Saturday, September 03, 2011
Published 2004- UofM QUILT INDEX


Mary Schafer and her Quilts

Patterns from History

Gwen met Mary Schafer in 1977 when she was treated to the best bed turning trunk show she had ever seen before. Gwen and Mary formed a friendship with Mary. From Mary, Gwen learned to value old, antique quilts for the history, information, the designs and patterns they hold. Gwen and Mary curated and sponsored several quilt shows through the 80s and 90s. They often made quilts separately and together. They worked in tandem making the same pattern at the same time, copying antique patterns. Mary frequently reproduced antique quilt patterns.

In this book Gwen wrote a loving tribute to her friend and her passion with quilts, making and researching of quilts. Mary kept correspondence with several of the noted quilt historians of her time, Cruesta Benberry and Delores Hinson, Betty Harriman. Gwen, tracks the quilt revivals in the 20th century past and current as a lead-in to an overview of Mary’s life work as a quilt historian and quilter. Much of Mary’s quilts ( 209 quilts,) the information she gathered, the correspondence she kept was donated to MICHIGAN STATE QUILT MUSEUM and The Alliance for American Quilts, MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online at Michigan State University in collaboration with an array of individual and institutional contributors.

Mary’s story:

Mary immigrated from Austria-Hungry with her family in 1914, at the age of four. She had been born in Tarany, Somogy County in 1910. Mary’s father migrated first to Brazil then to the USA and brought his family to a home he had purchased in 1914. Mary’s mother died soon after they immigrated and for a time her father has her stay in an orphanage, while he tried to get back to sleep. In 1920 Mary and her family moved to Flint MI when he found work with General Motors. Mary learned to sew for the women in the neighborhood, where she grew up. Mary was made to quit school at the age of 15 and go to work in her father’s business, The Flint Creamery. She worked as the bookkeeper and in the office, but she also washed bottles for the milk. Her father, as an old world immigrant, tried to find Mary a husband, but Mary refused to marry him and instead accepted the proposal of a neighbor-boy, Fred Schafer. They married in June of 1929, over the objections of her father. They later worked for Mary’s father when they both lost their jobs during the Depression. Mary gave birth to her son in 1934, and finally Fred went back to his job at GM. The bought their first home and she continued to live there after Fred’s death.

Mary’s first contact with quilting was when she bought a quilt kit in 1949, but she did not really start quilting until 1952 when she bought a quilt and actually finished it. What got Mary started on investigating when she found a old quilt being used by her son as a beach blanket. She was not able to salvage much of the original quilt, but investigated the quilt’s pattern and replicated it. She had to learn how to draft the pattern in order to replicate it was a new challenge for her.

Mary started corresponding with other quilters/ quilt historians in her effort to learn more about her quilt and other quilts and quilting questions that arose. ( She wrote to these quilters after they were highlighted or wrote articles in the few quilting magazines of the day.) She developed active snail mail correspondence, I bet she would have loved the speed of the internet and been an avid blogger to help her investigate her quilts. Mary was at a disadvantage when it came to investigating her quilts because there were so few books, magazine articles or any knowledgeable study of quilts up to that time. Today we are lucky in that there are museums, quilt study organizations that can help us investigate information. It was Mary’s generation that spurred such study onwards. Mary and a group of other quilt historians started making patterns from the antique quilts they found. They did it for the love of quilting, not for money, they became “quilt hunters.” (Famous quilt makers of the era: Gypsy Rose Lee, June Havoc, Faye Emerson, fashion designer, and actress Celeste Holmes, all active in their own quilting bee.) Mary and her other quilt historian friends actively tried to track down the patterns pioneer quilters and of the various magazine quilt designers, Nancy Cabot, Ruby Short McKim, and Nancy Page. American Legacy Quilting Indexes

Today’s quilter’s have the rich quilt histories to experience because of the work of these women. From my reading I discovered that practically each state had a woman that worked to investigate antique quilts, their patterns and the quilters who made them. Along with replicating quilts they maintained an active correspondence with each other, exchanging quilt patterns and discussing their quilt studies. What amazed me was is they did this without the luxury of computers, Xerox machines, scanners and the Internet. Modern quilters would be advised to take some time to look up the quilt historians and quilt museums/ study groups in their state and find out what they can learn about them.

Happy Quilting,

Let me know who is the quilt historian or quilt study group in your state, I would be interested in knowing who they are…….. AND YES, THERE IS A PODCAST COMING…. SOON. Nonnie’s Blog My Blog Nonnie’s Quilting Dream Podcast

Pod cast link for Nonnie’s Quilting Dreams

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