Like looking at a worn stuffed animal, it’s hard not to imagine who held a quilt dear when you see an old one fraying at the edges with its batting poking out. Who slept under this quilt and who made it for them?

In homesteading families of the late 19th and early 20th century, quilting was a skill every girl learned. Some say a young woman had to make a baker’s dozen quilts before she was eligible to marry – 12 utility blankets and one fabulous show quilt, possibly for the bed she would share with her husband. Every member of the family needed multiple quilts in order to keep sufficiently warm and comfortable in some places. (Source)

Even the utilitarian quilts, however, were most often imbued with a creativity or sentimentalism or nod to things that were important to the maker. Isn’t that what an artist does?

Making quilts was a skill of survival, of course, but it was a number of other things in equal measure. The names of friends and family embroidered onto a quilt one brought when moving far away was a great comfort and reminder of love and closeness. Making quilts was an item to sell or trade – currency. It was a way to recycle old clothing, feed sacks, and even old quilts. Any piece of fabric could potentially find its way into a “rag bag” for future projects. It was a way of passing time and being occupied.

The Salmon Arm Museum decided to honour these artists by building a custom quilt rack to keep their works of art safe for years to come. Quilters and museum professionals alike have tricks to avoid permanent folds and buckles. In museums, we prefer to handle items as little as possible, so a system that would allow us to roll the quilts, somehow protect them from light and dust, and be able to identify them from the outside was ideal.


I brought my plan to Wayne Peace and he tweaked it, making it even more versatile for the various lengths of textiles (tablecloths and rugs, too!) and something more user friendly than I could have imagined. It is now neatly tucked onto a hereto empty wall in the collections storage area. Materials and talent were paid through a donation from Liz Murdoch. Doreen Paterson has been our faithful and meticulous resident expert textile roller.

Although those practical homesteaders would probably balk at the “excessive” care with which we handle, roll – pile always facing out – and wrap each quilt in triple-washed 100% cotton, I hope they would also see that what they made still has value for us today. The quilts remind us to take care of those we love, to use what we already have, and to weave the beautiful into the everyday.