Around ten years ago I was the lucky recipient of a complete Progress #1369 Tree of Life quilt kit in Depression-era pastel fabrics. I was entranced by the pattern, a classic example of Colonial Revivalism defined as “colonial” patterns reinterpreted in the popular colors of the time.
Progress was one of many quilt kit manufacturers active from the 1930s through the 1970s. These kits provided quilt makers with inexpensive pre-designed quilts. In the article “Kit Quilts in Perspective” by Anne Copeland and Beverly Dunivent, and published in Uncoverings 1995, the authors point out that these kits were a teaching tool in a time before quilt classes – although they were often far from simple. This pattern is one of the most complicated that I have found, but it had a lasting appeal, being remarketed from 1966 to 1985 as Pattern #1492, with cotton/polyester calicoes in blues, olive green and gold. My kit includes a muslin background marked with appliqué placement lines and quilting pattern dots, plus hundreds of preprinted appliqué pieces.
For this project I needed a means of making a small version of the quilt. The purchase of a set of scanned images on CD from an Ebay vendor, who is as enamored of the quilt as I, gave me my pattern. I printed the center medallion images out at 50% size. I then mined my stash of vintage pastels, supplemented with Moda Bella Solids when necessary, and began the simple but lengthy process of tracing the pieces onto the colored fabrics, appliquéing them down, adding the embroidery accents and quilting the piece. The scalloped edge treatment completes the quilt, just as in the original.
For my inspiration quilt image I searched the Quilt Index, finding many Tree of Life kit quilts made up in 1970s calicoes, and one beautifully photographed quilt in the pastel colors of my kit. Made by Maria Dolinsky Poholsky (1876-1954) in Pennsylvania in the 1940s, it was passed down through two generations and registered in the North Carolina Quilt Project in 1985 by Maria’s granddaughter-in-law.
As I sewed my many appliqués down, fudging here and adjusting there to make things meet up, my admiration for Maria’s perseverance grew. She had no extra fabric to re-cut a slightly larger piece; she had no flexibility of placement to cover up a mismatched flower petal. This project has taught me a new respect for the kit quilt makers of the mid-20th Century.