MOURNING QUILT FROM PULASKI COUNTY, KENTUCKY
Last week my Connecticut daughter and fourteen year old grandson came to visit. We spent most of the time inside talking and playing cards. It was just too hot to truck around the nearby towns. The close time together with my family was touching to me as I had not seen either of them for a couple of years. My son was still visiting from New Mexico and he got into some heavy chess games with my grandson.
My daughter and I, while the chess games were being played, did venture out in the heat to view some displays of quilts in the town of Berea, Kentucky. There, we came across this early, old quilt that was labeled rare in the genre of quilts. It was a Kentucky Mourning Quilt from Pulaski county, Kentucky and was owned by Carol Ann White.
SECTION OF THE MOURNING QUILT -- S ACTON
Although I have always admired the handiwork of women I was unfamiliar with the idea of mourning quilts. This particular quilt had a crazy pattern with names of deceased individuals including the date of death embroidered on some of the squares.
The fabrics were rich earthy colors, not the least bit morbid. Apparently, fabrics used in making mourning quilts are often made with clothes of the deceased. At least that is what it said on the label next to the quilt. If this were so then why do the nine squares in the quilt contain some of the same fabrics while having different names.
The dates of the deceased ranged from 1896 through to 1900, a time when crazy quilt design was used frequently.There is a theory that such a mourning quilt would be used to drape a coffin at the funeral. Perhaps the name of the deceased would be embroidered on or after such a ritual? If this were the case then the quilt would represent probable family ties through the quilt.
SECTION OF MOURNING QUILT -- NAME ARMILDA
The above quilt section just has the name Armilda with no date of death. I wondered why this was so. Perhaps it was the maker's name (although I feel this unlikely) or perhaps a stillborn child?? Wish such artifacts could talk.
Overall there was a total of nine large crazy quilt squares sewn together resulting in a size that would fit either a three quarter size bed or full size one. However, I feel that the quilt was not used for a bed. Rather it was probably tucked away for the funeral ritual of draping the coffin.
I thought that perhaps since there were several empty squares it allowed names to be added over time. Each square had only one name so a total of 9 people could be recorded on the quilt.
SECTION OF MOURNING QUILT -- ARTHUR
Mourning quilts might be a lone regional folkway. Why I say this is that similar type quilts were popular in the mid-1800s -- called graveyard quilts. Research found that graveyard quilts have been found in Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia -- all within the upland south region (this would mean southern Ohio by this latter statement). Perhaps the graveyard quilts influenced the later mourning quilts in the region?
KENTUCKY COFFIN QUILT
Above is the Kentucky Coffin Quilt from the mid-1800s. Around the border is a fence and along the interior of the fence are 6-sided coffins basted onto the quilt. Those within the perimeter do not have dates. It is supposed that the perimeter coffins were basted to allow removal to the center graveyard if someone were to pass away. The perimeter coffins were like "coffins in waiting." This quilt might have been one that was draped over a coffin at a funeral.
I could go on with thoughts about how and why these quilts were used and made. However, I will stop here and let the reader contemplate their own theories.
View interesting close-up photos of the Kentucky Coffin Quilt.