In 1997, when I traveled with the Mormon Trail Sesquicentennial Wagon Train, several of the women set out not only to make the journey, but also to make a quilt that became a true heirloom of the trail. They pieced fabric, stitching it together in the afternoons and evenings once the wagons had rolled into camp, and after they had set up tents and taken care of other business.
Part of the reason they had the time to sew on the journey was because they did not need to do their own cooking. Even so the days were long and physically exhausting. The women traveling in 1997 had days that involved getting up a 4:30 or 5 a.m. breaking down camp, loading wagons, then riding in wagons (or in many cases walking beside them) for anywhere from a dozen to two dozen miles, before setting up camp again. They were often caring for children, yet they found time to sew and create their unique quilt.
No doubt part of the reason for making it was to have something commemorative at the end of the trail, but another reason was purely social. By working together they could visit, talk about their day on the trail, and get to know each other better.
There are many historic letters, journals, diaries and other records that relate to quilting and quilts on overland trails. Sandi Fox, former Collection Curator of Quilts at the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts, has turned to those documents and to the quilts themselves for her new book, “Quilts: California Bound, California Made, 1840-1940.”
In this volume are stories and photographs of quilts that were California bound — carried on the backs of mules and horses, in covered wagons, by train or in ships. There are also stories of quilts made in California. They were sometimes created to remember friends and family back home, to mourn lost loved ones, to record historical and cultural events, and even to illustrate the landscape.
This book is a visual and literary delight. Not only can you see the handiwork — indeed the artistic expression — of quilters you also will learn about their motivations for the quilts. Enhanced with historic art and images, photographs of pioneers and settlers who created the quilts, and beautiful full color photographs of the quilts themselves, this is a book to savor.
In some cases the photographs are so detailed you can see individual stitches. This book will appeal to anyone interested in trail history, the pioneering experience, and most especially anyone who quilts or loves to see beautiful handwork. Don’t tell my mother-in-law, a fabulous quilter, but I may need to get her a copy of this book for her upcoming birthday. No way am I giving my copy of the book away. It’s one to go on the permanent shelf for certain. ❖
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