The Mt. Ida Quilt Project: One Community, Two Quilts, Three Centuries

The Mt. Ida Quilt Project: One Community, Two Quilts, Three Centuries

In 1851, twelve women of the Mt. Ida community created a floral album quilt as a wedding gift to a young bride and groom, each signing her square with her name and the name of her plantation home. For the 2014 Quilt Study, thirteen women who live on or near the same land as the original quiltmakers recreated the quilt, one-quarter of the original size, staying as true to the original as possible in construction and design, and recreating the sense of community that existed 163 years ago.

The Mt. Ida Quilt Project began with a visit to the Alabama Department of Archives and History to inspect and photograph the original quilt. The 28″ squares bloomed with original designs of floral appliqué generously embellished with embroidery stitches of wool yarn and cotton thread. The same tiny prints and solid fabrics in vibrant colors were evident in all squares, resulting in a cohesive look. A six-inch floral-stripe border and clamshell quilting made this quilt a breathtaking inspiration.

Each 21st-century woman adopted the square of the 19th-century woman who lived closest to her present home. The artistic abilities of the original quilters varied from expert to novice, as did the skills of today’s quilters. Working from photographs, a 12″ template was created for each square. Analysis of the original quilt yielded a checklist of required patterns and solids, and a color palette created from paint chips guided the selection of appropriate fabrics. Working with designs that were significantly reduced in scale proved to be our greatest challenge.

We stitched and chatted at regular meetings in one another’s homes, enjoying the same views of the countryside as the women who created the original quilt. We tutored each other, and as our needle-turn appliqué and embroidery skills improved, our friendships strengthened. We took “authentic” to the extreme by hand-picking cotton for batting from the Mt. Ida cotton fields, and by having a quilting bee on the site where the original quilt was finished.

The Mt. Ida Quilt Project accomplished its primary goal of recreating a quilt, but also created quite a buzz at the state and local level. It raised awareness of AQSG, spread knowledge of quilting and quilt history, provided the Department of Archives and History with valuable documentation, paid tribute to twelve forgotten women, kindled an interest in local history, and nurtured an old-fashioned sense of community.