This quilt immediately spoke to me. It is visually and symbolically a statement of national patriotism, commitment and pride. This is evident from the quilt’s flags, shield, and word “unity.” The twenty baskets are filled with a variety of flowers and berries symbolizing hope, peace and beauty for all. This message has continued through the decades and still resonates with our nation today and has definitely had an impact on me.
Martha McFeely used solid red, green and orange fabrics and quilted it using wreaths, outlines and crosshatching, which are representative of mid-nineteenth century quilts. My desire was to reproduce this quilt as true as possible to the maker’s creative inspiration.
The progress of this project became a shared interest for family, neighbors and a dear friend. Moreover, it advanced my quilting skills, patience and perseverance, giving me a great sense of accomplishment.
A surprising aspect of the project was that upon studying Martha McFeely’s quilt and learning about her life, I felt a connection to her. The Indiana Historical Society has fifty letters written to her by her beau, Benjamin Fry, while he served four years in the Civil War. These letters told of his daily routines, schedules, marches, battles and raids. When he wrote about Martha McFeely, he called her Mattie. The letters mentioned Mattie teaching, going to school, raising money for a community flag and sending supplies to the soldiers. On March 10, 1863, Benjamin bought a gold pen for Mattie and wrote “… as a remembrance of one that has left home to defend his country and to defend your peaceable firesides so that one and all may enjoy life and liberty” (Fry Family Letters, 1863. Indiana Historical Society). I like to think that Martha McFeely used fabric and stitches to commemorate Benjamin Fry’s commitment and sacrifices for his country.
Reproducing this quilt, reading the war letters and learning about Martha and Benjamin Fry have made this quilt a significant historical treasure for me. The quilt’s symbolism echoes the thoughts and lives of the American soldiers.
I feel humbled and reverent to have had this opportunity to participate in this study project. Thank you to the Indiana State Museum and the Indiana Historical Society for their support, encouragement and assistance.