Fireside Album Tribute

By: Peggy Norris
Elmwood Park, New Jersey

Fireside Album was made in 1955 by Helen Kelley as a thank-you gift for my mother, Ruthanna Walter. Ruthanna had watched Helen’s young children, while Helen was in the hospital with a new baby. For patterns, Helen chose the quilt blocks illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen on the endpapers of the Fireside Book of Folk Songs (1947). Helen’s design skills and needlework are excellent, foreshadowing her successful quilting career and her induction into the Quilter’s Hall of Fame in 2008.

I was curious about how this quilt reflected its time in the mid-1950s and how it was unusual for its time. The aqua fabric used for setting, the clean lines of Kelley’s interpretation of the Provensen designs, and the use of flannel sheeting for batting are all typical of the 1950’s. The quilt is unusual for the 1950’s in its complexity and in the quality of the appliqué and quilting (12 stitches per inch). It is also unusual because Helen was not part of a quilting community. Quilting was not popular in the 1950’s and was primarily continued in families and communities with quilting traditions. Helen knew no quilters and had not made many quilts; she learned from observation and the few books available. Fireside Album reflects quilting tradition in the style of many of the appliqué patterns, the traditional album style, and the use of alternate solid blocks in the setting. My study quilt is faithful to most of Helen’s choices except that I used cotton batting to provide more definition to the quilting.

This quilt challenged both my appliqué and design skills (interpretation of the patterns, selection of color, and handling of proportion), but I enjoyed the year I spent with Helen and her quilt.