April 11, 2018

Flexner Family Names on a Signature Quilt

Esther Abraham Flexner and Moritz Heinrich Flexner

A series of happenstances has lead me to connect names on a 1910 fundraiser quilt to one of my ancestors!  A whole new branch has been added to my family tree!

So pour a cup of tea and follow along on the detective trail.

The story of the research and discovery began back in 1984.  I was visiting a friend in Iowa when my obsession with quilts was brand new.  She and I went to the historical museum in Kalona.  There, among other things, I photographed a signature quilt with a dedication block that reads "M E Society / Jan. 1910 Kalona Ia."

When I returned home and was showing my travel slides to my mom, she sat straight up when the close-up of this quilt was on the screen, and said "Wait a minute! There are people named Flexner on this quilt!"

The names caught her eye because Flexner was her maiden name.  We have quite a bit of genealogical information on the Flexners, but these folks, Dave, Etta, and Helen, were not anywhere on the family tree we knew about.


My mom enlisted my Iowa friend to help her research the names.  My friend traveled to Iowa courthouses that house census records and my mom wrote letters to the Kentucky resource centers.  (This was before the internet, after all, in the era of paper letters and SASEs!)  My mom was interested in the Kentucky records because the ancestors we knew about had all settled there when they came to the US in the mid-1800s.  Thankfully, my mom, as a reference librarian, kept copies of all the correspondence and census information that was retrieved in both states.

Eventually, my mom and my friend reached dead ends in both states.  The final status was:

Iowa census records show that Dave and Etta (short for Henrietta) were baby Helen's parents.  Helen was just 10 months old on the 1910 census.  Etta's maiden name was Godshaw; her mother's name was Julia.  But the Kentucky records gave no further clues at all.

Godshaw is not a name anywhere on the family tree as we knew it.....except for the tantalizing oral history my mom knew that my great-great-grandmother Esther nee Abraham had lived for a while with an uncle, last name of Godshaw but first name unknown, who had arrived in the US several years ahead of Esther and was proprietor of a china store. 

Next chapter.  A few weeks ago, while preparing a lecture, I came across the images of this quilt again, and decided to see if the files at Ancestry.com held any further information.

Lo and behold, I found a Morris Godshaw, proprietor of a china store in Louisville, KY, who had arrived several years earlier than Esther, and had a daughter named Julia!  This seems to be too perfect a fit to be a mere coincidence!

To sum this up:  My great-great-grandmother Esther nee Abraham and Etta's mother Julia nee Godshaw were more than likely cousins!

So how did the name Flexner get involved?  Both Esther and Julia married men named Flexner!  I know my great-great-grandfather's name - Moritz Heinrich Flexner - and I found Dave's father's name - John Flexner.

Since both these men were immigrants, the next step will be to subscribe to the international version of Ancestry and see if I can find out how Moritz and John were related.  I feel that they almost certainly were related, maybe brothers, maybe cousins.

Dave, Etta, and Helen didn't live in Kalona very long.  They were in Kalona in 1900.  Dave was proprietor of the general store, and Etta worked there as saleswoman.  In 1910, Helen had just been born and Etta was at home mothering their new baby.  By the 1920 census, the family was in California, and Etta, sadly, had died in 1919.


Next chapter.  Last weekend, I attended the spring meeting of the Iowa-Illinois Quilt Study group.  I wrote Nancy Roth, director of the Kalona Historical Village where the study group meets.  Nancy graciously brought out the quilt, and I was able to speak about it during the show-and-tell portion of the meeting.

Not only was it exciting to see the quilt again, but several people whose families were long-time Kalona residents were able to identify other names as the owner of the hardware store, etc.  A couple of the names are ancestors in Nancy's family as well!

The quilt is pretty clearly a fundraising quilt, made by the Methodist Episcopal Society.  The auctioneer, John A. Yoder, was given a special position on the quilt.  And yes, Kalona is in Amish country.

I discovered that many of the patches and the binding are velvet, made of the luxurious silk velvets of the time.  The back is a heavy, textured, striped fabric.

Interesting further research topics are:  There's another Flexner family on the 1910 Davenport census, headed up by a Leopold Flexner, who also had moved from Kentucky to Iowa.  Could he be yet another relation of John and Moritz Flexner?

This is so much fun!!!

