Quilts are warm and cozy, a rainbow of patches and a history lesson all in one. But then again there are barn quilts which are patterns on big hard pieces of wood on the side of barns. You have the opportunity to see both types of quilts, right here in Tillsonburg.
The oldest depiction of a quilt was found in the Temple of Osiris, where an ivory carving features an early Pharaoh wearing a quilted cloak. It is 3,400 years old. The Chinese had silk ornamental quilts as far back as 500 BC.
Quilting was a way of sewing material together. There were three layers of fabrics: the top, batting for warmth, and a backing, which were all stitched together to keep the middle layer from slipping and clumping. It was not just warm and cozy on the bed, it could also be a petticoat or a man’s waistcoat and it also provided a protective layer of material between a knight and his armour or a horse and its saddle.
The oldest preserved quilt is from Sicily and was made in the 14th century. It depicts the legend of Tristram, a knight of the Round Table. Many quilts depicted biblical or romantic stories and were used by kings and queens, while others were done in beautiful and ornate patterns.
The top layer became the ornate layer. When pioneers came to Canada they often brought a quilt or two with them and began saving even the merest scraps of material to make new ones, often presented to a young couple when married or a wee one for the birth of a baby.
Specific names were given to the patterns people created. Even if you don’t own a quilt you can see four designs right here in Tillsonburg on the Oxford County Barn Quilt Trail. Stubbs BrandSource Home Furnishing’s Barn on north Broadway has the ‘Arrowhead Puzzle’ design in honour of the Iroquois village that once existed at our soccer club. The Station Arts Centre has the ‘Roads to the Station’ Barn Quilt by the cabooses, which uses the old railway crossing symbols and the logo of the Station Arts. Mill Tales Inn sports the ‘Water Wheel’ pattern, which is perfect as it was once E.D. Tillson’s Pea and Barley mill. The fourth barn quilt in Tillsonburg is at Annandale National Historic Site, E.D. Tillson’s Victorian Mansion, but the quilt pattern ‘Patch Log Cabin’, goes back to E.D.’s father, our founder, George Tillson who built the first log cabin at Vienna Road and Simcoe Street way back in 1825.
While you are at Annandale NHS, you might like to pop in to the museum’s gallery which, as of Sunday September 29th (1-4 p.m.) will have an exhibit of autographed quilts. The exhibit runs until November 3rd.
You will find, once again, beautiful patterns, made of a multitude of material scraps but these also contain the names or autographs of people.
Some autographed quilts provide a whole genealogy of families and may have been given to the happy couple at their wedding or when a family member moved away. Anniversaries of important events saw the names of the notable people involved, preserved, on a quilt. They were often used as fundraisers, not only could you pay to have your name on the quilt, you could be at the auction to buy the quilt.
One of the more unusual quilts at the exhibit will be one that was ‘born a quilt and afterward became a curtain’ and was thus named the Curtain, nee Quilt.
This fragile curtain nee quilt was made by the St. John’s Ladies Guild in 1889 and deemed a ‘magnificent piece of work’ by the Tillsonburg Observer (April 19, 1889).
When done it had over 400 names, including the then Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A McDonald (along with the British coat of Arms), Lt. Gov. Sir Alexander Campbell, Tilsonburg Town Councillors for 1889 and many distinguished citizens of Tillsonburg including Mary Ann and E.D. Tillson.
There are hand-painted and thread-worked flowers, figures, vines and two baby blocks with pictures of little children worked around the boarders. It was donated to the museum from Dr. Joy’s family in 1974.
St. John’s made another autographed quilt for their 100 Anniversary and it is hoped that it will be displayed at this exhibit as well. Those two should go hand in hand.
While at Annandale NHS, you can also pick up your free booklet of Southwest Ontario’s Barn Quilt Trails which include tours of Oxford, Norfolk, Middlesex, Elgin and Brant Counties. Even if you are not a quilter, you will have a fun time touring the counties and find great places for lunch or tea and will be surprised and what each of these counties has to offer.
You can also go to www.barnquilttrails.ca for more information on the tours and call 519-842-2294 for more information on the beautiful quilts at Annandale NHS.