A Vermont Mill Wheel

By: Patricia Rennau
North Fayston, Vermont

This Vermont Mill Wheel quilt was discovered in an antique store in New York, New York in 2010 with this remarkable inscription carefully cross-stitched in a gold-colored thread on the front “Sarah. and Annis. Holt Berlin. Vt 1838.” What follows is a later, less skillful cross-stitch inscription in black thread “A Present To O. Sherwin. 1881.” This intriguing and unusual documentation inspired further research. Who was O. Sherwin? Why would sisters Sarah and Annis Holt gift the quilt to an O. Sherwin, some 43 years later?

What I learned through generously informative genealogical records is that Annis Holt (1808-1882) and Sarah Holt (1813-1865) created this visually dynamic quilt, perhaps, in preparation for Annis’ marriage on February 13, 1839 to Stillman Sherwin. Sarah died of consumption in 1865, so was not a part of the “gifting” of the quilt in 1881. Annis later gave birth to her only child in 1844, a son named Oscar, and so we find a piece of this mystery solved. Of course, a mother would tenderly gift a treasured quilt to her only son when nearing the end of her days. It is conjecture that Annis completed the cross-stitch inscription – yet at 74 her stitching may have been less refined than in her early thirties.

The Mill Wheel pattern is an intriguing variation of the old English pattern Robbing Peter to Pay Paul. I thought it interesting too that Annis’s name is a British derivative of the name Agnes – so we see these remembrances of a former homeland finding root in the “new world.” I wrestled with the skill and precision needed to make the Mill Wheel pattern. Piecing and fitting the circular corners seem better suited to hand sewing to achieve even a reasonable facsimile of the exquisite stitching accomplished by Sarah and Annis Holt.