April 8, 2018

Back to Blogging

I've been pretty quiet lately, and intend to be back this week to share several really fun quilt-y happenings.  In the meantime, here's a lovely Renoir, "Young Woman Sewing".  Renoir was the master of clear color, wasn't he?

I was down at the Art Institute of Chicago to see their quilt exhibit one more time before it ended.  So that'll be the subject of one post.  I was also just at the Iowa-Illinois Quilt Study Group meeting.  And the biggest and best story is about quilt history research on a 1910 signature quilt - this time it's about my very own family whose names appear on the quilt!  

March 22, 2018

Upcoming Quilt History Events!

Hey, hey!  I'll be taking off twice in the next few months for two really great quilt history gatherings!

Chintz & Signature Quilts of the Early 19th Century
hosted by the MOKA Quilt Study Group

June 7-9, 2018
Overland Park, KS

Presenters: historians Sandra Starley, Lori Lee Triplett, Anita B. Loscalzo, and li'l ole me.  I'll be presenting my new lecture, "Quilt Repair Tales".  I'll be describing the techniques and philosophies of the quilt repair biz via photos of the fun finds and amazing quilts that have passed through my hands over the years.  I'm so honored to be included with these stellar speakers!

Plus: A behind-the-scenes tour of collections storage at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center Museum

Full info is at the MOKA facebook page.  You can find the full event flyer and registration form on the "files" tab.  Or if you're not a facebook-er, email me, and I can send you the PDFs. 

Melrose History Quilt
Homecoming Celebrations
December 1, 7, 8, 2018
Melrose, MA

This is a full program of exhibits and events inspired by the late 19th century quilt I've been researching over the last few years.  Full info and an overview of the quilt's magical story are on the lovely new website!  You can sign up there and receive updates as the program solidifies.

Thanks to Martha Spark for including me in the programming and for suggesting such a great lecture topic, and to Alanna Nelson for getting excited and creating the Melrose celebration with so many varied and sweet activities.  I'm so looking forward to these super events!

February 28, 2018

Dutchman's Puzzle - Puzzling Fabric Choices

The repair of this Dutchman's Puzzle quilt was especially meaningful to me.  The owner is a daughter-in-law of a woman I became friends with during my college days.  I wrote about her quilt collection in a previous post.

This is another quilt my friend found in Kampsville, IL, made in the 1960s or so.  She had gifted it to the current owner.

Finding fabrics that blended in comfortably was a bit of a challenge here, so I thought I'd show some of the decision process I went through.

The solid blue needed the most patches.  I had a blue in my stash, on the left, that looked great, but there wasn't enough for the 20+ triangles that were needed.  I bought a new blue, on the right, slightly to the purpler side.  Once it was in the quilt, I think it worked pretty well.

I also needed a 1/4" lavender gingham.  I buy ginghams at estate sales whenever I see them, but haven't found much in the purples.  The closest thing I had on hand was a darker purple plaid.  Had I ended up needing to use it, I would have used the reverse (tiny swatch on the right) to soften the colors some.

Instead, I opted for a new gingham, even though it is a blend and not 100% cotton as are most of the original fabrics in the quilt.  I decided it was still preferable to the reverse of the purple plaid.  I did try a quick dip in some tea, but found that even a super quick dip made the white too brown and also, surprisingly, faded out the lavender.  Here are all three swatches, from left to right - tea dipped gingham, original gingham, reverse of purple plaid.

The real trickster was the stripe.  I had a navy on light blue pinstripe shirt in my stash, little swatch at the upper left in the photo.  I also had a striped remnant in somewhat the same colors that didn't look too bad, at the lower right. 

The issue with that stripe was that I would've had to piece several pieces together to use only the narrowly striped section of the print.  I wasn't sure that I could make that look very good.

So, I bought this red white and blue stripe, even though it looked much too bright.  It had a wider section of tiny stripes and the colors were at least kind of the same, and I was at the point of trying absolutely everything.

I tried tea dye on this, too, and got the same results as the gingham.  It turned to brown too quickly.  Tea dipped fabrics are the lower ones of both pairs.  I could therefore relax into using it at is.  It grew on me.  I started thinking it looked surprisingly good.

