By: Joe Cunningham
In a study of 160 quilts in the Mary Schafer collection, we found nineteen that were started by Elizabeth (Betty) Harriman and finished by Mary. Betty completed her first full-size quilt in 1910, and continued to make and collect quilts until her death in 1971. She and Mary corresponded actively during the 1960’s. When Betty died, Mary acquired all her unfinished work, including antique blocks and tops, patterns, fabrics, and over 30 quilt tops in progress. Among the paraphernalia were many of Mary’s own letters to Betty. Mary immediately set about finishing Betty’s “starts.” Thirteen of the since-completed quilts are rare appliqué patterns; 6 are pieced. Of the pieced quilts, 3 were made of antique blocks or tops Betty had collected. We found that in some cases Betty had provided complete instructions for the quilts, but, in others, Mary had to draw on her knowledge of Betty’s style to guess at how the quilts should be completed. We concluded that this documented history shows how at lease some quilts have been started and finished by different quiltmakers, and this is an extraordinary example.