My inspiration quilt, from the New England Quilt Museum collection, has 306 hand-pieced baskets measuring 3 ½ inches. The alternate Turkey red blocks are each hand quilted with a maple leaf. There are over 275 different fabrics from the period (and a few older examples), as very few are repeated. The quiltmaker is unknown, but the museum records suggest a Maine or Canadian origin.
Because of the large number of different fabrics used, I theorized that the maker may have been associated with a textile mill and had access to samples or scraps of fabric. I found that there were a number of mills operating in Maine at the time this quilt was made. Further research showed that thousands of Canadian workers came to work in the textile mills of Saco, Biddeford, Auburn and Lewiston in the 1860s, following the completion of the Grand Trunk Railway line connecting Portland, Maine to Montreal.
The maple leaf quilted in each red square suggests that the maker may have been Canadian. Although the Maple Leaf was not adopted as the official flag of Canada until 1965, it was a recognizable symbol of Canada much earlier. The maple leaf appeared in the Coat of Arms of Ontario and Quebec beginning in the 17th century. In 1867, Canadian Alexander Muir composed a patriotic song, “The Maple Leaf Forever”, which became very popular in Canada.
I hand pieced my baskets to be the same size as those in the historic quilt, using reproduction fabrics similar to those in the nineteenth-century quilt. My alternate blocks are hand quilted with a maple leaf.
I enjoyed researching the textile mills in Maine and visiting the site of the mills in Biddeford and Saco. Many of the buildings are still standing and have been repurposed for residential and commercial use.