Then I spent a lot of time of looking at my two top picks.  I looked at them in lamplight and during the daylight.  I looked close up and I looked from far away.  I asked everyone who came into the house to vote.  It was when my husband noted that the pin stripe shirt, on the right, ended up looked mostly like a solid blue from a distance and therefore really stood out that I really warmed up to the new striped fabric.

Also, these photos are of a block with a red background.  When I put those two sample triangles on the block with a bright yellow background, the new stripe obviously won.  The bright yellow really emphasized the "only blue" aspect of the shirt.

So here are photos of the finished blocks with these fabrics that took so much thought.

And here are a few other fun fabrics in the quilt.

February 14, 2018

Valentine's Day Dance

I thought it'd be fun to share one of my darlin' daughter's videos today.  She is a dancer, and in 2017, created a new dance video each month.  This is the dance she made last February, all about love and sweetness.  It's title: "jam and jelly."  I hope you enjoy it!

Her words that are under the video itself explain a bit about the content and process.  Music is by her guitarist boyfriend, who also appears in the video.

Also, you can access her other 11 videos for the year on Vimeo (thumbnails on the right) or her website.  Each dance has a unique theme and ambiance, and I, personally, am super fond of the whole set. 

She's got more projects in the works for this year.  Check it out if you like to explore dance --- The Moonbelly Healing Project.  You can follow her further projects on Facebook and Instagram (@themoonbellyhealingproject) and the website.

February 5, 2018

Schuster Mansion, Milwaukee


My friend Nancy invited me to come along to sample a Victorian high tea in Milwaukee.  She is in the midst of  researching sources for Victoriana artisans, B&Bs, and such to be listed on a site called Victorian Heart Shoppe.  Nancy's own gift shop, Roses and Teacups, carries all sorts of flowery, feminine, speciality items to make life sweet and beautiful.  Of course, I said yes without a second thought!

This is definitely a place to remember!  The Schuster Mansion is spectacular.  Look at this woodwork!  The current owners have done, and continue to do, all the restoration, both structural and decorative.

The mansion is a B&B and event venue.  They also host a selection of teas and special dinners, and have a lovely gift shop.  They are super busy people!

Here's the chandelier that hung above our tea table.  The house was still bedecked for Christmas as you can see (we went on Epiphany).  The more-is-more Victorian esthetic is taken to heart here!

The tea was fabulous!  I just had to eat all of it, and honestly wasn't hungry again until dinner the next night!


The tea includes a presentation by the owner about Victorian customs.  For example, did you know that it was considered impolite to blow on one's tea to cool it to drinking temperature?  Instead, one should pour a bit into the saucer, then pour that back into the cup, and repeat until the desired temperature is reached.  Who knew?  And wouldn't everyone give you A Look if you did that now? 

January 29, 2018

Come Home Soon

Quilts can carry so much love and so many memories.  Here's one such quilt that came to me for repair.

The owner told me:

My mom bought it from an Amish lady she knows in Lancaster Pa. She owns a really successful shop there. She bought it for me while I was away on my Mormon mission. It’s called “Come Home Soon.”

The quilt was made in 2000.  

The pattern is a series of wonderfully executed appliqué vignettes, representing all sorts of doors and all sorts of waiting.

There were some really big rips in the quilt, plus just generally weak fabrics.  The goal was to bring the quilt back to a safe condition.  I mended and patched the large and what I call structurally necessary places, meaning missing fabric and open tears where batting is visible.  I also replaced the ragged outer narrow border and original knife-edge finish with a wide binding.  The smaller worn spots were left as is.  Patching all that wear would have been a humongous job, plus it would have added too much new fabric to a memory quilt.

The biggest tear was mended by patching both the front and back and adding new batting.

A lot of the worst problems were with the white background fabric, either missing altogether or very seriously torn and weak. 

I added batting where necessary, and carefully appliquéd the patches  into the space around the doors.  

Sometimes, depending on the fabric the background was joining, I used a ladder stitch (right) and sometimes I used a herringbone stitch (left).

I patched some of the little squares in the sashing with new fabric, and mended some with herringbone stitching.  I also patched over a red stain, possibly nailpolish.

I mended some of the places with tears big enough to show the batting by putting an insert of new fabric below and then herringbone stitching through the old fabric and into the insert to hold the edges together.  (Step-by-step photos of this process on a different quilt.)

Here are photos of more of the doors, all so different and all so clever.