Only one opportunity remains to view the 16 antique quilts at the Carnegie sponsored by the Polk County Historical Society, and that will be on Tuesday, Oct. 29 from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Last Friday afternoon, Oct. 25 history and quilt buffs were were treated to a guest speaker at the Carnegie, a native from Crookston, Charlotte Arneson Peterson, who shared stories of about 30 of her own quilts.
The ladies who attended this event learned many things about Charlotte’s relational experiences and anecdotes about each of her quilts. She calls them her “quilty” stories because even as a master quilter with many years of experience, she admitted she has been humbled a few times when she didn’t follow the instructions. As any good seamstress or quilter knows, the directions are given as an aid and not just for decoration.
In the two presentations that Charlotte gave, she claimed that she did not inherit her parents’ (Norm and Loretta Arneson) higher math skills. After looking at all the intricate patterns and designs, one would think that would be highly advantageous while measuring so much yardage of fabric.
Charlotte started first talking about her great, great grandmother Delilah’s examples of quilts, which date over a century ago. Some of the participants were encouraged that the hand stitching was not perfect nor totally straight. In fact, there is a saying among quilters that some imperfections should be built into the quilt because only God is perfect.
Charlotte did admit that her own mother never taught her to sew but she stuck close to a grandmother who taught her to sew and appreciate all needle arts. Her education from NDSU includes an MS degree in textiles and Charlotte has her own business in Park Rapids called “Enchanted Quilting.” She has a long-arm quilting machine and serves other quilters in her area by doing top stitching that is not only beautiful on the front but on the back as well. Quilting secures the quilt while adding texture and detail to the piecing.
One backing cloth that is luxuriant to feel and is similar to flannel is “minkee” which is ultra-soft. Minkee is so cozy for those long winters where you feel enveloped in one over-sized “warm fuzzy.” Charlotte has many customers who pay for her service and has many quilt pictures online (check out Flickr) to show off what her long-armed machine named “Edna” can do. Edna is formidable and hardworking.
Charlotte mentioned the challenge these days is how to judge a quilt at quilt shows. If the stitching is done by a machine, how can that measure up to one that is stitched by hand? Then again, how does a quilt that is done by computer on the edges and then done by hand compare to the others? The quandary of how to fairly judge this ever emerging art form continues. Perhaps no different than what happened from the traditional quilt patterns and when the crazy quilts seemed to rebel against the status quo in the late 1800s.
Page 2 of 3 - Charlotte told the story about the conflict between the inventors of the sewing machine, Howe vs. Singer. Some thought Singer to be a scoundrel; others thought he was a genius. Singer initiated a “pay-as-you-go” plan where women back in the mid-1800s would pay $3 a month in order to eventually own their sewing machine. Purportedly, Singer gave free sewing machines to the pastor’s wives because she would be the most influential in spreading the word in the congregation about the benefits of the Singer treadle machine. Crookston, in fact, had a Singer dealership on Second Street which was owned by a Mr. Emerich.
In the course of Charlotte’s talk, the quilts progressively became less frayed or tattered. One colorful quilt had been put together like a crazy quilt with silk ties. Charlotte didn’t know how her fraternal grandmother could have had that many beautiful ties because her grandfather was a typical farmer who only seemed to wear overalls. The story continued that some of Charlotte’s relatives wanted to “share” the silk tie quilt. So it was subsequently cut in four parts. When permission had been asked of the original owner, it is doubtful that he imagined the one big quilt would be shared in such a way. Charlotte’s audience benefited by seeing this sample and we could only imagine how many more silk ties went into the making of the original quilt.
Several of the first quilts Charlotte talked about were traditional patterns like Grandmother’s Flower Garden or one with cattails and lily pads that were hand embroidered. Some were subdued in color due to age. Charlotte explained that the red and brown dyes in fabric over 100 years ago ate away at the cloth fabric. In the more contemporary quilts, there was a plethora of colors and patterns. For example, she showed batiks that are now color fast and very vibrant, a feast for the eyes. For the serious quilter there were examples of “Quilt Block of the Month” to make in a year’s time to “Quilt in a day” which is hard to imagine. Charlotte produced one quilt that was a piece-by-piece challenge to her, but she prevailed. Seemed like putting a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle together, the effect at the end is gratifying.
Friday's audience was instructed on how to store favorite heirloom quilts. They should never be kept with the same folds but refolded each year. Even better is to place them in a muslin or cotton sleeve and never use plastic. One idea was to use a noodle that kids use for swimming but they should first be wrapped in batting and covered with a muslin sleeve for better storage. Perhaps the best advice was to not store it away but to show off one’s quilts by either draping over banisters, creating a dowel rod on the wall to hang or even show off on the guest beds. Charlotte is of the opinion that all the quilts should be used and not hidden away to supposedly “keep safe.”
Page 3 of 3 - Though quilts can become dirty with use, do not dry clean them, she advised. The more contemporary quilts should be durable enough to take an occasional washing. Even when quilts are just hanging, there are proper ways to keep the dust built up to a minimum by using the right brush attachment on the vacuum cleaner. It was mentioned that one can throw a quilt in the dryer for about 5-10 minutes with some other wet towels to fluff them out. Depending on the fabric and the strength of the threads, discretion should be used.
Quilts are a thing of beauty and those who attended this last month of antique quilts at the Carnegie agree the artwork needs to be shared. Interestingly, a male quilter from Winger, Gale Melby, came to talk about his method of making quilts. In the last ten years he has made over 150 quilts, he had two examples that he showed.
The PCHS hopes to have both Charlotte and Gale back maybe next April or May of 2014, after three more months of restoration and renovation efforts at the Carnegie.
Keep your calendars clear for the first three weeks of November, every Tuesday and Friday from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. The Carnegie will feature American Indian artifacts and old farmer’s tools on display from the museum. The launch for this event will be on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Sheldon Roningen might even pop in to explain his old tools on Nov. 15. Everyone from the Polk County Historical Society believes that Sheldon is a walking/talking museum. Farmer Sheldon will show off what he knows about farming from a century ago.
Come and see for yourself all the artifacts that have been donated to the museum over the years. Bring your own artifacts for show and tell, if you like. The PCHS wants the public to see the beautiful Carnegie work continues on its re-purposing.