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Cousin Carol’s Heirloom Quilts

Cousin Carol’s Heirloom Quilts

By Janelle Cahoon, Quiltcentric

Does your family have heirloom quilts?  My husband’s cousin Carol does, and I was recently lucky enough to see them and learn about their history. Now I have Carol’s permission to share these two quilts with you.

Carol, who has an interest in genealogy, actually knows where and when these quilts were made, and which ancestors they belonged to – a real rarity for quilts over 150 years old which have passed through many hands.  These stories tend to get lost as time passes, but Carol knows these quilts were made by Quaker ancestors in Pennsylvania.

The first quilt, which is a beautiful paper-cut style appliqué quilt made of red print fabric with signatures in the center of the squares, was owned by Sidney Hoopes, born in 1821 who married Robert Killough of Lancaster, PA in 1845.  She was a devout Quaker who died in 1890.  According to information in Carol’s family Bible, the names on the quilt are family members and Quaker Friends.

When Carol showed me this quilt, one of the two appliqué blocks looked really familiar to me and I was sure I’d seen it in one of my quilt books at home.  It took some searching, but I finally found it in The American Quilt:  A History of Cloth and Comfort 1750 – 1950 by Roderick Kiracofe.  The fleur-de-lis block in Carol’s quilt is just like the one in a quilt made by Milcah C. Pyle of southeastern Pennsylvania in 1848.   Here is a photo of the block from Carol’s quilt, followed by a close-up of the Milcah Pyle block from the book.quiltcentric_Carols_Block


This evidence certainly seems to confirm Carol’s research on the likely time and place her quilts were made, and with the blocks being so similar I can’t help but wonder if Milcah Pyle might be some kind of connection to Sidney Hoopes Killough.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

It’s also interesting that the fabric used in the Milcah Pyle quilt is a red with a very small gold print.  I can’t quite make out what the print is from the photo in the book, but the red fabric in Carol’s other heirloom quilt is also a red with a small gold element, a leaf.

This red and green quilt is made in a variation of the traditional “Caesar’s Crown” block.  The rounded petal-like shapes are a beautiful variation, and certainly made for some tricky piecing, but the workmanship is amazing.  Both of Carol’s quilts were certainly made by experts!


Sadly, the red fabric in this quilt has damage.  Every piece of the red print throughout the quilt has tiny slits in straight parallel lines about ¼” apart.  They run perpendicular to the lines of gold leaves and you can only see them if you look really carefully.  In this close-up photo you can see the slits as pale marks, and in a few places you can see the batting is poking through a little.  The slits don’t correspond to quilting on the back and I couldn’t figure out what might have caused this kind of damage.quiltcentric_Carols_Quilt_Damage

After not finding out anything useful online or in my books, I contacted Bill Volckening, a well-known quilt collector and an expert on antique quilts.  Since I’m barely acquainted with him, and that only through Facebook, I wasn’t sure he’d respond, but he did.  He was kind enough to look at the close-up of the damage and said his best guess was that one of the dyes used in the red fabric may have been too acidic and that over the decades it had gradually eaten away at the fabric, causing the little slits.  I’ve heard that dyes were an inexact science at this time in history, so he may be right about the acid – it’s certainly a better theory than anything I could come up with!

Even though it was unpreventable, it’s still really sad to see this kind of damage on a family heirloom, but Carol is going to continue to store the quilts carefully, treat them gently, and protect them for the next generation.  What a treasure!


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