Civil War theme at DCHA quilt show
By Cheryl Petersen
A high-tech Bernina sewing machine and 150 years separates quilters Lesley Gray and Jane Sickle. But, the two women have both created quilts using fabric prints available during the Civil War era.
“History is part of the reason I love quilting,” said Gray, from her home in Andes. “I recently finished the quilt, called Dear Hannah, a sequel to Jane Sickle’s quilt.”
While Jane Sickle’s quilt, dubbed Dear Jane, is displayed at the Bennington Museum in Vermont this month, Lesley Gray’s quilt will be on display at the Delaware County Historical Association, September 21 and 22, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Lesley Gray is the featured quilter at this weekend bi-annual show sponsored by Delaware County Town and Country Quilt Guild. Gray will display 15 other quilts beside the Dear Hannah.
Visitors to the weekend quilt show will notice a common tradition among quilters. The seamstresses embroider the finish date on the edge of their work. Similar to Jane Sickle who embroidered on the corner of her quilt: War Time 1863, Pieces 5602.
Quilt scholars have studied the geometric designs of the non-traditional, avant-grade arrangement that has distinguished Jane Sickle from the many thousands of women who sat with needle and thread to piece together creativity and resourcefulness. Times have changed, but the drafting and emotional involvement related to quilting still rings clear.
“It’s fascinating learning the history behind quilts,” said Gray. “When we lived in Illinois, I traveled for five years working on the Illinois Quilt Research Project.” Quilts reflecting trends in quilt making over the last 175 years were collected for the Illinois State Museum.
At the Delaware County Quilt Show, a timeline of Lesley Gray’s quilt history will be on display. “In 1957, I embroidered quilt squares, but didn’t know how to quilt,” recalled Gray. “My mother found someone to quilt the squares together. It was her gift to my husband and me for our 12th wedding anniversary.”
Husband helped her start
“In the ’70s, my husband pointed out to me that I could quilt,” said Gray. “So, I signed up for a class and haven’t stopped.” Her first block, measuring 14 inches by 14 inches, is the evening star pattern and can be seen at the show. Many of her other quilts were accomplished in classes under the tutelage of experts such as Kay Buckley, Jinny Beyer, and Kaye England. “The designs can be intricate,” said Gray. “I like the challenge of drafting together the pieces and working with precision cutting.”
Gray joined the Delaware County Town and Country Quilt Guild in 2001. “Although we’ve owned the Andes property since 1966, it was in 2001 when we moved here permanently,” said Gray. “We had a very small house with a galley kitchen and my husband asked me if I wanted a larger kitchen or a sewing room. I figured I already had a kitchen, small as it was, but I didn’t have a sewing room, so that is what he built.”
“Over the years, my choices in fabric have changed,” said Gray. “I started by using pastel prints with little flowers, similar to fabric used in the ’30s and ’40s. Then I phased into using earth tones before using jewel colors. Now, I commonly use Civil War reproduction prints.”
Gray however doesn’t work on one project until she is finished. “I keep starting projects,” she said. “I want something to do on the machine, something for hand work, and something to carry and work on.”
Not finished yet
An unfinished project hangs on the sidewall of her spacious sewing room. “All the squares were made from scrap fabric,” she said. “I will only have to purchase fabric for the border and backing. But it was fun to make, because when piecing it together, I would think about the original reason I bought each fabric piece.”
Lesley Gray has made crib and full-bed sized quilts for her three children and six grandchildren. “The children received wedding quilts and now the grandchildren receive them,” she added.