At the turn of the 20th century Isabel Black started making a quilt.
She gathered bits of multi-coloured and textured fabric — from cotton to silk, and corduroy to velvet — and cut the material into hundreds of small diamond-shaped pieces, about three inches long.
She hand-sewed the pieces together in such a way that when you step back, the quilt looks like a pile of children’s blocks stacked up in the shape of a pyramid. Each block has three sides — two coloured, and one black — and the quilt almost looks like an optical illusion. You don’t know whether the black side of each block is the top edge, or the bottom edge, or the inside edge, or another edge altogether.
Black laboured away at the quilt for years, and in 1906 she gave the quilt to her granddaughter, Muriel Carman, as a wedding gift.
Thing is, the quilt was unfinished. It had no back to it, and no batting (cotton padding) in the middle.
No matter, thought Carman. As a young 25-year-old she could finish the quilt later.
But later never came.
After living in many parishes in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the U.S., and busy raising seven children, Carman had no time for quilting so she handed it over to her daughter, Marion Claxton, in the 1950s.
“I used to sew my son’s clothes and my own clothes, but I never quilted,” says Claxton.
And so the quilt sat for decades in her house, still unfinished.
Now, more than 100 years after it was given away as a wedding present, the quilt has been handed over yet again. This time to a huge family of quilters.
Claxton has generously donated the meticulously handmade quilt to the Chilliwack Quilters’ Guild. She decided to give the quilt a new home after receiving a quilted placemat from the CQG with one of her Meals on Wheels dinners.
The century-old quilt has been handled a lot. It’s worn in places with small rips along some seams, and a handful of holes in its delicate fabric.
“The quilt is far too fragile to be finished,” says Annie Hall, a 15-year member of the CQG.
Finished or not, the quilt is a beautiful piece of artwork and will be on display with 200 other quilted items during the guild’s biannual show on Oct. 18 and 19.
The show, Our Quilted Treasures, features mostly quilts, but also pillows, table toppers, tea cozies, and more than 100 ‘We Care’ quilts.
The ‘We Care’ quilts are made by members of the CQG and donated to local charities such as Chilliwack Hospice, Ann Davis Transition Society, Chilliwack Community Services, Hope & Area Transition Society, and Sto:lo Health Services.
The quilt show features a tea room where visitors can buy sandwiches, snacks, tea and coffee, plus a merchants’ mall with vendors selling sewing and quilting related items.
There’s also a large queen-sized quilt, made by five members of the CQG, that will be raffled off that weekend.
The popular and vibrant two-day show always draws a large crowd.
“Quilting is not dead,” says Hall. “It’s a flourishing art.”
With two guilds in town, the art of quilting is very much alive. The CQG alternates its biannual show with the one put on by the Chilliwack PieceMakers’ Quilting Guild.
And even though there are two local guilds — the daytime CQG made up mostly of retirees, and the evening PieceMakers with a younger group of members — “the enthusiasm is the same in both groups,” says Hall.
The Chilliwack Quilters’ Guild’s biannual show, Our Quilted Treasures, takes place at Chilliwack Alliance Church on Friday, Oct. 18 from 5 to 8:30 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 19 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5.