Friday, July 10, 2015

Civil War Quilt from Paducah, Kentucky

If this quilt looks familiar, it should. It was one of the most memorable discoveries of the Kentucky Quilt Project, America's first statewide quilt documentation project conducted in the early 1980s. During the last three years, it was touring with the "Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War" exhibition; and more recently, it arrived at its new home, my home.

The quilt was first published in Kentucky Quilts, 1800-1900. In the book, the quilt appears to have a large water stain, which is no longer present. At some point the quilt was professionally cleaned and backed with white fabric, and a strip of velcro sewn on one edge of the newer backing. I may remove it and go with a standard sleeve, but there is some information on the back worth preserving.

The quilt toured extensively around the United States with the Kentucky Quilt Project's traveling exhibition in the 1980s. It was also published in "Shelly Zegart, Passionate About Quilts" on the back cover.

Shelly and her husband Kenny are visiting Oregon, and yesterday we looked at quilts together. We mostly viewed things they had not yet seen in person, but toward the end I brought out a couple of the that came through Shelly, and I asked questions. This quilt, a new arrival to my collection, was the top of my list.

There is a label on the back. Of course, I wanted to know who Hardin Pettit was, and Shelly told me the whole story. He was the owner of the quilt at the time of the Kentucky Quilt Project and subsequent publication and touring exhibition.

"I met Hardin at the Paducah quilt day in 1981 and spent time visiting with him over the years when I would get to Paducah," Shelly said when the quilt was listed for sale on her web site a few years ago. "Hardin was an avid collector of many things American and Kentucky. He was a great storyteller and had a very interesting life full of adventures."

You can tell just by looking at this remarkable quilt, Mr. Pettit had a great eye for whimsical folk art. The quilt was made by Mrs. M.E. Poyner of Paducah, Kentucky in the middle nineteenth century. It includes bold red flowers flanked by leaves with red leaves or flowers sprouting from the tops; and stuffed work berries in four colors.

In a press release for the "Homefront & Battlefield" exhibition, the following description appeared:

Luck and/or ingenuity saved many heirlooms that were packed up and buried or hidden to keep them from both enemy and friendly troops. Quilts, coverlets, and carpets were particularly at risk, as they served soldiers for bedding, overcoats, tents, and saddle blankets. One Union woman anxiously observed the fighting in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in July 1861 as it seesawed back and forth across her town. After a few days of flying rumors and passing soldiers, she and her neighbor packed a few boxes of silver and other goods, which they buried. Each kept a carpetbag with a few essentials at hand, “so as to fly at a moment’s notice.” The Poyner family in Kentucky buried their most precious appliqué quilts in expectation of Union depredations. They were lucky—their belongings survived intact.


  1. Great story Bill and and an even greater quilt.
    Nice you have the facts and thats an awful lot of berries Mrs Poyner stitched this little beauty.

  2. It must be fabulous to have the quilt back and be able to look at it everyday. I had the pleasure of viewing your treasure in-person back in April. Right now I'm looking at "Oak Leaf and Berries" on page 159 of "Homefront & Battlefield Quilts & Context in the Civil War." Madelyn Shaw's lecture was very enlightening at the symposium. Some day, when it's time to write a thesis, I'm leaning towards women's work &/or lives during long separations, due to war. Thanks for sharing your treasure.

  3. A lovely thing, I am in awe of all those beautifully appliqued berries. You certainly pick the best ones for your collection!

  4. What an exciting quilt to add to your collection!

  5. Got #108 yesterday and there YOU were! Quiltmania