quilts of Perth County". Each of the stories fascinates but since I had only 20 minutes to take in a little of the exhibition before closing time, I can only relate one story for today and hope to return to the museum to ponder the other works of hearts and hands.

Particularly interesting are quilts made by soldiers — not a group that I would think of as quilters. A painting by Thomas Wood captures the convalescence of Private Thomas Walker at the Fort Pitt Military Hospital in 1855 following his injury during the Crimean War and provides visual insight into the history of these quilts. As the injured soldier is comforted by one military quilt spread over the foot of his bed, he sews another with "military precision". Military quilts are made from the red, black, cream and grey wool fabric of soldiers' uniforms. Most of them were made between 1850 and 1900.

Military quilts were made throughout the British Empire and the Stratford Perth Museum has a large one in its collection, said to have been quilted by a local soldier in 1866. It seems that the soldier who sewed these tiny squares of fabric together with very limited seam allowances, spent a lot of time convalescing after injuries sustained defending the empire against the Fenian Raids in Niagara, when the Irish American Fenian Brotherhood was intent upon capturing Canada to hold it for ransom in a bid for Irish independence. Research into the quilt is still ongoing so its story has yet to be completely uncovered.

For more stories, visit the Stratford Perth Museum before May 2013. Just visiting the 1870 home of Thomas Holliday is worth the trip. Since Thomas and his wife Mary raised 10 children here, I suspect that the house has long been home to a stash of comforting quilts.

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